Continuing a streak of success, Konami's latest Castlevania arrives on the DS with an epic quest that goes beyond the usual limitations of the series. Still following an adventure path that varies from the earlier incarnations that were basic platform titles, Portrait of Ruin is another nearly flawless effort. Konami has found a gameplay style that never loses its addictive nature.
As with all recent Castlevania games, Portrait of Ruin offers unique mechanics to keep things fresh. A team mechanism is the hook here, allowing the player to swap between two characters with their own unique set of powers. Managing their weapons, spells and special abilities are the key.
Swapping characters could not be easier. A single press of a face button can activate them instantly. There is an option to keep them with you at all times or let them rest. In a wise design choice, the player will not lose health if the non-player controlled partner is hit. Instead, magic points take the brunt of the blow. Having an extra offensive force isn't always the solution.
As expected, some puzzles require the characters working in unison. Most of these logic traps can be figured out in a few minutes. Other puzzles follow the series standard fare of requiring a certain item or power to pass. It's a slightly wasted opportunity given the possibilities available with the two characters. Touch screen controls are limited to directing the non-user controlled player to an area of the screen and rarely proves useful.
Game size is the next addition that helps Portrait become the best game in the series since Symphony of the Night. Instead of being confined to the castle (which is still massive), you'll enter paintings that reveal an entirely new area to explore. Most of these have enemies and bosses unique to the environment. Little graphical touches bring the environments to life, while new polygonal enemies make a superb addition alongside the always stunning 2-D sprites.
Logically, with two available characters, there's multi-player. While not what you would expect, playing over Nintendo's heavily hyped Wi-Fi Connection still provides thrills. You enter into a lobby where you select your save file and take your custom character into a boss fight run with another player.
You'll go for a best time, and earn items depending on how quickly the run was cleared. These items can then be used in single player. Attempting co-op play for the entire game logistically wouldn't work. There would be no way to keep players together to truly cooperate as you explore.
If you make an error and sell (or even can't find) an item, you can use the Wi-Fi Connection to purchase items from other players. Likewise, you can set up a shop and sell items. Again, items or money earned here carry over to the single player effort. This is a great way to finish off the final few quests to fully complete the game. Both modes can be used locally as well as long as everyone has a copy of the game.
It's easy to pass over this latest Castlevania as more of the same. In fact, that's exactly what it is. However, Konami's constant string of quality that never once deviates from its high standards ensure that you're 15 to 20 hours of gameplay are never wasted.
Castlevania – Portrait of Ruin is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence.