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Hands-on: Castlevania sinks its teeth into 3DS

After shaky first impressions the 3DS revamp finally cracks its whip

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With the more attack-focused combat comes the need for more defensive moves too, which is why the ability to block and roll with the left shoulder button has been included. Blocking just as enemies attack causes Simon to parry their move and leave them open for a counter. It might not sound revolutionary, but to fans of the series these are big changes - and in our eyes, for the better.

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The entire rule book hasn't been thrown out the window, mind you. The much-loved non-linear stage exploration - a system that worked so well that gamers now lovingly refer to it as Metroidvania - remains, with numerous sections of the castle joined up to make one enormous map that you'll be expected to backtrack through at various points in the game.

Naturally, this means the need to gain skills throughout the game remains, each of which gives players the ability to reach previously inaccessible parts of the castle.

The first of these is the Spirit Of Belnades, an ethereal lady who appears above you and reaches out to block enemy attacks until your magic gauge empties. More importantly, you can also use her to shield you as you walk under the poisonous green Evil Waterfalls (yes, that's what they're called).

A couple of hours in Simon is awarded his second area-unlocking enhancement, the Combat Cross. This lets players tap the right shoulder to grapple onto glowing blue hooks, using them to either swing over a gap or, if they're high above you, climb a nearby wall by walking up it like some sort of reverse abseil.

All of a sudden you find yourself trying to remember all the glowing hooks you trekked past over the last two hours - typical Castlevania.

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Thankfully Mirror Of Fate has an extremely handy map marking system. Players begin the game armed with 50 tokens, each of which can be placed on the bottom screen's map at any time you come across something you want to come back to when you're better equipped. Crucially, so you don't forget which particular obstacle each token is marking, you can also type up a note for each one, describing what's there.

We'd love to tell you what else happens as the game progresses but we're sworn to secrecy for now. All we know is that as we handed the game back to Nintendo and waved it goodbye, we were far more confident of its quality than 8 months ago.

If you're a Castlevania fan concerned about the changes made to the combat and visuals here - don't be. After last year's worrying first play, Mirror Of Fate has come on leaps and bounds. The 3DS entry may look completely different to the sprite-based GBA and DS beauties you've known and loved, but it's feeling increasingly likely that their undead hearts beat beneath.

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