[Let’s get this out of the way before I start; I’m just going to refer to this game as Mirror. If I was writing a term paper that had a word count to meet, one would be hard pressed to find something to write about that had such an easy shortcut built in. I just can’t bring myself to write out the whole title again.]
I’ve been a Castlevnia fan since I was a child. I very distinctly remember playing Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse at the daycare I went to on occasion after school and it being the hotness among the kids my age. Not only did you get a new Belmont to play with, but you could get a pirate that walks on the ceiling, a mage that had some pretty badass spells, and the son of Dracula who could turn into a bat and fly! Quite frankly, it was a dream come true for the eight year old me. Imagine how excited I was when I learned that (mild spoilers) I could play as Simon Belmont, Trevor Belmont, and Alucard all in the same game with a retelling of the lore. Well, much like most things that try to cash in on my childhood fantasies, there was a bit of a cliff to fall off when I started up Mirror.
Mirror continues the story of Gabriel Belmont, who becomes the first of the evil-fighting Belmont clan in the series’ reboot. Once Gabriel’s segment is done, you move on to the aforementioned Simon, Trevor, and Alucard. Beat up some baddies, unlock some experience points to add new moves to your arsenal, and eventually find a way to get to those previously unreachable areas. All in all, it sounds like a pretty typical portable Castlevania game.
The actual gameplay tries to put the God of War-style combat that was used in Lords of Shadow in 2D. The transition isn’t flawless, but it is serviceable. You’re probably not going to be wowed or feel like a badass taking down enemies like you do in other games of the God of War ilk, but the controls are responsive enough. You’re likely not to be challenged very often, as even I rarely saw death rear its ugly head. Even when it does, likely in the middle of going up against a boss, there are checkpoints at certain parts that let you restart with a good chunk of your health and magic restored. This makes even the boss fights feel less threatening and challenging and more like slight inconveniences to your progress. If the boss checkpoints weren’t there, there would be some fairly challenging battles. As it stands, it definitely suffers a little from the BioShock style of just continuing to ram into it and you’ll eventually persevere.
There is an experience points system that has you level up, but leveling up only unlocks new moves and doesn’t strengthen your character in any way. Because of this, combat does end up feeling a bit shallow and almost pointless. While you have a surprising amount of attack options, odds are you won’t really ever find yourself in situations that require using them, so you’ll probably find yourself skating by just mashing the regular attack buttons. It’s not like the combat was too terribly robust in all of the previous portable entires anyway.
You can always explore the castle more, except there’s little reward to that either. You end up finding some upgrades for your health and magic meters and some dead knights with scrolls on them telling of their final moments, but the latter only nets you more experience points, leading back to my previous point of combat feeling relatively pointless. Having the ability to backtrack and explore without much reward to do so really doesn’t sell the exploration portion either.
Thankfully the game isn’t ugly to look at. It’s not going to win any beauty contests, by any stretch, but you won’t be offended looking at it. The music lives up to the standard set by Lords of Shadow, which is to say that while the soundtrack does a nice job of supplementing the game, there isn’t anything that stands out enough that makes you think you want to listen to it on its own. If you’re looking for a “Vampire Killer” here, you’re going to be disappointed.
Mirror is a bit of an anomaly. As a portable entry in the Castlevania series, it comes with certain expectations of fans. Some of the best entries in the long-running series have been on portable platforms. Mirror becomes a victim of trying to live up to this legacy while trying to continue the alternate universe story that began in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. Trying to juggle too many things seems to be Mirror’s biggest weakness, as there’s a solid title dying to get out, but it never gets the opportunity to concentrate on any one thing. If you’re looking for an action platformer, the 3DS has much better options out there. If a Metroidvania (I just shuddered a bit typing out that word) is what you’re looking for, there are better options on the 3DS as well. There’s also a much better Castlevania game on the eShop for an eighth of the MSRP (I’m speaking of the original Castlevania, of course).
As hard as I’ve been on it, I still enjoyed my time with Mirror. If you pick it apart and only take it as pieces, there’s a lot to look at with the ol’ stink eye. Strangely though, and perhaps against all odds, Mirror is still an enjoyable game. If you’re not going to go all batshit about the canon (it is alternate universe stuff), there’s some interesting twists, even if they’re a bit silly and, on occasion, a bit obvious. I really can’t recommend buying it at the $39.99 retail price (I took that bullet for you, so you’re welcome), but as it comes down in price, I really can’t say you should never play it. Mirror is definitely something to keep in mind as the months go on and the price (almost inevitably) falls.