Haunted Castle, Arcade

Haunted Castle is an obscure Castlevania arcade game, developed by Konami and first released in 1988. Until recently, I’d never seen it before, and playing it now I have to say that it is pretty unsophisticated for a late Eighties arcade game, and it pales into insignificance compared to other Castlevania games, like Super Castlevania IV or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. It’s also insanely difficult. Maybe unfairly so.

In it you play as Simon Belmont who is on a mission to rescue his wife, who is kidnapped by Dracula on their wedding day (depicted by a hilariously bad introductory sequence during the game’s attract mode). Simon brandishes a default whip, but can power it up, and can also pick up and use other, special weapons that are occasionally dropped by defeated enemies. Hearts that are dropped by enemies give you a limited number of uses of these special weapons (they don’t increase your health, as you might assume), and that number is shown under the special weapon box in the top/middle of the screen.

As Simon walks left to right (sometimes right to left) on each of the six levels he is constantly attacked by a range of evil creatures allied to Dracula, and must avoid contact with them at all costs. Occasionally he’ll also have to deal with boss fights.

Graphically, Haunted Castle is weak. The backgrounds and level furniture range from merely okay to very bland, and the player character and enemies are poorly-defined and coloured. Occasionally you might see some appealing visuals, but in general this game does not feature what I would call “pixel art”.

Gameplay-wise, Haunted Castle is also a bit under-developed (to be charitable). Walking up steps is tricky (trickier than it should be), and the first ‘boss’ (midway through the first level) is a brick wall that throws stones at you in a rain storm, and it is a b*tch to get past. You only get one life, but like in most Castlevania games you do at least have a health bar. It can easily be reduced to nothing in three or four hits, though. Thankfully you can continue if you put more money into the game.

Musically, Haunted Castle features a range of fast-paced and mostly inappropriate tunes, but these at least help ratchet up the tension and drive you on to rush through the level as quickly as possible (because if you dawdle the game has a habit of throwing more bats at you, and they are very difficult to avoid).

I was surprised that this game existed, and even more surprised by how bad it was. Haunted Castle is apparently not the first arcade game based on the Castlevania series (that honour goes to “Vs. Castlevania“, which is a port of the original Famicom Disk System game), but it is the first original Castlevania arcade game ever released, and is based on a custom JAMMA board. Which probably explains why the graphics are so strange.

Haunted Castle is not a game I can really recommend playing now. If you’re a Castlevania fan and have never played it before: it’s probably worth a look, but you’ll undoubtedly find it too frustrating to enjoy, and too bland to have it impress you.

More: Haunted Castle on Wikipedia

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