Portrait of success

Another ghoulish good Castlevania
By MITCH KRPATA  |  January 9, 2007
3.0 3.0 Stars

070112_castlevania_main
GHOUL LOGIC: This is one creepy castle you’ll want to spend some time in.
Few video-game franchises are more durable than Castlevania. There’s been a new one roughly every year since 1986, for more than a dozen systems. In each game Dracula returns to wreak havoc on the planet, and in each game he is repelled. The series hasn’t changed much since the conceptual breakthrough of 1997’s Symphony of the Night, which incorporated a non-linear puzzle-solving approach into all the monster mashing. The newest Castlevania, Portrait of Ruin, adds only tweaks and spit polishes, but they’re enough to make it one of the better pure action-adventure games around.

Where Portrait departs most dramatically from its predecessors is by giving you two characters to control: Jonathan the warrior and Charlotte the magician. You can play as either character at any time, switching between the two with the push of a button. It’s a robust system with regards to combat. Provided you have enough magic points, you can teleport in the other character for a powerful combined attack. The puzzle-solving possibilities aren’t explored to their fullest, however — puzzles requiring both characters are sporadic and depressingly easy. One notable exception puts Charlotte and Jonathan on separate out-of-control mine carts — which means you have to switch back and forth between them to avoid obstacles.

The emphasis, as usual, is on tearing through ever more powerful enemies with a continually increasing arsenal. Portrait of Ruin is not shy about doling out the goodies. You’d expect significant upgrades from beating bosses, but here you’ll also get potent items from garden-variety foes and by simply exploring the map. And as if that weren’t enough, a helpful NPC named Wind presents you with dozens of side quests, each with its own lucrative reward. The A-to-B story line isn’t terribly time-consuming, but these absorbing side quests push the play time into the 15-20 hour range. That’s not bad for a hand-held adventure.

What’s most impressive about the Nintendo DS Castlevania games is how fully realized they are compared with Konami’s creatively stunted 3-D attempts. Curse of Darkness, the most recent PS2 and Xbox entry, was cursed mostly by bland art direction and repetitive level design. Portrait of Ruin boasts diverse settings and skillfully drawn backdrops. The castle, despite its rotting core and lumbering ghouls, is the kind of place you want to spend some time in. Portrait levels provide a pleasing eclecticism in a way that makes sense — you actually leap into enchanted paintings, which serve as stand-alone levels. One portrait has a circus theme; another resembles an Egyptian pyramid; still more are set in forests and towns. They add diversity to the level design without sacrificing congruity or internal logic.

Portrait still isn’t quite up to the otherworldly standards set by the series’s best entries, Super Castlevania IV and Symphony of the Night. The prologue focuses on the new game’s World War II setting, explaining that the Nazi evil has caused Dracula’s castle to reappear. So it’s a little disappointing to find that life within the castle (or afterlife, as the case may be) appears not to have changed at all. Are a few zombies sporting swastikas too much to ask? You could argue that time within the castle walls has stood still during its sabbatical, but that doesn’t explain why the protagonists are content to arm themselves with mediæval weapons. What a refreshing twist it would have been if Jonathan had infiltrated Dracula’s castle wielding an M1 carbine, or even a flamethrower. But given how lucrative Castlevania has been for the folks at Konami, you can’t blame them for not tinkering too much.

  Topics: Videogames , Culture and Lifestyle, Games, Hobbies and Pastimes,  More more >
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY MITCH KRPATA
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   GET ON YOUR SNOW (RE)BOOTS: VIDEO GAME MAKEOVERS IN 2013  |  December 21, 2012
    With the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 now in their seventh and eighth years of existence, they've been around far longer than previous console generations.
  •   THINKING MAN'S ACTION: TOP GAMES OF 2012  |  December 19, 2012
    At some point, it stopped being a trend and became the reality: the most interesting, thought-provoking games aren't mega-budget retail releases, but smaller downloadable titles.
  •   BEYOND SHOOTERS  |  September 18, 2012
    In an era of scripted set pieces and action sequences that are no more than glorified shooting galleries, Dishonored aims to give players the tools to author their own experiences.
  •   REVIEW: DARKSIDERS II  |  September 04, 2012
    "Gentlemen, I'm not going to mince words. THQ is in trouble. We're bleeding cash, and we need a hit game to save our ass. I want you to tell me what you're going to do to make Darksiders II that game."
  •   REVIEW: ORCS MUST DIE! 2  |  August 21, 2012
    We're all happy to see more games that deal honestly and maturely with questions of life and death, and that question the player's role in perpetuating the cycle of violence.

 See all articles by: MITCH KRPATA