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Gaming Evolution
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Gaming Evolution
Gaming Evolution
Published By: Konami
Developed By: Konami
Genre: Acton Adventure
Players: 1-2
Rated: T (Teen)
Release Date: December 5, 2006
Written By: Daniel Sims
Screenshots: Link
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In order to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Castlevania, Konami has made its latest handheld entry - Portrait of Ruin, a game almost completely made of homages and references to games from all over the seriesí 20-year history. But does the game on its own stand up to last yearís Dawn of Sorrow?

The three biggest throwbacks in Portrait of Ruin are its setting, game structure, and play style. Portrait is a direct sequel to Castlevania Bloodlines which came out on the Genesis back in 1994. That game took place in the year 1917 and centered on the First World War. Portrait takes place in 1944 and centers on the second war, featuring both new characters as well as at least one old one from Bloodlines.

Portrait of Ruin stars vampire killer Jonathan Morris and scholar Charlotte Orlean as players take control of both of them simultaneously in a return of the dual character setup first introduced in 1990ís Castlevania III Draculaís Curse.

Having two characters around instead of one greatly increases the attack power available to players and even allows for some extremely powerful team-based attacks. The game even serves up a good amount of puzzles and obstacles based around the dual-character setup, requiring players to constantly switch between characters to get them to work together. However, Portrait also includes plenty of situations where using both characters might not be the best idea. One boss fight in particular requires presses solo play on players in an interesting way. Also, the character whom you are not controlling sometimes may not be able to dodge attacks as well as you can, thus putting at risk valuable MP that you lose whenever your partner is damaged.

As a whole the dual character setup is well implemented and even kept in check, but some may still argue that itís a bit overpowered, although this could also be attributed to the gameís somewhat quick pacing when compared to that of Dawn of Sorrow. Through the first few hours of Portrait of Ruin, I seemed to be either leveling up, gaining a new weapon, defeating a boss, or gaining a new ability in nearly every other room. The first time I may encounter an enemy, they may prove to be a difficult but winnable fight. The next time I would return to face that same enemy not 30 minutes later I would be able to down them in a single hit. This slows down somewhat later on in the game but still makes it feel easier than Dawn was.

The biggest design decision made in order to celebrate 20 years of Castlevania with Portrait of Ruin has been to make the very form of progression through the game into a fusion of two schools of Castlevania game design. Before Symphony of the Night brought a Metroid-like feel to how players traversed Draculaís castle, all of the games progressed in a more linear level-to-level way.

Portrait of Ruin attempts to bring these two styles of play together by having players travel around nine or ten different maps instead of just one like in previous handheld installments, but still has Draculaís castle remain to act as a sort of hub that connects to eight other areas, somewhat similar to Princess Peachís Castle in Super Mario 64. Although this makes the game feel much different from the more recent Castlevanias that simply had players traverse through different sections of one castle, trying to fuse the two styles of level progression seems to have taken something from each one.

Although itís still made up of different sections, Draculaís castle in Portrait of Ruin doesnít feel nearly as big or as varied as it was in Dawn of Sorrow, and even though the first four areas of Portrait do feel like a nice change of atmosphere from the castle, for the most part they are small, linear, and even worse Ė the following four areas are simply clones of the first four with different color schemes and stronger enemies. This most of all is what ultimately keeps Portrait from living up to the bar that was set by Dawn last year. Whereas Dawn put me through half the game and made me feel like I had completed all of it, then surprised me with the other half of it, Portrait simply has me go through its first half and then makes me feel like Iím repeating that half again.

Despite this however, the stat-building, level design, and twitch gameplay thatís been at the core of every Castlevania is still present and in full force in Portrait of Ruin and ultimately manages to hold the game up to the seriesí standards. This, coupled with the franchiseís trademark presentation style with some of the best 2D visuals on the DS featuring both new and returning enemy sprites from all over the past 20 years of Castlevania, topped off excellent music courtesy of Yuzo Koshiro Ė recognized by many as the god of 16-bit music, all still make Portrait as enjoyable a Castlevania game as any.

Portrait of Ruin also features an impressive amount of extra content. Extra characters with which to replay the main game several times as well as dozens of sidequests and the ability for players to sell and trade items online all give Portrait more replay value than was seen in Dawn of Sorrow.

Closing Comments
The well-implemented dual character setup, semi return to the level-based progression of the classic Castlevania titles, and the return of music and sprites from 20 years of Castlevania history as well as a direct connection to a little-known post Castlevania title make Portrait of Ruin a great way to celebrate an anniversary for a game. Although some of these things may make the level progression in Portrait ultimately inferior to that of Dawn of Sorrow, the game still manages to step up to be a decent Castlevania game in its own right.


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