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Destructoid review: Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin

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Yes, we're at it again. Destructoid is here to let you know what we think of the latest title in the Castlevania franchise -- Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin. Did we love it? Did we hate it? Will you want to buy it? Find out after the jump as four of us weigh in on this little game for the Nintendo DS.

Aaron Linde     

Portrait of Ruin? It's really good. You probably knew that already. But is it better of Dawn of Sorrow? Let me put it this way: Dawn of Sorrow is my favorite Castlevania game, OK? Favorite. Doesn't get any better in Castlevania -- or, hell, any Metroidvania-style games, and that includes Super Metroid -- than Dawn of Sorrow for yours truly. So it's sort of a "How does it stack up? Should you bother with Ruin if you've already got Sorrow?" Yeah, yeah you should. It's essentially more of the same, tweaked ever-so-gently -- that's hardly a bad thing.

You've probably heard a lot of hullabaloo over the two-character system, which I've come to believe is a sort of arbitrary addition to Ruin. They use the two-character convention for maybe four or five puzzles, but at the end of the game, it occurs to you that all it really amounted to was a SotN-style familiar that could be hot-switched at will and took damage that registered in your MP. Beyond that, it's just sort of neat, but not groundbreaking. I found myself sticking to one character, Jonathan, because I got tired of having my MP drained by crap AI getting pounded by even the weakest of Dracula's minions.

Strike the tag team system, however, and you've still got a stand-up title. Though many sprites have been reused (for the 90th time), the game feels terrifically new, thanks in no small part due to a reinvigorated magic and item system with no more soul-grinding. Quests -- on-the-side deals like "Go kill a Ghoul King" or "Hey, Go Get Me a Sandwich" that reward you with stat upgrades and items -- offer a welcome respite to the standard plot progression/backtracking fandango that has been the norm since Symphony. The game ain't a cakewalk, either; Portrait of Ruin is perhaps one of the hardest games in the series since Castlevania shrugged off its platforming, level-based roots in 1997.

When compared to the original Castlevania, however, that's still not saying much. It's not without its issues. The level design leaves much to be desired; the game is longer, yes, but it's artificially inflated by the somewhat weak and ill-advised reuse of early levels as mirrored and palette-swapped endgame stages. Don't be fooled by the Nintendo Wi-Fi logo on the box, either -- your choices are Shop Mode and co-op Boss Rush, both of which are almost a complete waste. The co-op mode shows us exactly what could have been with Portrait of Ruin -- a full-length single player campaign extrapolated into a two-player cooperative deal -- but was limited to the weak sauce same-as-it-ever-was Boss Rush game that we've seen since Aria of Sorrow. A lack of quality co-operative play, though, is the sort of thing I wouldn't have missed had it not been suggested to me by such a substandard effort. Don't be a tease, Konami. Take us all the way.
 
I'm almost willing to let that slide completely, though, when stacked against two teams of bonus playable characters available after completing the single player campaign, including Richter and Maria from Rondo of Blood. I can't express to you how cool this is: A game in which one can switch actively between these characters in a Metroid-like environment and XP-based RPG gameplay? It's like Rondo 2, and it's everything I've ever wanted -- well, except an updated port of Rondo of Blood.
 
Now that would be something.
 
Final score: 8.8

 

Nex

I just want to go on record as saying that the 2D Castlevania games, dating back to Symphony of the Night, have been some of my favorite games of all time. If they were a beautiful woman, I would have married one of them and cheated on her with the others like the immoral manwhore that I am. Now that that’s out of the way, how does the new one stack up to the others?

It’s goddamn phenomenal! While some may feel that the Metroid-vania feel of the games has grown stale over the last five games, I’m still madly in love with it and I have to take cold showers and drink copious amounts of Vermouth to get through the months between releases. The newest iteration takes that same formula and adds a surprising amount of depth -- between the new dual character system and the enhanced inventory -- and wraps it in a neat package topped off with a bow made of incestual lesbian vampire sisters. Did I mention that part? Maybe you didn’t hear me the first time … INCESTUAL LESBIAN VAMPIRE SISTERS! If you need any more reason to play this game, move to Canada. Or continue reading this review … whatever … we’re not friends anymore, jerk.

