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Feature: The Castlevania That Konami Doesn't Want You To Know About

Posted by Damien McFerran

A chilling look at the 1988 arcade release Haunted Castle

Despite the critical mauling Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 received at the hands of the gaming press, Konami's gothic franchise has arguably never been in better health. After years of dismal sales and underexposure, the mainstream appeal of the series was emphatically restored by 2011's Lords of Shadow — which, according to its publisher, is the best-selling entry in bloodline's long and illustrious history. Castlevania now has a whole new legion of fans and it's clear that the brand has once again been elevated to Triple A status within the walls of Konami.

However, Lords of Shadow 2 isn't the first Castlevania game to bitterly disappoint gamers all over the globe; like most long-running gaming franchises, it has seen its fair share of stinkers over the past three decades. One of the most notable failures is a game which Konami has remained curiously silent about since its release in 1988, the year after Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest hit the Nintendo Entertainment System. Haunted Castle may not be a Castlevania in name, but it is most certainly part of the lineage, and is perhaps illustrative of how confused Konami was about its vampire-hunting bloodline during its formative years.

Everything about the game's release is befuddling; at a time when most developers were porting titles from the arcade to domestic formats, Konami opted to take the opposite approach and migrate a home-grown brand to the coin-op scene. While this wasn't a bad idea in itself — arcade gamers were receptive to gory and dark subject matter, as Namco's shocking Splatterhouse proved in the same year — the execution was uncharastically sloppy. Simply put, Haunted Castle is a terrible game. It's frustrating to play, looks primitive — even for 1988 — and showcases some abysmal design choices.

The beginning of the game sets up the absurd tone of what is to follow; the intro sequence sees our hero Simon Belmont — bedecked in white wedding suit straight out of the 1980s — leading his newly-wed wife away from the church in which they have presumably just uttered their vows. That pesky nuptials-ruiner Dracula appears overhead, and after making a brown puff of inexplicably smoke appear from the church's spire, swoops in and steals the bride. Quick as a flash, our hero sheds his Miami Vice suit and is next seen dressed in the same fashion as Conan the Barbarian, complete with whip and leader armour. It makes precisely no sense at all.

Not that you're given much chance to take any of this silliness in, of course — Haunted Castle may be part of a franchise which is famous for its difficulty, but it takes frustration to entirely new levels. Simon moves with all the grace and purpose of a constipated tortoise, and is at a distinct disadvantage when pitted against Dracula's multifaceted army of undead monsters. His whipping motion is too slow to deal with some of the most basic threats in the game, and his enemies walk at least as fast as he does, making it difficult to execute evasive action to avoid taking damage.

Which leads us to Haunted Castle's next big flaw — you only have a single life, and you're only allowed to continue three times. The game employs a mechanic where you can use those three precious credits to boost your health bar during a single game, which makes things a little easier — but the drawback is that once you die, you can't continue at all. It's a puzzling design choice which seems intended purely to annoy as many players as possible — you can expend all your credits to boost your vitality and then fall down a hole, ending your game instantly.

If this wasn't infurating enough, levels often place you in positions where it's impossible to avoid getting hit and boss battles are borderline unfair, obviously designed to suck away your life and force you to insert more coins — which is unlikely, given that you constantly have to restart from the beginning of the game.

The tragedy is that as terrible as Haunted Castle is, it does have some redeeming features — the most obvious being the brilliant music. The Castlevania franchise has a long and proud history of incredible soundtracks, and if you're able to make your way through the game without suffering a coronary, then you'll hear some classic tunes which have since been re-used in subsequent entries — the first stage's music resurfaced in Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin on the DS, while level five's tune was showcased in the Game Boy Advance release Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow. Bloody Tears — one of the most iconic songs in the history of the franchise — serves as level three's background music, and sounds typically fantastic.

It would appear that Konami is well aware that Haunted Castle is a bit of a stinker, as the game hasn't been released by the company on any domestic system. However, tiny Japanese publisher Hamster was given permission to port it to the PlayStation 2 in 2006 as part of the Oretachi Geasen Zoku Sono range. "Port" possibly isn't the correct term; the disc simply contains the original arcade ROM and an emulator which is compatible with Sony's console. This release has since become something of a curiosity amongst collectors — primarily because of the game's lineage and the fact that no other home version exists — but it doesn't fix any of Haunted Castle's annoying deficiencies.

What makes Haunted Castle all the more dislikeable is that it wastes the potential of an arcade Castlevania game; back in 1988, coin-op hardware was still far more powerful than the domestic consoles of the era, and when you consider how technically stunning titles like Super Castlevania IV and Dracula X: Rondo of Blood were on the SNES and PC Engine, one can only wonder at what the developers could have created if they'd really tried. Somehow, we got Haunted Castle instead — a game which seems to have been slapped together almost as an afterthought and fails to effectively capture the brilliance of the franchise.

Screenshots courtesy of The Castlevania Dungeon.

