Get it? You do? Then why aren’t you laughing?
Nostalgic but new, Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (for the Nintendo DS) maintains the familiar 2D-platformer aspect of their earlier games while smoothly adding in a wide array of weapons, spells, and sub-weapons with which to violently beat your macabre enemies to death. Or re-death, as the case may well be. First, a little dip into the plot, then we’ll peek into the playstyle and see what makes this game tick.
As the Belmont clan is making no appearance here (save for one), Jonathan Morris and Charlotte Aulin are roped into purifying the vampire scourge this time around. Jonathan’s the melee to Charlotte’s mage, in case you’re wondering. In this little vampire story, they’ve come to Dracula’s castle to investigate rumors of his imminent return. Instead of finding Dracula, they instead find Brauner the vampire.
Brauner is the main antagonist here. The plot occurs in 1944, during World War II, and Brauner believes that mankind is too sick to survive; that vampirism would be a better alternative. Provided, of course, that all the vampires are under his control. Anticipating Dracula’s inevitable return, he places a series of magic paintings throughout the castle, using them to delay his resurrection and siphon his power.
Inevitably, you face off against every single enemy that shows their face, including Death, the servant of Dracula. Your onlyfriend is Vincent, the priest who runs the shop near the entrance of the castle. He doesn’t do much but sell expensive ungodly weapons and get bitten by a vampire, so go figure.
Speaking of friends, Jonathan and Charlotte ally themselves to an enigmatic and knowledgeable spirit who calls himself Wind, who we later discover to be Eric Lecarde. Eric hands out a wide variety of mini-quests and rewards you rare items for completion, some of which are essential for progress. Point being, don’t ignore this guy. He may be shady, but he’s got what you need. Plus you get the legendary Magus Ring if you finish all quests, and that boost mana regen like crazy.
Gameplay revolves around strategic positioning, study of enemy movements, and hack-and-slash combat. You play as both Jonathan and Charlotte, swapping between the two as-needed. Jonathan is your typical omni-weapon damage output freak and tank, providing some support-like traits to the team through his sub-weapons. More often than not, he just smacks things and makes them die. Charlotte is the mage, meaning squishier, and can deal INSANE amounts of damage with her spells. Many if not all of them have a channel time, so if there’s a skeleton breathing (bad idiom?) down your neck, don’t try to cast Cocytus or Salamander or something overkill like that.
There are several ways you can go about this. You can play as Jonathan with Charlotte gone, in which case you can summon her for one interruptible spell at a time using your mana. Or, you can play as Charlotte and summon Jonathan to use an ability whenever you need a meat shield to save you from an incoming missile. Final option, you play as both at once. However, this comes at a cost. Not too major. If both characters are in play at once, the secondary takes damage as mana burn, draining from the pool of the primary. If you don’t have a lot of mana regeneration, you’re kinda screwed. Plus your partner vanishes if you hit zero mana, so be careful, okay?
A quick word on weapons: EVERYTHING. Maces, bastard swords, rapiers, chain flails, daggers, axes, spears, whips, claws; everything. Completionists beware, you’re in for a scare. There are also multiple outfit items that provide stats and bonus effects, so be sure to break every wall you can find. If you need help with that, just find the scouter hat. It points out weaknesses in the walls. It is your best friend.
So what does the scouter have to say about this game’s awesome-levels? “This wall is weak! Break it! Ping!” … You’ll… you’ll get that one later. It’s part of the scouter hat’s wall… nevermind. But yeah, Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin is pretty sweet. Once you beat the game, you can play with a level cap to make things harder. Or you can play as Stella and Loretta, Eric Lecarde’s missing daughters. Or as Richter Belmont. Or the old Axe Armor. Bonus bonus fun time, right? Worth it to play. Check it out. Oh, and the touch-pad isn’t that important, so an emulator should probably work.
Jeremy Parish compares Portrait of Ruin to prior Castlevania installments, which would be a better take for hardcore fans of the original games. While I do agree that the developers got a smidgen lazy by duplicating stage layouts, I think that overall, this one’s a positive. See his take here: http://www.1up.com/reviews/castlevania-por