We don't need to explain to you that we're massive fans of Castlevania here at Nintendo Life - you surely already know that. Like so many other gamers out there, Konami's gothic series has a special place in our hearts, thanks to some amazing 8-bit entries and sublime 'Metroidvania' escapades on the Game Boy Advance.
So it was with an understandable degree of anticipation that we approached the 3DS demo unit at this year's Eurogamer Expo. Konami was exhibiting a preview build of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate which showcased one of the early levels, and we gleefully snatched the chance for some hack and slash action.
First up, as has been previously stated by Konami's Dave Cox, this isn't your typical Metroidvania epic - although on first impressions, it's tempting to assume so. The bottom screen is taken up by a map, just as it was on the three DS Castlevania entries, and although the game uses 3D graphics, the action remains confined to two dimensions - just like your traditional Metroidvania.
However, once you start playing it becomes obvious that this is a very different proposition when compared to the likes of Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow. For a start, the combat is less about one-hit kills and more about wearing your enemies down and looking for openings. In many cases, even the most basic foe will require several hits from your whip (or should that be Combat Cross?) to bring them down, and you'll often need to use your counter move to set them up for an attack as standard blows prove ineffective. This slows down the pace of the game dramatically when compared to the swift speed witnessed in previous Castlevania titles.
Another thing that takes some getting used to is the floaty jumping, which again goes against early entries in the franchise. It doesn't take long to become accustomed to this change, and to be honest the way the main character hangs in the air allows you to pull off air combos with greater ease. It also makes some of the platforming sections easier to stomach; in the demo, we had to ascend a tower in order to progress, and had to use the whip to grapple onto various beams in the roof (a neat homage to Super Castlevania IV). Trevor Belmont's ability to seemingly float in mid-air ensured this process never became too frustrating, as it gives plenty of time to extend your whip and grapple the next safe platform.
The demo also introduced an encounter with a large, screen-filling enemy. During this section, the game's rather ponderous combat was really brought into keen focus, and worry began to set in. There really isn't much creativity in how you deal with opponents in this game; the issue seems to be that developer MercurySteam has taken the battle engine from the full-3D Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and transferred it to the Mirror of Fate almost without thought. As a result, many of the flanking tactics which made Lords of Shadow so appealing aren't possible, and you quickly fall into a repetitive pattern of combo attacks which rarely test your reflexes or skill.
Another problem we couldn't help but notice was the frame rate. Even when the screen is totally devoid of enemies, Mirror of Fate moves in a fashion that could never be described as smooth. Switching off the 3D effect appears to alleviate this issue a little, but it's possible that it could merely be our eyes deceiving us.
There's still much to be positive about with regards to Mirror of Fate, despite the rather downbeat tone of this preview. We only had chance to play a very small section of what should be a large, sprawling adventure, and it's worth remembering that there are portions of the legendary Castlevania: Symphony of the Night which play just as badly when taken entirely out of context, as this demo was.
Bearing that in mind, we're not ready to dismiss this new instalment just yet. Konami and MercurySteam have already confirmed that the game is getting some additional development time before release, so there's every chance that some - if not all - of the concerns we've raised here will be dealt with in due course.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate is released on the 3DS next year.