Mercury Steam’s 3D action game, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, was a polarizing experience. We loved the fast-paced God of War-style gameplay and the vast areas ripe for exploration. Some fans cried out that the game didn’t feel or look enough like classic Castlevania. This new 3DS title, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate, combines the fantastic combat and story elements of Gabriel Belmont’s 3D adventure with the side-scrolling exploration of the beloved 2D titles. Reader beware, there are some Lords of Shadow spoilers in this article.

Last chance to avoid Castlevania: Lords of Shadow spoilers.

Mirror of Fate takes place 25 years after the end of Lords of Shadow. Apparently Gabriel Belmont and his wife Marie squeezed out a kid at some point before she died and he became Dracula. That child is Gabriel’s son, Trevor Belmont. Mirror of Fate stars several descendants of the Belmont bloodline (including Simon), but from what I understand the game begins with Trevor. Trevor is after whatever evil is responsible for his mother’s death, which unbeknownst to him is his former father, Dracula. Mercury Steam says players will be able to pass on techniques and gear to new generations of Belmonts, which may hint at an Infinity Blade-style progression across generations. We also know that the end of Mirror of Fate sets up the beginning of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2.

The action takes place in a 2.5D perspective. Unlike past portable Castlevania titles, the entire world and the characters within are rendered in 3D, but the action unfolds from the side view. The camera occasionally pulls in for cinematic monster executions or looks down a long corridor. The lower screen of the 3DS displays the familiar map of Castle Dracula we’ve been staring at since Symphony of the Night.

The side-scrolling perspective may be familiar, but the combat is pure Lords of Shadow. Trevor unleashes a combination of light and heavy whip attacks to punish animated skeletons or gigantic vampire bats. Tapping the jump button mid-combo launches Trevor and his foe into the air, allowing the vampire hunter to lacerate his defenseless victim in mid-air. Lords of Shadow’s intuitive dodge system also makes it into Mirror of Fate. Holding the left shoulder button while pressing the circle pad left or right makes Trevor dodge. Tapping the left shoulder button just as an enemy attacks makes him parry. I love deflecting a shield-bearing enemy’s attack, which opens him up for a relentless lashing. If an enemy sparkles for a moment before attacking, that means the attack cannot be blocked and you should get out of the way. I appreciated how cleverly Lords of Shadow telegraphed enemy attacks, and Mirror of Fate follows through with the same satisfying combat. Trevor even has a saw blade-like boomerang which can be tossed at enemies, latching on to them to deal damage over time. Combat in Mirror of Fate hits similar high notes as any God of War-style action game, but hardcore fans of Symphony and its portable successors will be disappointed if they expect the same pixel-perfect combat found in those titles.

When you’re not pummeling enemies you’ll be exploring the huge castle. Platforming plays a key role in discovering every path through the huge structure. Thankfully, Trevor has a double-jump at his disposal. During my hands-on time with the game I leapt across chandeliers, swung across chasms via my whip, and climbed up ledges. Moving through the environment doesn’t feel as silky smooth as later handheld Castlevania games like the phenomenal Order of Ecclesia, but Mirror of Fate is still early in development. One particularly bothersome issue is the occasional inability to alter Trevor’s directory in the air. Nobody misses the brick-like agility from the NES Castlevania days, and I’m hoping this new Belmont learns a little more grace.

My favorite moment in the demo involves fighting a gigantic executioner boss. This shackled foe is dragged onscreen by two flea men carrying chains, with another riding his back. The huge monster suddenly realizes he’s much larger than his captors, and quickly demolishes them. The hulking, skull-faced beast even throws one flea man towards the camera, creating a cool 3D effect if you have the dial cranked up. The axe-wielding executioner boss delivers a series of shockwave-producing ground stomps, swipes, charges, and leaping dive attacks. As stated before, the boss’ attack cues are easily learned. I enjoyed rolling under the leaping juggernaut then turning around to deliver a flurry of whip strikes. Eventually the boss’ life bar is drained and Trevor approaches a glowing green treasure chest which contains a permanent upgrade to his life bar. It appears Mirror of Fate eschews the traditional level-based progression in exchange for upgrades scattered around the map, as in God of War.

I didn’t get to tinker around with the light/dark magic system or the other characters, but I mostly enjoyed what I played of Mirror of Fate. My core concern lies in making the game crisp and responsive enough to feel like a side-scrolling Castlevania should. At times during the demo the framerate suffered, probably due to the 3DS trying to keep up with the impressive 3D visuals and frenzied action. Like I said, this is a very early build of the game and the performance of the game can only improve leading up the release. I’m also hoping Mirror of Fate delivers the rewarding exploration and varied enemy types we expect from a portable Castlevania game.

I remember being nervous about Mercury Steam’s approach to a 3D Castlevania game back before Lords of Shadow released. The game just didn’t demo well at events like E3. When the game finally hit, my fears were silenced by the massive, entertaining quest. Mirror of Fate may be in the same position. How do you effectively condense the sprawling, time-intensive experience of a Castlevania game into a 15-minute demo? I’m optimistic that Mercury Steam can pull off another stellar, inventive entry in the beloved series, but I’ll have to dig deeper into Dracula’s Castle before I’m fully convinced.