Portrait of Ruin paints a surprisingly pretty picture

[Insert Picture of Dorian Gray joke here]

Remember when Konami used to make Castlevania games? That was good, wasn't it? Unfortunately, they've finished now, and the series has suffered the rather ignominous fate of becoming a Netflix Original. I suppose that's better than what happened to Contra.

Either way, Nintendo handhelds were, for a time, the "place to be" for us Castlevaniacs, with no less than six entries across the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS - seven, if you count NES Classics Castlevania, but... I don't.

Plenty has been written about these games - Metroidvanias, all - but focusing particularly on the Nintendo DS trilogy, I've found that the common consensus is that Caslevania: Portrait of Ruin is the weakest. And from the perspective of someone who just finished Dawn of Sorrow again and has now re-commenced Jonathan and Charlotte's illustrious illustration incident, that is simply not true.

Frankly, Dawn of Sorrow's tying of the vast majority of your arsenal to random enemy drops struck me as alternately ridiculous and tiresome on this playthrough; this reaches a nadir of arbitrariness when you happen across a corridor blocked off by three walls, each depicting the enemy whose soul will allow you passage. It's a thoroughly enjoyable game, no question, but time hasn't been too kind to it from my perspective.

Perhaps oddly, though, it's Portrait of Ruin that's been a breath of fresh air. While its gameplay is extremely familiar, the two-character system with its focus on subweapons and spells leads to what I've found to be a more varied, satisfying experience. The portrait levels are brilliant and lend some much needed diversity to the locations, there's a constant drip-feed of new items and power-ups, and a generally delightful sense of fun to the whole thing. Jonathan and Charlotte move faster than Dawn of Sorrow's Soma, giving the game a much snappier sense of pace - necessary, because its world is massive.

I won't pretend it isn't flawed. The main castle itself is a little lacklustre, without much in the way of memorable areas. The realisation that the final few portrait stages are recolours of the ones you've seen is a bit of a sickener. Still, despite these downsides, I'm finding it especially satisfying on this replay. I don't think any of the Igavanias (blech!) are bad, or even less than "fairly great", but Portrait stands tall for me.

Then again, I haven't replayed Order of Ecclesia yet. Maybe it'll make Portrait look like a wet bag of dog tods.