"The last thing Portrait of Ruin could be called is innovative. This is the definition of the assembly-line, take-no-chances, use-all-of-the-assets-from-the-previous-game sequel. If you've played Symphony of the Night, any of the three GBA games, or Dawn of Sorrow, you should know exactly what to expect: you'll trek through a labyrinthine castle, upgrading your abilities to access new areas ala Metroid, and beat up a whole bunch of enemies along the way. Luckily, Portrait of Ruin is as well-craft..."
The last thing Portrait of Ruin could be called is innovative. This is the definition of the assembly-line, take-no-chances, use-all-of-the-assets-from-the-previous-game sequel. If you've played Symphony of the Night, any of the three GBA games, or Dawn of Sorrow, you should know exactly what to expect: you'll trek through a labyrinthine castle, upgrading your abilities to access new areas ala Metroid, and beat up a whole bunch of enemies along the way. Luckily, Portrait of Ruin is as well-crafted as any Metroidvania/Castleroid that's come before it, and as such, the formula still works.
There is a plot in Portrait of Ruin, but it really doesn't matter, and quite honestly, no one cares. The timeline has become so muddied by this point that only the most hardcore of Castlevania fanatics are still keeping track of it. If you've played Bloodlines before--it's the one on the Genesis, remember?--you'll probably recognize some plot references to that game in here.
So the story doesn't go anywhere new. But does Portrait of Ruin tread new ground in its gameplay? If you've read the whole review up to this point, then you may be able to take an educated guess that no, it does not. And you'd be right. Portrait of Ruin has precisely two new gimmicks to differentiate itself from the twenty-plus other Castlevania games. The first of such is the introduction of dual-character play; that is to say, you control two characters simultaneously. Sort of.
It really doesn't change much; you can choose between burly hero Jonathan or dainty mage girl Charlotte, but regardless of who you play as, you're still just mashing the attack button until enemies die. Since Jonathan gets far better equipment than Charlotte until late in the game, you'll probably be playing as him for 90% of the time. You can switch between the two on the fly or have both be onscreen simultaneously, with the separate character being controlled via spotty AI. Should your AI partner get hurt, the damage will be subtracted from your MP meter. This ultimately makes your computer-controlled partner more of a hindrance than a help, and you'll likely just stay with one character or the other unless it's absolutely necessary to have both (about a half-dozen puzzles in the game make use of this mechanic.)
The game's only other real new idea is the portraits which act as portals to different areas of the game. The castle itself is more of a "hub" area this time around, and the portraits lead to separate areas from the main map--think Super Mario 64. This change allows Portrait of Ruin's game environment to be larger than any other Metroidvania before it, but it also exacerbates their main weakness: level design.
Metroidvania levels have always had a lot of fluff in them to disguise the fact that the levels themselves aren't anything special. Portrait of Ruin is no exception. Elaborate backgrounds? Check. Upbeat musical score? Check. Impressively detailed enemy animations? Check, even though nine out of ten sprites in the game are directly ripped from previous games, dating all the way back to 1991's Super Castlevania IV. A big, bad boss at the end to get your adrenaline pumping? Double--nay, triple check.
But looking at things a bit closer reveals a somewhat glaring shortcoming of the entire Metroidvania formula. Most rooms in the game are straight hallways filled with enemies. It doesn't matter which area you're in; just swap out the background and copy-and-paste some different enemies and before you know it, you've gone through that same damn hallway fifty times. Oh, sure, there's the occasional deviation, like an Indiana Jones-style boulder room, but they're the exception, not the rule. And the rule is straight, flat hallways with lots and lots of enemies. And maybe a candle or two that you can break for some cash.
And yet you will still have fun. And a lot of fun, at that. I'm not quite sure what it is that makes these games so addicting; the RPG-esque levelling up and equipment mongering? The meticulously crafted gothic presentation? The relentless action and monster slaying? Perhaps all three? Whatever the case, you will like this game if you've liked any of its predecessors.
Dear Konami: please change up the formula for the next game. We've been seeing Metroidvania after Metroidvania for ten years now. Yes, it is still fun, but it's time for something different. Try some new stuff while the games are still good, lest this series become the Madden of action-adventure games. If you're a Castlevania fan, you're going to buy this game no matter what, and that's great, because the game is great. In fact, it's arguably the best DS game yet. If you're new to the series, Portrait of Ruin is as good a place to start as any other.
Community review by phediuk (December 17, 2006)
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