Konami has returned to answer the call of gamers everywhere with their second Castlevania title for the Nintendo DS entitled Portrait of Ruin. Unlike last year’s Dawn of Sorrow this game ditches the gimmicky touch screen moves and replaces them with some new gameplay tweaks that make it feel more like the traditional titles in the series. While these new features aren’t exactly genre defining the overall game is still one of the best action/adventure titles currently available on any system. With a huge single-player campaign, tons of secrets and weapons to find, and even some WiFi multi-player action PoR once again delivers a Castlevania experience of epic proportions in the palm of your hand.
The storyline, while predictable, sets a nice backdrop to the onscreen glory. The timeline is during World War II and of course the entire world is in turmoil. Just to make things better Dracula’s castle has appeared once again and you are the only one who can stop him. Of course being a member of the Belmont bloodline doesn’t hurt. You play the role of Jonathan Morris who has found himself in the possession of a Belmont whip, but without the power to use it properly. Along the way you are also accompanied by a magic-wielding girl by the name of Charlotte and with this comes one of the new gameplay elements; controlling two characters throughout the entire game.
This system works by being able to switch between characters on the fly. You will come across many areas of the new castle that require you to use a specific character adding a new layer of depth to the franchise. The cool part is whenever you earn a new upgrade such as the double jump it is applied to both characters. This could also be frowned upon as it takes away any special exploration aspect that could have been implemented as both characters can go anywhere the other can.
While the dual character aspect focuses more on combat than anything else there are several puzzle specific events that will utilize both parties to progress. Granted some of them are of the “you stand here while I flip a switch” variety, the developers have implemented some really cool ones that employ both players in a really unique way. For the most part though just having the extra hand in combat, so to speak is really useful considering that Jonathan is more of a straight up ass kicker whereas Charlotte is more of a magic user with access to some really awesome spells. Honestly you could have easily combined both characters into one, but it is a nice new layer to an already great franchise.
The real star of the game though is the castle itself. While most games in the past have always sported some of the best level design PoR has a slight advantage due in part to the story. Scattered throughout the castle are paintings that you can travel into and they range from demented circus areas to your typical sand levels. There are four of these areas that you will discover and they are all massive in size. In fact once you add up all the side areas and the main castle itself, this is easily the biggest Castlevania game ever created.
Visually the game is essentially the same game as last year’s Dawn of Sorrow. There are a few recycled enemies here and there and even some familiar environments from time to time. However the devs have beefed up the 3D aspect of the background and even increased the amount of animations that the 2D sprites possess. The new enemies you run across in the game are just as memorable as the classics such as the Medusa heads and the bosses are certainly up there with the best in the business.
The music is traditional Castlevania flare with lots of symphonic techno that fits the series nicely. Each area has its own particular theme and you will no doubt be hypnotized by many of them by the end of the game. The sound effects are standard and there are even some voiceovers stuffed into that tiny cartridge which is impressive to say the least. Plug in the headphones and crank up the sound to truly appreciate the full audio experience on this one.
The main quest will run you approximately four to five hours depending on how much exploring you do, but if you want the true ending you will need to invest at least eight. There is plenty here to keep you coming back for more such as unlockable characters and new play modes once you finish the game. There is also a nice co-op mode which can be played locally or across Nintendo’s WiFi network via friend codes. Sadly this isn’t a full fledged co-op affair, in fact it’s just the boss rush mode from the previous game. Basically this consists of rushing from one end of the level to the other fighting a few enemies and eventually the boss. There isn’t much to this mode, but it is a nice addition and does add some nice replay value to the overall game.
If you are a fan of the series, and honestly who isn’t, then PoR will satisfy your hunger for a new Castlevania game. The formula remains the same and that is the best part about it. Perhaps someday Konami will grace us with a full fledged 2D sequel to Symphony of the Night for the consoles, but until then you will find plenty to love with this latest installment. Easily one of the best handheld games of the year and quite possibly the best Castlevania portable title yet.