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School of Game Development

Doom Doom Doom

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.


How do these games keep being so much fun? I’ve already experienced a lot of what Portrait of Ruin has to offer, and yet I’m still completely happy to be wandering the castle, slaying undead cleaning ladies, and finding better whips. This time, the gimmicky addition of a second character adds some variety, as well as some clever cooperative actions that gain you access to otherwise out of reach zones. I also liked the various portrait worlds scattered throughout the castle; spending some time in an Egyptian tomb fighting mummies helps ease the tedium of endless Gothic castle backgrounds. Enemy designs are amazing, bosses are challenging, and secret areas and endings are abundant. In short, it’s all you want out of a Castlevania game, and continues a string of one of the best handheld franchises around.
Iterate once again on the 2D Castlevania formula. This time with style!
Buttery smooth animations bring the evil castle to vibrant life
As always, the score is a high point. I do want to punch Charlotte every time she shouts the name of her attack, though
The huge variety of weapons, special attacks, and enemies keeps the 2D action fresh
The thrills are huge and the flaws minor in this supremely polished adventure
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