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Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate review

Staking a claim for best third-party game on the 3DS...

The clue is in the name (which is appropriate, as it's about the size as a Poirot novel). While Mirror of Fate shares similarities with previous 2D Castlevanias in terms of theme and structure, it plays nothing like them at all.

It isn't meant to. While it's still nominally a platformer, developers MercurySteam have drastically overhauled and expanded the combat system to create a hybrid game that feels more akin to a 2D interpretation of the console hack 'n' slash title, Lords of Shadow.

On paper that sounds like a messy fusion of genres, but after a sluggish start the inner intricacies of the rich, rewarding combat begin to bubble to the cauldron's surface and by the end you'll be left to reflect upon one of the most epic, beautiful and challenging third-party games on 3DS.

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Set several decades after the events of the original Lords of Shadow, Mirror of Fate tells the tale of three different explorers as they delve ever-deeper into a labyrinthian fortress in their quest to give Dracula a good hiding.

Act I focuses on The World's Most Scottish Man, Simon Belmont, as he aims to avenge the death of his parents. Act II turns the spotlight to Alucard, although thankfully not literally as he's just woken up in the castle's crypt to discover he's been transformed into a vampire, and he's a more than a little miffed about that. Finally, Act III tells the story from the perspective of...actually, we won't spoil that one for you here.

Although the three acts run sequentially the game is playful in its use of time, with the events of later acts taking place either before or during those of earlier acts. This gives the narrative a mysterious air, as the first act is packed with bizarre sights and occurrences that are only explained away later in the game. Think Pulp Fiction with bats.

You're likely to piece the jigsaw together yourself long before the big reveal at the end, but this doesn't detract from a well-written storyline that's packed full of intrigue, suspense and even a little poignancy.

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The gameplay itself follows the same 'Metroidvania' method of progression that has become synonymous with the series since the PSOne's Symphony of the Night. That is to say, as our heroes progress through the game they accrue additional skills that enable them scale areas of the castle that were previously beyond their grasp.

These include mods to your chain that allow you to swing across gaps and hang from magnetic railings, and power-ups that improve your agility, allowing you to perform double-jumps or grip onto vertical walls.

Since your next objective is clearly marked on the touchscreen map it's always obvious where you need to go next. This is an uneasy trade-off between mystique and convenience, but there are still plenty of rewards for veering off the beaten track - such as health and XP upgrades, scrolls from deceased adventurers and entries for your bestiary. If you come across an obstacle that cannot be passed with your current abilities, you can mark it down on your map and return to plunder its wares later at your leisure.

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Unfortunately, the platforming itself is pedestrian by Castlevania standards. Aside from one memorable set-piece where you're fleeing from a giant tumbling bell(!), Mirror of Fate struggles to pick up the pace and it rarely excites outside of battle.

Most obstacles you encounter are a test of patience rather than skill - gas-spewing vents are a particular favourite of Dracula's interior decorators. There's nothing to compare the scale or challenge of, say, Castlevania IV's famous swinging chandelier scene.

But you can forgive Mirror of Fate for its anemic platforming, because its heart lies in the heat of battle. As a side-on approximation of the hack and slash adventure, it's exemplary; a deep and strategic scrapper which forces you to make creative use of your ever-expanding repertoire.

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