'Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow - Mirror Of Fate' (3DS) is Nintendo and Konami's (unhelpfully named) new entry in the long-running series of undead-bashing action games.
First made famous way back in 1987 on the original Nintendo Entertainment System, Castlevania's stake-in-trade (pun shamefully intended) is a comic-book horror mix of exploring castles, dueling Dracula and slaying hordes of zombies via 2D button-bashing combat, with a bit of running, jumping and puzzling thrown in.
The new title doesn't mess with this formula one jot. In fact it's essentially a compilation of the best bits from the baffling number of Castlevania games already released, with more complex combo-oriented fighting and deliciously realised 3D graphics.
The result is a pacey, pick-up-and-play side-scrolling ghost-em-up, which gradually builds in complexity. Like the best hack-slash-and-dash games, the ever-expanding number of combos and dodge-attacks are hugely satisfying to pull off, while the bosses are huge and deadly, and power-ups are plentiful.
The game also features a number of puzzles. They are nicely put-together, even if they feel at times like an unwanted break from the principal task of smashing ghosts into the netherworld with a flying axe. Which works, apparently.
One downside of the game is its soap-opera style story, which is needlessly complex. At some point Castlevania apparently decided it had a narrative of some significance. It doesn't, but the game sticks to it like zombie brain on a freshly cured leather doublet. The yarn basically involves multiple generations of the Dracula-hunting clan fighting, dying and revenging each other, but in a game of this sort it's not necessary. The cut scenes are interminable and badly written, too.
That aside, the game works well. The 3D effect is as divisive as ever - some hate it, where for us it gave the nicely rendered scenes a sense of depth and life otherwise missing from the title - and there's a huge amount of content to explore, with a semi-non-linear structure and a high replay value.
At its best, Castlevania is just as fun and exhilarating as the best titles in the series. While it's bogged down by its doughy story, at its heart its a very retro treatment of killing vampires in a castle in 3D, with a sword. Which is brilliant, obviously.