Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin Updated Hands-On

We spend some quality time fighting the forces of evil in Konami's upcoming DS masterpiece.

Konami has been firing on all cylinders with its portable entries in its beloved Castlevania series. The veteran publisher/developer didn't miss a beat as it jumped from its stellar Game Boy Advance games to the DS. The third installment of the series on the DS, the upcoming Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin, doesn't show any signs that the developer's track record is in danger of being thrown off. We had the chance to spend some quality time with an updated version of the slick 2D title recently, and we're pleased by what we've seen.

Is it really fair to gang up on a lone merman?

The game uses the same winning formula seen in last year's Dawn of Sorrow and features an animated scene-setting intro that showcases the DS's modest but solid video capabilities. The intro cinematic gives players their first look at the game's two lead characters, Jonathan Morris and Charlotte Aulin. As with previous entries in the series, Portrait of Ruin finds new ways to get mileage out of the franchise's family tree. In this case the game taps on the Sega Genesis Castlevania Bloodlines cast, with Jonathan being a descendant of Johnny Morris, that title's main character. He's joined by Charlotte, a powerful mystic. As you'd expect, each character has their own unique strength in the game. Jonathan is obviously the team powerhouse when it comes to melee combat, while Charlotte relies on her magic and isn't as sturdy as her partner when it comes to going toe-to-toe with the undead. The duo sets out to stop what appears to be the forthcoming resurrection of the poster boy for the vampiric lifestyle, Dracula.

However, despite the reappearance of Drac's mighty and twisted castle, Dracula isn't actually the big bad in this adventure. It seems his home has been hijacked by a rival vamp by the name of Brauner, who, along with his two undead daughters, is using the energy from the all the death caused by WWII to power the castle's return. While we haven't found out much more about the specifics, it seems Drac's crib is a pretty potent domicile for power seekers. To help power up the castle and contain the mighty energies being funneled into it, Brauner crafts paintings that are portals to what appear to be pocket dimensions. Jonathan and Charlotte must seek out the paintings, enter the dimensions, take out the bosses in them, and disrupt Brauner's flow of energy. If the pair disrupts enough of the energy coming in, Brauner's plot to resurrect casa de Dracula is hosed. This all sounds like a plan worth pursuing by the pair of heroes, and it forms the driving force behind the action.

Dracula's got a squatter...and he brought his family.

The game follows a fairly standard Castlevania structure in that you'll be doing a ton of exploration and revisiting areas you couldn't access previously once you earn new abilities. Obviously, the main part of your adventure revolves around finding Brauner's paintings and disrupting them. However, the game also features some interesting side quest work, thanks to the presence of a ghost named Wind. It seems the phantasm is all about opposing Brauner and has bound his spirit to the castle. Given his ghostly form, his options are somewhat limited when it comes to actively opposing Brauner; but what he can do is dole out quests to our heroic duo and reward them with new items and abilities that are key to progressing in the adventure. From what we've seen, his missions are typical fetch quests or kill quests that require you to take out a certain number of enemies. We'd of course like to note that if Casper were really serious about taking out Brauner he'd just fork over the helpful stuff as opposed to making Jonathan and Charlotte work for it, but there you go. You'll find another friendly face on your travels, a priest, who runs a shop you can visit in the game and spend your hard-earned cash for items and gear. As with Wind, if his holiness were really committed to helping in the fight against evil he'd just give the pair what they needed instead of forcing them to fork over their hard-earned cash for goods. But no one ever said the fight against evil was easy or cheap.

Painting Can Be Fun (In an Evil Way)

The main new mechanic to the gameplay mix is how you'll control the two heroes. You'll be able to switch between them on the fly, or have both onscreen at the same time with the artificial intelligence controlling your partner. The dual mechanic presents some interesting, cool options during the adventure. The most obvious is the additional firepower when fighting enemies. Your partner will attack what you do and help you take out foes that much quicker. The downside is, as they take damage, the magic meter will run down. Once it gets low enough, they'll disappear, forcing you to refill your meter by collecting hearts or using an item. The other perk to having a buddy out during your adventuring is that you can use them for moves as you earn new abilities, such as a springboard when jumping. You'll also find the pair will be able to perform combo attacks that result in mass damage to anything nearby. As with previous games, you'll find a full inventory and item system to use as well as a leveling system that lets your characters get buff as they take out the forces of evil. You'll also be able to equip better weapons and gear, each with unique stat enhancing attributes, as you come across it or buy it. Finally, you'll be able to customize your magic and combo attacks as you gain them.

