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`CASTLEVANIA' PROVES IT'S STILL FUN TO FIGHT VAMPIRES.

Byline: Redmond Carolipio Staff Writer

You'd think fighting vampires and demons in a big castle would have gotten old by now.

But as Konami's ``Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin'' shows, there's no shame in sticking with a design approach that's worked in the past. If it ain't broke, don't drive a stake through it.

Instead of falling into the trap of radical design changes, Konami has taken the 20-year-old franchise back to its 2D roots on the Nintendo DS, churning out several Castlevania hits.

But it is ``Portrait of Ruin'' that best encapsulates the spirit of the franchise, a classic tale of good vs. evil that has emphasized action and fun more than actual terror. It reminded me the most of ``Symphony of the Night,'' perhaps my favorite game ever on the original PlayStation. That game featured Dracula's gigantic castle, which housed a plethora of creatures as well as rooms and chambers that seemed to have a life of their own.

``Portrait of Ruin'' feels the same way, with a few big differences. You're in Dracula's massive home again -- but this time you enter new worlds and meet your challenges by diving into enchanted paintings scattered throughout the castle. Each painting/world has a different theme -- desert, circus, village, etc. -- which allowed the designers to flex their creative muscles.

Visually, the game's 2D look gives it several benefits -- you don't have framerate issues to deal with, and I always got the sense that the gameplay was meant to be the star of the title. There are some impressive sights to see here, especially with how smoothly some of the bigger ``boss'' characters -- like a giant suit of armor -- move during battle. You'll also see some goofier characters, like an evil maid that uses a vacuum cleaner hooked up to a skull. ``Portrait'' knows it's a game, and it never really takes itself too seriously.

That tone is best seen through the two main characters, Jonathan and Charlotte. There's a brother/sister dynamic between the two fighters, and it's emphasized more by the anime-drawn cutscenes.

But the most important aspect of the two remains with gameplay. You can switch characters on the fly, link up for magic combos, or team up to push objects out of the way or open doors.

The game also sometimes asks the player to use the character switching as a tactical measure. For instance, I encountered a boss that used a ``temptation'' spell on me. Since I was Jonathan, I was wooed and forced to fight Charlotte against my will, effectively making it a two-on-one battle.

After dying (and learning my lesson), I got in the habit of switching to Charlotte right before the spell hit me. The spell didn't work, and I was able to wipe out said boss.

There are plenty of other fun moments in the game, but if you have a DS, you should see them for yourself. If you're a fan, this is a must have. If you're not, don't worry -- fighting vampires never really gets old.

CASTLEVANIA: PORTRAIT OF RUIN - Three and one half stars

Platform: Nintendo DS.

Rated: T for Teen.

In a nutshell: Emphasizes action and fun.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 23, 2006
Words:538
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