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User Comments (69)

EarthboundBenjy

#2

EarthboundBenjy said:

The worst Castlevania is BY FAR Castlevania Legends on the Game Boy.
Then afterwards Castlevania The Adventure on Game Boy.
This is only the third-worst Castlevania.
I played the Oretachi Gesen Zoku version on PS2, and I could only beat it by turning the difficulty way down. I still like it somewhat, though I know it's baaaad.

Also,an inaccuracy in the article: Yes, if you expend your credits you will game over if you die once, but falling down a hole does not kill you. It just removes a chunk of life and puts you further back.

Kaze_Memaryu

#5

Kaze_Memaryu said:

Man, that looks way too painful to play without cheats.

@LDXD @Faron Tsk, that comes to show the ignorance of Castlevania fans. But, ignorance is bliss...

ICHIkatakuri

#7

ICHIkatakuri said:

This game looks excellent, I've always wondered why action or sprawling stories never come about when the main protagonist is in major need of a toilet break. But this game answers that, and lets you play through the ensuing toilet terror.

BertoFlyingFox

#9

BertoFlyingFox said:

....I think I would've liked the LoS games a bit more if there were Miami Vice suits in it.....just a bit though.

It would be cool if Konami re-worked this one and released it on the eShop. I'd also love Bloodlines to release on the VC....Lecarde was my jam!

TheRealThanos

#12

TheRealThanos said:

I love how the text in the lower part of the screen keeps disappearing behind the scenery: talk about bad programming. And that second level was hilarious: first above ground he is not walking on but floating above the ground and only when he reaches the stairs do his feet actually connect with the floor. And what's with that last bit and those lava streams (if that's what they are, not sure) if you can't even see where you are going? It has definitely got my vote for worst Castlevania.
@antonvaltaz Hey! No Amiga bashing! (best home computer ever made) ;)
But seriously: you are right, it was a bad Castlevania game, but in comparison it at least looked better than this Arcade game, and the collision detection, scrolling & layering were also a lot better as far as I can compare from the video clip in this article.
Just for comparison's sake:

A1234

#13

A1234 said:

my local arcade has this game. well, it is the world's largest arcade. game is awful.

antonvaltaz

#14

antonvaltaz said:

@TheRealThanos Oh I agree completely. Big Amiga fan here. Which is why it was such a travesty that most arcade and console ports on the machine were so awful... companies like Capcom and Konami generally farmed out conversion duties to rubbishy UK development teams and the results were usually atrocious.

TheRealThanos

#15

TheRealThanos said:

@antonvaltaz Yeah, those conversions kind of got a Zelda on Philips CDI vibe...
I do think that most of Sega's coin-op conversions (Golden Axe, Outrun, Space Harrier, Afterburner, Altered Beast and so on) were good, though.

Dinosaurs

#17

Dinosaurs said:

Very 'Upworthy' title to this article. Just missing a little "one weird old Castlevania game..." lol

SetupDisk

#18

SetupDisk said:

Lords of Shadow 2 was damn good. I could tell from the crappy reviews of a supposedly crappy game and got it right away.

Not just an average game a great one.

3MonthBeef

#19

3MonthBeef said:

"according to its [Lords of Shadow] publisher, is the best-selling entry in bloodline's long and illustrious history."

This has to be put in serious perspective. Lords of Shadow was sold across two platforms. Meanwhile Castlevania: Lament of Innocence was only on the PS2 and sold nearly as many copies as LoS on PS3.

LoS Xbox: 580k
LoS PS3: 950k

CV:LoI (PS2): 940k

Mask0Gears

#21

Mask0Gears said:

It's sad that LoS was the greatest selling Castlevaina game. :(

This franchise is dead... :'(

WaveWarlock

#22

WaveWarlock said:

@LDXD
This. Plus throw in Castlevania: The Adventure. Both are 10x more enjoyable and appealing comapred to the LOS series. which is quite possibly one of the most boring hack 'n slashes i've ever experienced. It's so sad to see that people would rather pay for more god of war clones that are offer luke warm difficulty Vs the classic side scrollers that offer a deadly meaty challenge.

most video games these days have gone soft in terms of difficulty, and many young gamers don't have the patience or desire to master or learn from their mistakes via trial and error. these games aren't hardcore, try firing up III: Dracula's curse. not only is it an amazing sequel, it will suck the pixel blood right out of ya! :P

Anyways, the classic castlevania series is dead....Seeing a trend? Too many gamers want big cinematic flashy 3D ADD thrill ride spectacles that they can finish effortlessly.

Zodiak13

#23

Zodiak13 said:

Agree with others here, LoS series is still the worst. But this does look appauling.

ToxieDogg

#24

ToxieDogg said:

How are people defending this rubbish over LoS?

I'm sorry, but I remember playing this game back when it was first in arcades in the late 1980's and it sucked (pun intended) back then as well, with it's extremely unfair credit/continue system and poor level design (although the music was always great)...I didn't realise it was part of the Castlevania series until I played the original NES game and remembered the similarities...but the NES game was so much better in all areas.