Sometimes you really need a friend to be there for you when you're trying to murder a massive, undead evil creature.

The control in the game is solid, with the basic Castlevania handling in full effect. You'll be able to run, jump, and use magic weapon attacks like always. The new swap mechanic is folded seamlessly into the mix and feels good. Combo moves are easy to pull off, if you have the magic points to support them. The touch screen is put to some use as well, with one feature where you can draw on your save file (as in earlier games), as well as a bit where you can use it to direct your partner on where to go when they're out by tapping on the screen.

The visuals in Portrait of Ruin have gotten a winning layer of polish since we last saw the game in motion. Jonathan and Charlotte move fluidly, thanks to animation that's on par with the previous games. Enemies animate just as well and have their own unique, and obviously undead, flair. The game's 2D presentation is nicely done and seamlessly blends in 3D flourishes. Little touches, such as animated elements in the background, help the presentation stand out. The game doesn't skimp on special effects, either, as evidenced by the various attacks the duo performs, either as a pair or solo. One interesting thing to note is that while the in-game graphics are on par with the previous games, the face shots used in dialogue sequences to move the story along sport a new art style that reflects a more traditional anime influence. As a result, the character portraits will feature a good deal more personality and a slightly younger look to them. The new presentation winds up being pretty effective at selling everyone's emotions during chats, which is a subtle touch that helps tell the story. Finally, as in previous Castlevania DS games, you'll be able to check your map and inventory on the second DS screen.

The audio in the game is coming together fine and lives up to the high standard set by the previous portable Castlevania games. Aside from the impressive soundtrack that anchors the experience, we heard new touches, such as the characters saying each other's names as we alternated controlling them. Besides that, we heard the old, reliable moans of the undead and various abominations as we murdered them, which was all good stuff.

In a not entirely surprising appearance, Death shows up to cause trouble.

Based on what we played, Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin is shaping up to be one cool little entry in the series on the DS. The gameplay is interesting and seems to be a good mix of old and new. The visuals are looking pretty slick and are well on their way to maintaining the high level of quality we've come to expect from the series on the DS. Though we weren't able to try the game's wireless features, we're anxious to see how they will pan out. The notion of playing with a friend and selling gear seems like it could be interesting. Though the version of the game we played was a work in progress, all signs point to Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin becoming another cracking entry in the long-running series that shouldn't be missed. The game is currently slated to ship later this year for the DS; look for more in the coming months.

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Discussion

47 comments
LexLas
LexLas

What I wonder and is not stated is.......... Do you have to buy two of the games to play two player ?? or just one and download ???? This game I will for sure own..

somaslayer
somaslayer

will be one of the top rated ds games

GaaraZanta
GaaraZanta

Very excited for this game, getting 100% completion in Dawn of Sorrow was actually enjoyable, so I hope this game lives up to those high standards.

xWade42x
xWade42x

I don't see what you guys see in these games....>

gigaman299
gigaman299

Damn, I need this game. =/ This is a def. buy for me.

Tv-spelare
Tv-spelare

This is one of the DS-games that I want to have in my collection. If its as fun as Dawn of Sorrow, then this will be a must have to my DS.

AikidoBoy101803
AikidoBoy101803

Castlvania RULES!! My all time favorite since Symphony of the Night!! Its all about Death baby!! I wonder how crazy he's gonna be in this new castlevania? he sure was a toughy in Dawn of Sorrow on hard mode without the Final Gaurd soul. haha i cant wait! ^_^

darkdaej
darkdaej

im truly hoping this holds a candle to dawn of sorrow. the first DS castlevania game was the closest thing to the enjoyment of symphony of the night, and im really hoping this one delivers as well.

Demonbob
Demonbob

Oh yeah. This game is just getting better and better, and if it has DS download play, my head will....explode.

Samanoske15
Samanoske15

Damn it man they are using two of the same bosses from the last Castlevania game. Come on man please use different ones instead of the same one with different attack patterns. On a positive side i am glad that they have a whip-wielding hero again but in the last game Dawn of Sorrow u could play as Julius Belmont after u beat the game and he has a whip so that is cool. Anyway except for the use of two of the same bosses and maybe more along with the possible uses of the same enemies i am still very excited for this game and can't wait to add it to my collection. Talk to u ppl alter. Peace Out!!! V

-o-o-o-o-o-o-ox
-o-o-o-o-o-o-ox

Ehh... I dunno. I thought "Circle of the Moon" and "Harmony of Dissonance" were fantastic, but once I played the "Sorrow" games, I was unimpressed by the bland music, and the lack of "WHIP". The "Sorrow" games just had that feel to them that I didn't like, I don't like the anime style, and I don't like "Soul-Collecting". I think they should make more games like CotM or HoD, not AoS or DoS.

