Consumers and critics alike often succumb to a nasty prejudice: portable versions of long-running franchises are merely "spin-offs" or afterthoughts. It's true that aside from the dual-character setup of Portrait of Ruin, radical new ideas for this particular franchise have yet to be born on a handheld console. But that's hardly a flaw. Change for change's sake can be good if not refreshing, but that's not to say that consistently doing something incredibly well is wrong. Dawn of Sorrow, having been released early in the DS's life, showed just how beautiful 2D gaming can be on the handheld. Again, there weren't many drastic improvements to the core mechanics established in the GBA's Aria of Sorrow, itself borrowing heavily from Symphony of the Night, but the game was so darn good that no one seemed to mind.
Since the soon-to-be six handheld iterations have all followed in the footsteps of the PSX classic, Dawn of Sorrow is arguably the best post-Symphony of the Night Castlevania. Although Order of Ecclesia apparently mixes some linear stages of the classic titles into the mix, I'm under the impression that it, too, falls into the Metroidvania category. While I'll have to wait to play through Ecclesia to be sure, it's going to be pretty difficult to top Dawn of Sorrow. It's a highlight not only for portable Castlevania, but for the franchise as a whole.