The recent Metroidvania phase of the [i]Castlevania[/i] series has been a fruitful one. The Gameboy and DS iterations have been especially notable. [i]Dawn of Sorrow[/i] on the DS was good enough to evoke murmurs of “Better than [i]Symphony of the Night[/i]”, so you can understand my excitement over another DS iteration. Unfortunately, even though there are some new ideas and a much more varied set of areas to romp around in, [i]Portrait of Ruin[/i] comes up short.
Short really is the key word In [i]PoR[/i]. Faster than you can say “Vampire Killer”, you’ve already beaten the game. Its length is truly a mystery to me, since the game sports more areas and considerably more footroom than any [i]Castlevania[/i] game yet. Through the use of magical portraits, you are transported to areas far outside of the confines of Dracula’s Castle. These areas are great and all, but you breeze through them so quickly it hardly makes a dent. Some people might like shorter games, and this one can be beaten in under 10 hours, easily, but I would’ve liked a little more meat.
Perhaps the length wouldn’t be such an issue if the environments did not repeat themselves. About halfway through the game, you will encounter a new set of portraits to enter. But, to your surprise, they look exactly like areas you’ve already been to! The layout, palettes, items and enemies are different, but the smell of rushed deadlines hangs heavy over the endgame.
While freshness may be an issue for the areas, there are some really interesting ideas implemented in [i]Portrait[/i]. The two-person setup has been done before, but it works exceptionally well, especially on hard mode. The normal mode is exceptionally easy, beatable without much use of your team tactics, or really even having your partner following you, but subsequent playthroughs will really test what you’re made of. Two characters means two sets of equipment which means a lot more drops. The [i]Dawn of Sorrow[/i] card is played again, but this time, instead of collecting souls, most enemies will drop a new sub-item for Jonathon, a new spell for Charlotte, or both. It’s a neat system, that controls as tightly as any game in the series.
Multiplayer may be why many people were especially excited for [i]Portrait[/i]. You get it all, really. You get both local wireless and wi-fi. While the co-op mode might be very limited, it is interesting for a little while. The shop-mode lacks customization, as you can’t set prices, but it is fun to let your friends browse through all the junk you’ve decided to let them see and hook up some items they couldn’t regularly get. Don’t expect the world from the multiplayer and you’ll be satisfied.
I like to let my paragraphs run into each other like this, with common themes. Ya like that? Satisfied. That is probably what you won’t be after playing [i]Portrait of Ruin[/i]. The areas end up as dull and repeatable, while the Castlevania staples like the music also become unsatisfying. It is too short, and once you’re done, you just want more. Unfortunately, even with multiple end-game play-modes, you’re going to need another course. Still, if you love Castlevania, Bon Apetit.