Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Review - Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (DS)

I've loved the Castlevania series ever since I experienced the pixelated, hanging nuns on the NES. The sad thing is, I haven't played a new Castlevania title since the Castlevania 64. That is until I got my hands on Portrait of Ruin for the Nintendo DS. I needed a good platformer and I had heard good things about PoR, so I picked up a copy. That was the beginning of the end for me, as I've been hopelessly addicted ever since. Allow me to explain.

I'm a sucker for leveling, which has lead to past addictions with
RPGs and the like. Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin combines the classic
whip-weilding, vampire killing action fans have come to love, with RPG
elements that allow your characters to grow stronger as the game
progresses. Anyone who's played last year's DS title, Dawn of Sorrow,
will recognize the system. It's all really basic: you kill enemies,
earn EXP, and your stats increase. It's nothing groundbreaking, but it
adds depth to the game.

The game takes place when Johnathon Morris and Charlotte Aulin, the
story's protagonists go to the newly raised Dracula's Castle to slay
the legendary fiend. Instead they encounter a different vampire named
Brauner, who has taken control of Dracula's castle with the magic
power of several paintings located throughout the building. While
leaping into portraits and exploring the worlds within (a la Mario
64), you'll come across a helpful ghost, named Wind (who played a role
in the Genesis classic, Castlevania Bloodlines); Brauner's two vampire
daughters, Stella and Loretta; Dracula's right-hand man, Death; and an
item-selling priest named Vincent.

As noted above, This time around you control two characters:
Johnathon, your whip/other melee weapon using protagonist, and his
magic-weilding sidekick, Charlotte. You can control either character
individually, switching between the two characters by pressing X, or
control both at once (really basic AI controls whoever you're not).
Both characters share HP and EXP, and the system allows for the
occasional puzzle. The main idea is that some enemies are weak against
certain weapon classes or spells, but if you have a strong enough
melee weapon equipped for Johnathon, it's easy to overwhelm an enemy's
physical defense. I only ever used Charlotte when one of her spells
came in handy to heal or access a secret area. Also, if you have
enough magic points, you can execute a Marvel Vs. Capcom-style combo
attack, in which your two characters will team up to bring the pwnage
to whatever unfortunate ghoul you're fighting.

PoR is addictive, but it's definitely not perfect. After beating
the first four levels, you get the pleasure of playing through them
again with rearranged rooms, tougher enemies, and different bosses.
I've never been a fan of recycling levels or bosses, but it wasn't a
huge problem for me here, because it meant fighting enemies with more
EXP and better item drops. Nonetheless, it felt like a cop-out, and
I'd have liked to have seen some added original levels. Speaking of
originality, the 4 levels that get recycled are a town (that might be
the town surrounding the castle), a pyramid, a carnival/funhouse, and
a wooded area/academy. I thought the pyramid and funhouse were
especially out of place, generic level concepts, but like I said
before, I was too busy hacking away to be too bothered.

There were a couple things that did annoy me, however minor they
might be. The first of which is the fact that item pickups (with the
exception of enemy-dropped items) are unique. Once you pick up an
item, that's it. The problem here, is that some of the optional quests
require finding one or several of these items. I came across a couple
and sold them before the quests opened up, and now there's no way to
complete those quests without knowing someone who has the game,
getting them to link up, and buying the items from them(via the wifi
shop mode), but then they'd be S.O.L. Also, in order to find much of
the game's secrets, you need to destroy breakable walls, floor, and
ceilings to access hidden areas. These breakable walls look no
different from any other surfaces, however, so without a certain rare
item, you literally need to attack every surface in the castle and its
levels if you want to conquer all PoR has to offer.

So, it's got a few little problems, but in terms of sheer fun,
Castlevania Portrait of Ruin has turned out to be the best game I've
played on the DS. The 2D graphics are pretty basic, but the animations
are all top notch, with quality backgrounds and the occasional 3D
enemy or effect. The voice work is also well done, though hearing each
character yell the others' name every time you switch can get old. As
for the music, it's standard Castlevania's all moody and
atmospheric, but isn't as memorable as some of the older titles.
If I were to rate PoR on an out of 10 scale I'd give it an easy 9. If
they had put a little more work into the level designs, thought of the
annoying little quirks, and made the 2-character gameplay a necessity,
this game would be perfect. Also, I should note that the touch screen
capabilities aren't used at all in the main game, with the action
taking place on the bottom screen, and maps and enemy and character
stats on the top screen.
Here's a video of some in-game action that does a pretty good job of showcasing the game.

Verdict - Buy this game 9/10


CorranThorn said...

yarr, nice review. I wish I owned a DS. :)

Mercy1.0 said...

As the DS is my favorite console, I'd love to see more game reviews for it. ;)

Fetuscollector6 said...

mmm beef jerky