Review by TheGrandFinale
"1944, the world is in ruin...The CV series...not so much!"
Dawn Of Sorrow came and went. I still remember the terrible wait I had to endure before getting to play it. And now, I finished the newest release in the series. Time goes by fast...too fast. But it'll slow down when we'll have to wait for another Castlevania!
Anyway, Portrait Of Ruin puts you in the shoes of not one, but two vampire hunters : Jonathan Morris and Charlotte Aulin. The duo is sent to Dracula's castle, which rose thanks to the evil brought forward by World War II. Inside, they are forced to contend with the castle's lord, a mad painter named Brauner. Alongside him are his two beautiful twin daughters, Stella and Loretta.
If you played any recent Castlevania title, you know what to expect from this one. It's a Castleroid, named after of course Castlevania, and Metroid as all the new CV mix the gameplay of both series. A huge 2D castle is yours to explore anyway you like. You'll gain levels, find items and weapons and fight various monsters and devils...but Konami decided to mix things up a little for the series 20th Anniversary.
GRAPHICS: Portrait Of Ruin manages to look gorgeous while not looking as good as it's predecessor. Dawn Of Sorrow was a much better looking game. Here, the visuals are inconsistent. Some areas look mighty good while others look like they would fit in Castlevania 4 on SNES. The same goes for enemies. Some were pulled out of older CV and the sprites stand out awkwardly. But the majority of it is good looking. The graphics are bright and clean and the designs are beautiful. The heroes sprites are probably the best looking in the series yet, and the good looking areas and among the most gorgeous in the series.
MUSIC AND SOUND : Easily the best soundtrack in a handheld Castlevania ever. All songs are upbeat and memorable unlike some songs in Dawn. The castle Entrance song is probably one of the the best pure Castlevaniaish songs in the entire series. Every area is supported nicely by the awesome music. The sound is also better then Dawn Of Sorrow AND probably Symphony Of The Night. The enemy voices samples either weren't removed unlike those games or were simply dubbed. This makes for the most dynamic Castleroid yet in North America.
GAMEPLAY: Here, Konami tried to mix things up by separating most areas from the castle by the way of painting stages ala Mario 64. To defeat Brauner, you need to destroy his paintings first. This makes for a very refreshing Castlevania. Unlike the lastest games were most areas were rehashes like chapels and more gardens, now you explore pyramids, misty towns, a circus and more. This also makes the game the biggest one of this type yet. The areas are less of a chore to explore than Dawn Of Sorrow because Dawn relied on soul farming for the player, to upgrade their weapons. Or course, it meant sacrificing special attacks, you had worked hard, to get. Here you simply find them laying around the levels and inside enemies ala SOTN which makes for a simply funnier time around the levels. You also control two characters instead of one and switching between the two is really easy. The AI is also solid and you can order the other character to use their skills easily. Talking about skills, the soul system from Aria/Dawn is missing and as been replaced with a skill system...And you gain most skills the same way as you gained souls... by killing enemies and getting their abilities so it's all for the best. The game is pretty hard too and you'll find yourself continually searching for the nearest save point. The bosses in particular and extremely challenging...and they aren't retread of old bosses for the most part! Many endings to discover too...expect a solid 10 hours playthrough your first time and even more to complete everything. Unfortunately, the great game design, is somewhat affected by the poor level design in the later half of the game.
REPLAY VALUE: The highest in the series yet. You get 3 unlockable modes so you get 4 main games to go through and 7 characters to play as. Secrets areas and bosses are to be discovered too. 3 boss rush modes unlike the usual one and you can play multi-player co-op over Wi-Fi which is a first of the series. Add to that a hard mode and another mode that allows you to cap the level limit. You won't get through this one for a long time...
What more is there to say. The games are getting better and better. The only downfall of this one is probably that the last few areas are not as good as the earlier ones and show some weak design decisions. Otherwise, this is top notch entertainment. One of the best Castlevanias you can play. If you own a DS, you should definitely buy this one. It's gold.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 12/07/06, Updated 12/15/09
Game Release: Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (US, 12/05/06)
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