17. Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin
Between this, Order of Ecclesia, and Dawn of Sorrow, we had a hell of a time deciding which Castlevania could truly be named the DS’s best. However, we’ve already honored GBA’s Aria of Sorrow, so it’s more than fair to split the difference and go with Portrait of Ruin, which in all honesty was truer to the Castlevania spirit--a guy with a whip, tearing ass through a haunted castle. Portrait also introduced Charlotte, a magic-wielding second player you could swap to at any time. Between the two of them, magical and physical attacks were covered, and they could also trigger tag-team Dual Crush assaults. Pity they were drawn in a weak-ass anime style instead of the usual, lustrous art from Ayami Kojima.
Perhaps most notable were the locales; instead of being confined to one murky castle, you traveled to distant lands via demonic paintings made by the game’s artistic villain (spoiler: he summons Dracula). This mix of new vistas with old tropes made the journey both familiar yet new, breathing fresh air into a series that, while always fun, needed something to see beyond stony hallways and damp dungeons. Jonathan’s upgradable weapons also chewed up hours of our time, and pursuing the elusive 1000% (yes, one thousand percent) completion kept us hooked even longer. As if that weren’t enough, a bevy of hidden shout outs made this a celebration of the entire series.