Castlevania: Portrait Of Ruin Review / Preview for the Nintendo DS (NDS)

Castlevania: Portrait Of Ruin Review / Preview for the Nintendo DS (NDS)

Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin is more of the same. Thank God.

I almost feel guilty giving Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin such a high score because as a review I’m always ragging on developers that maintain the same old gameplay with few innovations. Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin adds a few new features but the gameplay is largely the same as it’s been for years – yet it’s so much darn fun. There is just something classic about the Castlevania series and its style of gameplay that makes it seem as though it invented the horror, side-scrolling, platform genre. The consistent level of quality has never been a question with the series and the addictive nature of the gameplay always leaves you wanting more.

Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin screenshot

Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin does have some new additions in the way of new environments, enemies, weapons and even a new playable character but the core remains unchanged and that’s a very good thing. Even though the game appears on the DS, the developers feel they have created a game that’s good enough not to warrant the use of the sometimes-novelty touch screen controls. They take full advantage of the DS’s processing power to deliver great looking 3D graphics with lots of depth, color and detail. I can’t say that the dual screen is put to good use since all of the action takes place only on the bottom screen. A map of each labyrinth level can be viewed on top as well as the various stats concerning character enhancements, weapons, health, magic and score. It’s better than having to access a window that would interrupt the flow but it would have been great if some of the action extended vertically.

Drac is back. The games takes place during WWII when many tortured spirits walk the Earth; millions of victims of the greatest war the world has ever known. Drac has come to feed off these damned souls with the aid of his minions locked away in his haunted castle. To send him back to hell requires expert timing, skilled platforming and puzzle-solving skills.

Relative to the infamous monster-killing Belmont clan is the young and handsome John Morris whom is assisted by an equally young and striking female named Charlotte Aulin. Each is playable at any time during the game and have unique abilities that must exploited at certain times. You will even have to combine their abilities for some situations. John is strong in melee attacks and has his unique vampire-killing whip at the ready. Charlotte employs the use of magic. John wields an assortment of weapons along with his whip including spears, swords, daggers, maces, throwing axes and a magic chain that targets its victims with uncanny accuracy. You’ll probably end up using John for the majority of the game although you can use Charlotte if you take the time to equip her properly. Each character will experience points for killing monsters which can be used to increase attributes such as strength, intelligence, attack and defense. If you play as Charlotte right from the beginning you can make her just as powerful as John, but the magic, while useful, isn’t as much fun to use as the standard weapons.

Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin screenshot

Magic powers include the ability to heal and summon monsters. You can also launch various elemental attacks that include fire and lightning. There are times when you will need to employ some of these ranged attacks and switching from John to Charlotte is as easy as pressing a button. In addition to increasing the characters’ stats through experience points you can also boost some of their abilities by exploring the castle and finding various accessories such as shoes, hats and armor. Over time your character will become exceptionally strong which is payback for time invested. It becomes easier to dispatch the monsters but the boss battles are always a challenge.

Each character has a basic attack and a special attack, but you can combine the characters’ attacks to perform a devastating one that will virtually clear the screen of enemies. Other times you will need the other character to assist your progress through the castle. You can call the other character by pressing the A button and use them to do things such as activate a distant switch that opens a door so that you can go through it. Or you can combine their strengths for something such as pushing a large block that neither could do on their own. The castle is fun to explore and you’ll find plenty of secret passages to other rooms and enemies. The action isn’t just relegated to the castle. There are various paintings that hang on the wall that will give you access to strange new worlds. One in particular resembles a surreal funhouse. It’s a great break from the traditional and repetitive gothic architecture of the castle, not to mention the endless corridors.

Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin screenshot

When summoned, the other character will stand alongside you rather than fight unless you order them to, but it’s sometimes best to just order them away. When they are in your presence you will be dinged for the damage they take on. Fortunately it will only cost you magic and not health. You’ll recognize a lot of the enemies including zombies, bats, skeletons, flying medusa heads and vampires. The bosses are huge and have never looked better or more disturbing. You have to discern their patterns and then try to attack when they are at their weakest. Often this is a short window of opportunity and can lead to a lot of deaths – mostly your own.

The backgrounds are layered and scroll independently which give the 2D graphics a great sense of depth. The characters look great if not a little small and display smooth animation, although there is some slowdown during boss battles. Both characters come alive with good voiceacting and enough lines to allow them to convey emotion and demonstrate a personality. There’s a good assortment of visual effects that highlight the magic and other special attacks. The music is chilling and perfect for the atmosphere of the game but the sound effects are repetitive.

Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin screenshot

You’re likely to get more replay value out of the single-player mode as you can go back and unlock new areas, items and characters. You can even replay the game as the other character. The multi-player mode can be accessed on or offline but it’s only one short, co-op level in which you are confronted by a handful of minions and a couple of bosses. Not much to get excited about.

You can bet that Portrait of Ruin will be one of my top-10, DS picks of 06.


  • Encounter over 100 diverse enemies in your adventure to stop Dracula’s resurrection
  • Summon your partner and execute cooperation attacks to decimate your enemies
  • Collect items, weapons and magic as you explore the castle
  • Fight with and against your friends in multiple multi-player modes

    Rating out of 5 Rating Description


    Independently scrolling layered backdrops give the game a rich sense of depth.


    Lots of great moves and weapons. The longer you play the stronger you get.


    Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
    Excellent ambient music and great voiceacting. The sound effects repeat.


    Play Value
    You’ll find the two-player co-op mode short and limited.


    Overall Rating Must Buy
    Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
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    April 25, 2006 – You know, these Castlevania games certainly aren’t for the emotionally unstable or depressed, are they? Check the latest titles – Aria of Sorrow, Dawn of Sorrow, Legacy of Darkness, Harmony of Dissonance, Lament of Innocence, Curse of Darkness and now “Portrait Of Ruin”. If you ever feel like leaping off a bridge everytime Konami releases a new game in the series, there’s your explanation. What’s next? “Castlevania: Just Kill Yourself Already” ?

    Portrait of Ruin sounds like a real fun time, doesn’t it? That was a trick question. Of course it sounds like fun. To amp up the giddiness and hilarity that usually ensues once the game gets underway, Konami has decided to set this latest time-vampire in the jolly old era of WWII. The story involves a clan of lost souls led by two twisted sisters (no word on whether Dee Snider will appear) who just happen to be vampires and want to, what else? – resurrect Drac’s castle. You’ll play as Jonathan Morris a vampire hunter and Charlotte Ocean the wicca who will use magic, in your attempt to stop these ladies from succeeding in their diabolical plot.

    Konami has announced that you’ll be able to switch between the two characters at any time during the game to take advantage of each character’s special abilities. Players will also be able to summon demons to help you – which we’ve seen before.

    “For 20 years, the Castlevania series has set the standard for excellence and innovation in the action genre, and Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin continues this trend with all-new features that expand the handheld gaming genre,” said Dennis Lee, Group Manager at Konami Digital Entertainment, Inc. “The game’s two different characters give players unprecedented variety in completing their quest, while the expanded battle system makes it more fun to take on Dracula’s minions.”

    We expect to have some hands on time during E3 of Portrait Of Ruin. Check back soon for more info.

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