Castlevania is one of the longest running series of action games in, well, ever. The basic premise behind all of them is that you take on the role of a vampire hunter rooting out the daddy of all vampires - Dracula. In every other game Dracula gets revived, causes mischief, and then you go and defeat him. Given the twenty-one year history of the franchise, a few neat twists are applied to Castlevania this time round.
According to the game, throughout history, Dracula's castle appears periodically just when mankind's generally on the verge of being screwed over mightily. In Portrait of Ruin, the action takes place in 1944 during World War II. So, heir of the Vampire Killer whip Jonathan Morris (the Morrises being a distant relative to the LeCardes, who were entrusted with the whip by the original vampire hunters the Belmont family) and his spell-casting childhood friend Charlotte Aulin decide to go see what's happenin' at Big D's place.
As you venture into the castle you will switch between the two protagonists in order to deal with the local residents. In most cases, you can have both of them fighting together, but seeing as you can only control the actions of either Jonathan or Charlotte at a time, and that the game's AI isn't particularly smart, all the partner character will ever do is stick right beside you and only attack when you attack. That and there are a few puzzles here and there to deal with that require quick switches, stepping on buttons, or one character staying in a particular spot - but none of them will have you scratching your head. It's all about the action, baby.
Enemies come thick and fast the moment you walk across the drawbridge. Aside from the mandatory slow moving zombie fodder, the remaining smorgasbords of beasties have all sorts of nasty attacks at the ready that keep you on your toes throughout. You don't have to fight all of them, aside from the epic boss battles that involve tangling with Frankenstein's monster, Medusa and various other enemies of myth, because Castlevania isn't a Final Fantasy rehash. It's a side-scrolling platformer, similar in vein to the old Super Metroid game on the SNES, but there are sort of RPG elements thrown in. If you don't want to waste time whipping those wraiths, you will miss out on experience used to up Jonathan and Charlotte's abilities, or gold to buy items and equipment that will better your chances at survival.
Unfortunately, at least on first play, you will end up using Jonathan much more than Charlotte because of his agility and ability to dish out damage much quicker. Although the partner change is instantaneous, their weapon and spell changes are not, which severely limits and underrates your other half. It involves a tedious pause to go to the equipment menu, reselect another spell, exit the menu, and quickly chant the spell, hopefully without being interrupted by being hit. Get it right, however, and you are treated to an Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark-esque orgasmic blast of magic taking up the entire DS screen. Additionally the spells don't stack. 'Buff' spells (MMORPG speak for spells that up damage, defence, speed etc...) available to Charlotte can blast enemies apart even faster than Jonathan, but you can only have one active at a time. Admittedly, since Capcom's Devil May Cry 3 on the PS2, no other action platformer has even come close to topping its combat system. Yet, the DS is a portable platform, with fewer buttons and processing power, so Konami have done what they can, and the outcome is sound and entertaining enough to satisfy action enthusiasts.
Do note that the difficulty in Castlevania games is very unforgiving. I had a hell of a time trying to deal with the first boss, as you will take an enormous amount of damage and die horribly if you think you can just stand in one place and repeatedly hit the attack button. Like the MegaMan games, jumping and back dashing properly are an absolute must for surviving these set pieces. Expect much reloading, but worry not, as there are plenty of save points dotted throughout the castle, especially before the bosses.
The castle's layout is neatly done, so most of your time wandering the corridors doesn't feel all that linear. Even though the action between each section is somewhat repetitive, it doesn't get old, as there is always a nagging interest to see and hear what's beyond the next room. Coupled with the change-up in enemies, ever-increasing difficulty and a modestly intriguing plot, it all ties up nicely.
Despite some failings, such as a lack of making significant use of the stylus and microphone (like, how freaking cool it would have been to be able to say what spell you want Charlotte to cast?), Portrait of Ruin is a thoroughly enjoyable and replayable title that offers bursts of action to dip into for a quick hit.
I bought this game a while ago and was hooked from start to finish. During gameplay you can play as Jonathan or Charlotte, or both together. Some parts can only be completed as a team. There are literally hundreds of items to find - weapons, armour, spells and each has it's own strengths/weaknesses or is suited for a particular part of the game. The game lasted a long time, and the 'worlds' are expansive and each one features different enemies, again with different strengths and weaknesses. The key to this game is to pay attention to your enemies & items guides, as this is crucial to defeating enemies, especiall the end of level bosses. The game is well laid out and has frequent save points to avoid the frustration of dying when you haven't saved for ages. There are also portals to transport you between parts of the worlds, which also cuts down on the frustration of retracing your steps to either re-visit a location or pick up something you've missed. There are also mini-quests which help in the skills/experience development of your characters - these are a good filler for when the main quest gets trick and you need a break or to figure out what to do next. All in all, a really good game, and one that could be played again without being boring!
Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin gives the player control of two different characters. The pair ? vampire hunter Jonathan Morris and Charlotte Orlean, a young girl with magical abilities ? must work to thwart a plan to resurrect Dracula's Castle and unleash a reign of evil upon the unsuspecting world, all within a new World War II setting.