Platform: Nintendo DS
Genre: Action/Adventure, Platformer
ESRB Rating: Teen
Release Date: December 5th, 2006
Seems like every year or two a new portable Castlevania comes out, doesn't it? That really isn't all that far from the truth. Honestly, being a long time fan of the franchise, I really haven't been of the opinion that any of the portable Castlevania's lived up to the epic Playstation classic; Symphony of the Night. Hell, most of them can't top Chi No Rondo - or Rondo of Blood, as the english translation goes. That includes the Sorrow games. Though admittedly, that's a tall order to fill anyways.
That said, each of them have been enjoyable, if a lot of the same. With Portrait of Ruin, this isn't really a change from that. This is still the basic formula first popularized in Symphony of the Night, or the mix of Castlevania settings with Metroid playstyle. Still a relatively overused plot with someone else taking over Dracula's castle and all that; to the Sorrow games credit, they did at least deviate from this a bit. But there are a few wrinkles here and there.
One of the more welcome changes is the portrait worlds gimmick added that this game generally focuses around. Each painting will take you to a world inside of it, with varying locals of sorts; from an egyptian landscape to a small town to a decrepit, warped circus. It gives some more variety to the locals in addition to your usual foyer/gallery/underground/clocktower standby castle locals. Which certainly helps, considering the fact that despite it warping each incarnation, it's hard to escape the fact that we've gone through the castle god knows how many times by now.
The biggest change to the whole thing, aside from the continuation of the cheap saturday morning anime style designs that started cropping up with Dawn of Sorrow, is that a team system has been implemented. It's really the biggest real change to the overall gameplay, which is tried and true Castlevania through and through. I'd love to tell you that this is implemented brilliantly and a perfect addition to things, but unfortunately if I were to say that I'd be a liar. Though I must admit right now that I would take this, as much as it needs work, over Dawns at times frustrating glyph business.
The sad truth of the team gameplay is that you're probably going to stick with Johnathan Morris for most of the game unless you're forced to do otherwise. The other member that you may switch to at any time, a witch named Charolette, is relatively useless in comparison. She has poor range with almost everything, including most of her spells, not to mention some grating charge times for her spells, assuming you want to do more damage than a mosquito bite. The most useful aspect of this team system are the team attacks, which you can execute for some MP, how much being determined by the strength of the attack. Other than that, it really does not live up to the fun you would have expected.
While the new team system may have been disappointing, the story held water, if just barely. The game in itself is a continuation of the Sega Genesis entry, Castlevania Bloodlines, overall lineage and storyline. The main character is the son of the first hero of Bloodlines, John Morris, and there are references to that adventure littered about. A few nice cameos pop up here and there as well. Added on to that, we finally get some semblance of an answer to why the Belmonts dropped out of the picture until 1999 only for the Morris family to take up the whip; a bit of a dangling plotline for quite a while now.
Unfortunately, the latest Morris is rather bland; he hates his father for dying and leaving them, is overly bitter and that's pretty much it. If it was added to it could have worked, but as it is, it was pretty basic; Charollete is not much better, acting more as a nanny than a best friend at times with a bit of a temper if you call her a kid. If it weren't for some of the neat throwbacks and surprising little easter egg type things, like finding out once and for all who was the last Belmont to weild the Vampire Killer until 1999 was, the story probably would have soured me a bit on this entry. Johnathan ain't no Alucard, that much is certain.
The sound is fitting, as usual, with a few remixes of classic themes in the game. One of my favorites actually came with one of my personal favorite fights in the game, which it's hard not to spoil, but suffice to say you'll know the fight when you see it. This isn't exactly anything new; as the Castlevania franchise has always had good music. But it's always comforting to realize when you jump into one of the games.
Like most previous games, there is replay to be had here, considering the very nature of the game. Anyone familiar with the Sorrows and Julius mode will find a similar mode here, with two new teams that can be used instead of Johnathan and Charolette. Oddly enough, one of the two teams in particular for this mode is more of a balanced experience than the main games duo. The Castlevania fanboy in me loved the extra duo. There's also a Boss Rush mode, if you're into that, which I know some are. Other requisite extra's are there as well, such as the Sound Test.
The Score: Dramatic Thumbs Up
Overall, it's a decent Castlevania entry. It never really rises above the pack to really distinguish itself from it's predecessors and that's probably the games biggest shortcoming. Aside from locals more varied than in the past, there's only the team gimmick, which didn't pan out as well as would have been expected due largely to an imbalance in usefullness. Which is frustrating, because I'm convinced that with some proper tuning, it would have worked well. Otherwise it's just another Castlevania game, so while I enjoyed myself I really cannot give this game a better rating. Even if this is an improvement over some previous installments since Symphony, it doesn't change the fact that they still have not reached those heights again and that we've seen most of this before. Reccomended.