Castlevania Portrait (1)

Genre: Metroidvania
Year: 2006
Developed by: Konami
Published by: Konami
Platforms: DS
Feeling Like: Jolly Good

A melancholy entry.

I didn’t spend a lot of time with my Nintendo DS, or Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin. The only time I can remember investing consistent hours in it was when my family and I traveled to England to say goodbye to Granny Skey.

We rented a small house in the parking lot of The Ampfield Golf & Country Club, which was terrific because Dad and I love to play golf together, and there was also a pub in said parking lot (The White Horse). So, I spent the entirety of our English “vacation” doing one of four things.

  1. Drinking at the White Horse with the locals
  2. Playing golf with dad
  3. Family duties, including giving a reading at the funeral
  4. Distracting myself with Castlevania games on the DS
A bit tricky to see, but that’s the pro shop on the left and the White Horse pub is on the right. Neither of which has any relation to Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin, but golf and drinking are ALSO fun games.

It was not an easy trip emotionally, but we all managed to have fun, meet some of Dad’s old friends, drive around the English countryside, attend my first (and only) Premiership (sort of) soccer match, visit Stonehenge AND have a 15 hour trip back. Much of these activities involved waiting, or waiting in a car and that’s where my DS came very much in handy.

Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin is a worthy successor (or follow up…or sequel, I can’t be sure) to another handheld from the franchise in Castlevania: Dawn of SorrowIt follows much of the same formula found in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night with excellent 2D platforming, exploring Baroque style castles, acquiring gear, levelling up and defeating grotesque monsters with giant weapons. What more could a grieving Grandson ask for?

Castlevania Portrait (3)
The co-operative aspect was a welcomed change

I was happy to see that they toned down the touch controls, but Konami still made excellent use of the second screen. In a Metroidvania style game, you’re going to be constantly checking the map. It’s integral to progression, whether you’re trying to find the next area, backtracking to collect goodies or trying to find that elusive save point; a map is something you’re going to be referring to often. The fact that it’s always there, updated in real time, without the need to remove yourself from the action is incredible and something that could only be done on the DS. Nicely done, Konami.

You can play as two characters, Jonathan and Charlotte, each with their own skills. There’s opportunities for combination attacks, dealing massive damage but also having impressive animations to boot. Speaking of, Portrait of Ruin continues the Castlevania trend of excellence by going a step above in terms of enemy animations. While Jonathan and Charlotte are pretty plain 2D sprites, enemies and bosses feel like they’re from a different game/engine/art style entirely. Their telegraphed attacks will be exaggerated far beyond what you’d expect, the models are truly monstrous and you’ll have a hard time not being distracted as you try to take them down.

Castlevania Portrait (4)
This is one of the “worst” boss models as far as I can recall, and it still looks great

The weapons selection remains true to the franchise; most of them are as big as lampposts, and although they can take a while to charge up, the follow through is worth the extra second. It’s very satisfying to see zombie, sand-men and other horrific oddities cleft in two with a sword that is twice as long as Jonathan himself. Alternating between both characters with the touch of a button (including an increasingly funny verbal announcement of their arrival) feels fluid. Some puzzles can only be solved by Jonathan, some enemies will be better tackled as Charlotte. I relish any game that forces me to use all weapons, abilities and characters at my disposal.

As I watch Youtube recaps and try to shake the leaves in my brain, more positive vibes are flushed out. Your sub-weapons improve as you use them. The soundtrack is adept at creating a sense of energized dread. The cut-scenes are presented by massive anime portraits, giving the characters the personality they deserve. I didn’t care too much about the story, but that’s hardly an issue for a Metroidvania.

Castlevania Portrait (2)
Just another wildly inventive boss fight, nothing to see here!

There’s really not much to complain about, it was just a solid experience. I didn’t spend a ton of time beyond the 10 hours required to beat the campaign. There’s a boss rush mode, but I hardly ever touch a game after seeing the end of the story, so that wasn’t relevant to me. The whole experience felt very fitting; Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin takes place in Europe, where I was at the time. The DS is a tiny, handheld system that makes the most out of the hardware and we rented a tiny cottage that made the most out of the space. I owe this, and a few other games, for rescuing me from jet-lag, insomnia and general downtime.

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