Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin Review

Since its inception two decades ago, Castlevania has become a staple franchise that screams high-quality. Portrait of Ruin is no exception to that rule providing a fun, solid, and lengthy game. But the caveat to that statement is that Portrait is simply too much like previous games in the series — and it shows.

Portrait showcases the same classic 2D side-scrolling gameplay that you’ve come to know and love over the years. You’ll take control of two characters: Jonathan and Charlotte. Jonathan is your typical whip-wielding vampire slayer, while Charlotte is the level-headed magic-user. The ability to use two characters lends itself as a puzzle-solving technique, requiring teamwork to get through some areas. Both characters will accumulate their own unique powers and items as you progress through the game, and each has their own distinct playing style. Portrait does a wonderful job of never forcing you to use one character or the other (with the exception of certain puzzles), while still rewarding intelligent use of the two.

The controls work efficiently, and make the game very easy to pick up and play. Things are paced incredibly well, meaning you don’t begin the game with all of your special moves; instead, they are steadily given to you as your progress through the game, allowing for you to slowly incorporate newly unlocked moves into your arsenal. The only gripe I have (which is existent only because Konami opted to provide the feature) is with controlling your second character at the same time as your currently-selected character. It’s done by manipulating the touch screen, whose functionality is otherwise non-existent. At no point did I ever really find myself reaching to employ this, and the inclusion seems more like a tack-on in order to let Konami tote the game as having touch screen functionality.

Portrait‘s gameplay is exactly what you’ve been playing in Castlevania games for years now. A vampire has control over a castle, and your task is to dispose of him before he can resurrect Dracula. The ‘portrait’ aspect of things refers to the paintings you’ll find scattered throughout the castle. Through them, you’ll travel to entirely new areas that you wouldn’t otherwise see in a Castlevania game, such as a desert. You’ll travel through some fairly large environments, although each room is instanced (i.e. if you leave and come back, everything will reset, with the exception of bosses). The map — while linear when you look at it as a whole — somehow manages to always provide you with a sense of choice, which basically equates to letting you roam freely.

The story is unusually bland, with plenty of forced plot-points and more than enough dialogue that will have you feigning, "Oh no!" Konami simply tried too hard to flesh-out the backstory at inappropriate times, and the results just aren’t pretty. Bosses aren’t influenced by the story, really, so the developers had some elbow room to create interesting and cool enemies. Bosses play a particularly pivotal point in terms of gameplay in the Castlevania series, but much like the game’s story, it seems like Konami might be running out of gas in terms of ideas. I mean, really, a big pile of goo that lies dormant in its mining cart, only to pop out in order to spit out smaller piles of goo at you isn’t exactly my idea of innovation.

Graphically, Portrait isn’t a major improvement over Dawn of Sorrow. In fact, it’s not really an improvement at all. And while neither game is a particularly "wow"-inducing experience, Portrait manages to compensate by having a lot of variety among enemies and settings. There are 155 different enemies, each of which has its own distinct look, while the dozens upon dozens of areas manage to stay fresh with their varying backgrounds and structures. One of the few problems graphically is that certain assets–such as platforms–tend to be over-used. Additionally, at times it’s hard to differentiate the background from the foreground, and because of that I found myself running into walls, thinking it was an exit to the next room.

Ultimately, Portrait of Ruin is an extremely solid Castlevania title. It provides you with everything you’d expect, but not a whole lot more. While you aren’t getting anything revolutionary as far as the series is concerned, what you are getting is an extremely solid, well-polished game that is definitely worth your money. Innovative or not, this is one of the best handheld games of the year.


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Author: GamerNode Staff View all posts by

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