The graphics in Portrait of Ruin are very similar to those in Dawn of Sorrow, but you can tell that some extra 3D flair has been added to the game. The spell effects are fantastic and some enemies (the stupid floating eyeball things) have been rendered in full 3D to great effect. The sound, especially the voice work, is top notch throughout and while I miss the old standby themes like Bloody Tears and Vampire Killer, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before I stumble across at least a remix of one of them. Konami, don’t let me down on this!

Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin is absolutely full of fan service. Fans of the older games will absolutely love the HUGE amount of unlockable characters and the paintings that illicit immediate comparisons to older Castlevania titles. Even the weapons you pick up along the way (Thorn Whip, bitches!) are almost all tiny homage’s to the previous games. It’s almost as if Konami crawled inside of my head while I was asleep, stole all my memories about previous Castlevanias, mixed them into a fine paste and splattered them, Pollock-style, all over a DS cartridge.

Don’t get me wrong, there are issues. For one, the Wi-Fi multiplayer is simply Boss Rush mode where you can bring a friend along for the ride. I would have liked to have seen a true Wi-Fi co-op mode for the whole game, but it’s a step in the right direction. In the end, though, the bottom line is that if you either: a) own a Nintendo DS, b) enjoy Castlevania games, c) write crap poetry about darkness and vampires, or d) don’t want to make Koji Igarashi cry, you will buy this game and you will enjoy it.

Final score: 9

 

Nick Brutal

I play two first-person shooter games that have me storming the beaches of Normandy and I'm up in arms -- why are they making me do this again? But Metroid-vania? I can't seem to get enough. That doesn't mean, however, that it's not starting to feel like old-hat.

Portrait of Ruin offers a few new gameplay features of value, of course. For example, the ability to swap between two characters on the fly is a unique feature that works really well in a lot of situations. It helps that both Jonathan and Charlotte have disparate fighting styles, making switching between the two a necessity. It's a shame that having control over two characters in puzzle situations is used so infrequently.

I was excited to finally get out of a castle, too. By entering the paintings, I was promised vast new worlds that would open up the game's universe. What I got instead was a smaller castle than I'm used to, in addition to a handful of paintings that (while visually different) are essentially extensions of the main game world, even to the point where you'll encounter similar (or the same) enemies.

Things like co-op Boss Rush mode are a nice addition, but the dual character gameplay could lend itself beautifully to a 100% co-op experience. It seems like a missed opportunity and one that I think could enhance the game, and even take it to the next level. And while the main quest is a tad bit on the short side, there are a ton of extras that may or may not extend your gameplay experience. Nex will continue to play the game until every rare item is unearthed five ways from Sunday. I, on the other hand, already having played through six hours of déjà vu, will probably not.

But please don't get me wrong -- Portrait of Ruin is a solid Castlevania experience, one that I did enjoy. If you've enjoyed the games in the past, you're going to feel right at home here. But if you're looking for a new gameplay experience on your DS, you're going to have to look elsewhere.

Final score: 7.5

 

Robert Summa

I’m gonna make this short and sweet, because my uber buddies above pretty much nailed all the specifics. For me, the best handheld games are the ones that can cause heroin-like addictions and pass time on a subway ride as I try my best to ignore homeless people that make sewers smell like a Nex and Aaron on cool, spring morning (freshness ftw!).

In a nutshell, Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin does just that. Some game formulas just work for me and this is definitely one of them. I don’t care how repetitive it is, or how simple. I’m addicted to leveling up and exploring the colorful and complicated castles. And the level of challenge is set just right for me. It makes me feel like a tard sometimes, but it’s not completely hopeless -- which makes me feel like I accomplished something in my lonely and pathetic time on this Earth.

I love the addition of the paintings and the two-player interaction. Could everything have been done better? Sure. But I don’t really care. Could it have expanded on its multiplayer? Definitely. But again, I don’t care. I just want to mindlessly explore castles and immerse myself in a silly vampire storyline. Thanks to Portrait of Ruin, I can do just that.

Final score: 8.5

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reviewed by Robert Summa

 

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Robert Summa
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