very time a new 2D Castlevania comes out, I’m afraid that I’m going to get sick of stopping Dracula’s nefarious schemes. The latest entry in the series, Portrait of Ruin, keeps Konami’s decade-long perfect streak alive. Though the basic exploration and combat formula has remained unchanged since 1997’s Symphony of the Night, enough new features and fresh content have been introduced to make this as thrilling of a quest as any in the franchise.
Putting two characters in the player’s hands proves to be an ingenious way of expanding on Castlevania’s bread-and-butter action. It’s been done before, but Portrait of Ruin’s system is particularly smooth in execution. Some encounters are much easier with the AI controlling the second character; other situations are best dealt with by calling them in briefly for a quick special attack; others are simplest when going it alone. How they are equipped plays a large role in the strategy as well; the breadth of options at your disposal allows for a lot of creativity in overcoming the endless hordes of evil that stand in your way.
Portrait of Ruin’s environmental gimmick of having the player dive into portraits created by the castle’s master provides a nice change of setting from the castle’s dank corridors. It’s a pity that all of the themes are reused at the end of the game, but taking on the undead in a sand-swept ruined city or a twisted, gravity-defying carnival is yet another reason to jump into Castlevania’s world once again.
As has become customary for the handheld entries in the franchise, the boss battles range from challenging to ego-crushingly difficult. I suspect that most gamers, like myself, will appreciate the challenge and sense of accomplishment that comes along with triumph in these epic battles. More casual players could be turned off by the difficulty, though, especially since it spikes noticeably for the boss fights.
The exceedingly minor irritation of reused environments is the only negative comment that I have about Portrait of Ruin. Unless the Metroid-like gameplay formula of modern 2D Castlevania is anathema to you, this will quickly become one of the most-beloved titles in your DS library. Don’t miss out if you can help it.