gozyaj
gozyaj

One of the best castlevania game to date!!! Would it be cool if they using wifi for co-op mode!!!?? ^__^

jwmcafee
jwmcafee

Actually, soul_motor, they're only talking about the DS games: "The third installment of the series on the DS" And anyway, even if they weren't, there are at least three CV games on the GBA by itself, so it's a typo either way. But anyway, this game looks pretty sweet.

kingblackdahlia
kingblackdahlia

I'm extremely glad to see a new whip-wielding hero back on the hand-held. It's been a while.

soul_motor
soul_motor

I'm so looking forward to this! AB78, they're talking about the GBA games also.

afterburner1978
afterburner1978

I believe there is only 1 other previous Castlevania DS game. Richardo makes reference to 2 other DS games in the series several times. Did I miss anything, or is this a simple typo?

lion123
lion123

Finally a nice use of the time

ilovetehwii
ilovetehwii

cant wait for this probly gonna ask fir it fir chrismas

REVOLUTIONfreak
REVOLUTIONfreak

This game looks awesome! I really liked DoS so hopefully with the added online co-op this should be even better!

peeweeshift
peeweeshift

I hope they have a new multiplayer mode in this game

peeweeshift
peeweeshift

castlevania keeps changing its main characters and timelines:(

aeris15
aeris15

hey what is this game? is this game is cool or what? Maybe this game is cool I should buy this one someday

glitchgeeman
glitchgeeman

Hey, the zombie-dinosaur is back! I hated that boss in the old game. The first boss in that game I actually failed the touch screen rune sealing. Had to fight him three times before I could seal away the bastard.

monkkito
monkkito

Great news, i already got it preordered

Tanjavasi
Tanjavasi

Wow...I am very impressed after watching this latest trailer. The voices heard in the trailer sounded great (I had no idea Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin will feature spoken dialogue xD)...the game looks like great fun; I am sure it will be a must have title!

Mokosomo
Mokosomo

AAAAhHHH! That barney zombie thing is back! Dammit!

FallenAngel
FallenAngel

Drat...what a time to give my DS away to my little cousin...:(:(

bluezy
bluezy

Sweet, i can hardly wait

BelmontMaster
BelmontMaster

Yes, another sweet entry to the series, I can't wait.

Genexi2
Genexi2

Hope there's alot more replay-incentive then Dawn of Sorrow, loved that game, but after collecting all the Souls/Exploring/HardDiff/AlternateCharacters, there wasn't much left to do, I guess I enjoyed the game more then it was supposed to be. ;/ . Regardless, anxiously awaiting this one, which I hope has a wireless mode worth using this time, a co-op action platformer would be the bomb, more-so if the music compositions are just in line with the previous entries of the Castlevania series, some of the best music I've heard on the DS came from Dawn of Sorrow.

TintedChimes
TintedChimes

I heard this game is extremely fun and addictive. RIGHT ON!

MoodyFlame
MoodyFlame

if you can play co-op i will buy this game, if you cant i will buy this game...but be slightly saddder...

somaslayer
somaslayer

I hope you can play with ppl around the world in co-op. This will be the best in the series either way

A-TEX
A-TEX

Bloodlines for Genesis was, by far, the greatest Castlevania game ever made. That's right, I said it. Take it as gospel.

Mana-Knight-15
Mana-Knight-15

Amazing, this game is gonna be the best DS game.... nuff said

NX75
NX75

Fantastic! I loved the last one and think this one's just going to be better. But honestly, it's only the second DS Castlevania. You guys have to fix that. And the inventory isn't shown on the top screen, just your status. I know that's being picky; I'm sorry.

Blace_07
Blace_07

I think this game looks good, but i want to know more about the Multiplayer abilities going on.

stiker71
stiker71

Yeah and Looks great cant wait for it to come out DOS was my fav DS game so far.

stiker71
stiker71

W8 3ird DS one? i this is only trhe second right?

ValKilmerStyle
ValKilmerStyle

Dawn of Sorrow was great, but this game looks even better. I can't wait. Damn you, Q4 2006. Damn you and all the secrets you hold.

Potemkin2005
Potemkin2005

Um...the article keeps referring to previous Castlevania DS games. Plural. Is the article writer smoking something? This is only the second Castlevania DS game. Every time he says "games" he should be saying "game." That's totally funny. w00t!!! First post!!!