Castlevania continues strong on the DS.

User Rating: 9 | Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin DS
Castlevania Portrait of Ruin is the second iteration of the Castlevania series on the Nintendo DS, the first one, Dawn of Sorrow, released in late 2005, was a success, at least critically the game was highly acclaimed. This sequel, released a little more than a year later at the end of 2006, follows primarily the formula and style found in Dawn of Sorrow, with more than needed new stuff to keep it interesting and fresh.

The major change here seems to be the addition of a new character to play simultaneously and cooperatively, this is also new to the series, some quests along the way require the help of your partner, the dual puzzles are generally easy to follow, but don't get fooled, the rest of the game can be a nightmare for unaware adventurers, especially after you finished the game already and feel ready to raise the difficulty level, the bosses stay true to Castlevania and will give you a hard time. So the puzzles might not get in your way, but the rest of the game will, Portrait of Ruin is not a walk in the park, at all. You can change the character to whomever you want to play with, you can even set for them to be both in the screen slashing enemies, one controlled by you, one controlled by the CPU, any damage the CPU takes counts for your magic meter, while you take damage with the HP bar normally.

The transition from the Game Boy Advance to the Nintendo DS with Dawn of Sorrow sure was a bang, this makes a much less impact than its predecessor, for obvious reasons, but it's in no way less fun. I felt this game being less dark than Dawn of Sorrow, though it might be just an impression, some people might not notice, especially if they are not that intimate with the roots of the Castlevania franchise, the style still delivers that gruesome experience with many grotesque enemies and bosses along the way. What is actually a fact is that this time they've introduced more imaginative places, having a bit more variety to it, one of the places that stand out the most is a pyramid, with an Egypt-like atmosphere and enemies like mummies, ghosts, skeletons, undead snakes, and so on. To travel to these locations you use framed paintings, hence the name of the game, there are many around the main location--Dracula's Castle--and upon entering you're immediately transported to the area of the painting, a nice idea to add variety to such a peculiar looking game. One thing I had trouble with was remembering to which location each painting warps you to, maybe when you warp around the actual stage you're in, especially Dracula's Castle, there should be indicators on the map.

The RPG elements are present as well, you go picking up new equipments along the way and upgrading your characters, you have more to equip this time, there are 8 slots to fill, including two accessory slots; body, legs, and head protection; a main weapon and a sub-weapon; and a dual attack performed with together with your partner. The more you use some sub-weapons the better you get at it, until a point of mastering it, reaching master level will grant you several types of attack bonuses on each particular weapon, with the bonus depending on which skill you mastered. Completionists continue having a blast with Castlevania, practically everything on Portrait of Ruin has a percentage counter, skills, items, enemies, quests, map explored; if you're up to, you'll be able to extend gameplay time far after completing the main story; also, there are games modes unlocked post-completion ready to challenge the player's mastery of the game. The quests are a good addition too, upon talking to a guy named Wind you are presented with many of them, as you go completing the ones listed new ones become available, granting the player with rewards as well.

The art style continues with the anime-oriented dark atmosphere from Dawn of Sorrow, it has evolved to a more accessive vein, but the known formula is still present and strong. The graphics continue solid, and the music still steals the show, the soul of Castlevania has become the incredibly haunting and captivating music, and Portrait of Ruin is not exception. The story is perhaps a little better developed than Dawn of Sorrow, and told in a more concise manner, it's nothing incredible but serves you right. The only downside is the bugs, the game has a whole lot of them, they range from corrupted save files to freezing when using too many skills at certain areas, if you're lucky enough you might rarely see them, but if you dedicate a serious amount of time into it the chances are high that you'll experience them at least once. Dawn of Sorrow maybe felt like a more inspired game overall, basically when it comes to detail and polish, but Dawn of Sorrow was released before and introduced the transition to a more powerful handheld, the possibilities were fresher; also, Portrait of Ruin's main game length is bigger than Dawn of Sorrow.

Castlevania Portrait of Ruin is as recommendable as any Castlevania game, if you liked Dawn of Sorrow you owe it to yourself, if not, maybe you should get that game first. The quality is as high as Castlevania can get, the mix of platforming with other elements like RPG and exploration still delivers wonders. Portrait of Ruin is one of the best games the Nintendo DS has to offer, and a pretty satisfying experience overall.