I've played nearly every Castlevania game and whilst LoS isn't my favourite, it's still a very well put together action game. Whether you think it's average or not, it's better than Haunted Castle. This isn't about 2D Castlevania vs 3D Castlevania, Haunted Castle is just a bad game regardless.

SetupDisk

#25

SetupDisk said:

@ToxieDogg
Tomfoolery probably. I've played Castlevania from the first NES game and I don't get the hate for LoS at all. Well I kinda do but I think stating the obvious there is against the tos for Nintendo Life.

bezerker99

#26

bezerker99 said:

For an arcade game, yeah - Haunted Castle is pretty horrid.

Still, as a few other's have mentioned, Castlevania: The Adventure, for Gameboy, is the least impressive CV game I've played.

luke88

#27

luke88 said:

Don't mean to be pedantic but LOS 2 hardly got a 'mauling' there were quite a few positives in that review, and a 7 isn't a bad score.

unrandomsam

#28

unrandomsam said:

Looks nicer than the NES one from the screenshots. (Graphics over gameplay is the reason people like rubbish like LoS.)

SparkOfSpirit

#29

SparkOfSpirit said:

I thought this article was going to be about how Konami won't re-release Bloodlines for some reason.

This game is just awful. It's the Castlevania equivalent of Contra Legacy of War in missing the point of what people enjoy the series for.

Unit_DTH

#30

Unit_DTH said:

It looked like the sprite had something stuck up his butt, who decided what animations the main character would have? This is laughable.

Geonjaha

#31

Geonjaha said:

Doesn't look anywhere near as broken or terrible as Simon's Quest, so I'd say no.

unrandomsam

#33

unrandomsam said:

@TheRealThanos Strange how that worked. Should have been more like the X68000 (That version of Castlevania is great - Playstation port is like a Neo Geo port to the Playstation). The Amiga was obviously capable as the stuff made for it originally was great.

(Still prefer the Archimedes versions of Lemmings and Robocod though.)

TheRealThanos

#34

TheRealThanos said:

@FineLerv So, you liking the comments means you're an (ex-)Amiga user too?
@unrandomsam Honestly, I'd have to take your word on that. Other than the MSX, C64 and Amiga 500/1200 I don't have any experience with other systems like the X68000 or Archimedes. I've heard of them back in the day, but never tried any of them out. One home computer at a time was enough for me. I started with a Toshiba MSX and upgraded to an Amiga 500, then an A1200 with internal hard drive. After that I switched to consoles, the N64 being the first one.

Tasuki

#36

Tasuki said:

@Mask0Gears: To you maybe. You have to look at the majority of people who are buying these games and these are kids that grew up during the PS/Xbox/Gamecube/Dreamcast gen, they have different standards then those who grew up during the NES era. Heck I am sure that many of them that played LoS were introduced to the Castlevania series through Symphony of the Night and other Metroidvanias. At that time God of War was pretty big, so yeah it's not surprising that LoS series is a success.

Bakajin

#37

Bakajin said:

It depresses me to see all the Castlevania: the Adventure hate in these comments. Am I the only person in the world who loves that game?

I admit that it's not very good, but it's playable. I just beat it again on my 3DS two days ago. I suppose I wouldn't like it very much if it hadn't been my very first CV game back when I was 11.

LDXD

#38

LDXD said:

@Geonjaha Simons quest to me was fantastic it had plenty of issues sure but it has arguably the best music in a video game also was the first castlevania to have that metrovania style gameplay
Simons quest is one game that deserves a remake that can fix some of the serious issues with it
But nope we get remakes of year old games like tomb raider definitive edition and last of us on ps4 boy ohhh boy its so good to be a gamer nowadays I love getting ripped off or treated like a red headed step child by publishers and developers but can we blame them people still buy the ****

LDXD

#39

LDXD said:

@Bakajin I loved castlevania adventures well from what I can remember. I haven't played it in a while but I remember it being good. BTW isn't castlevania rebirth supposedly a remake of it? If so I'd say it was awesome

Bakajin

#40

Bakajin said:

@LDXD I'd say ReBirth was more of a remix than a remake. The level design wasn't based on Castlevania: the Adventure and it had elements from other games, like the keys from Rondo of Blood. But still, a very fun game, and if I'm being honest I have to say it's objectively better than C:tA.

Darknyht

#41

Darknyht said:

Let's be honest, there have been quite a few bad games in the Castlevania franchise and Haunted Castle is just a forgotten mental half-brother.

The thought of Castlevania: The Adventure on Gameboy still makes me mad and I've not played it in 20 years. The developers of that game and Operation C need to be forced to play ET on Atari for all eternity as punishment.

brianvgplayer

#42

brianvgplayer said:

This wasn't the only Akumajou Dracula that wasn't called Castlevania in the west. The European MSX2 version was called Vampire Killer (which for some reason was also the Japanese name of Castlevania Bloodlines). I doubt that the arcade Akumajou Dracula was completely forgotten by Konami since one of the songs from it was in Castlevania Portrait of Ruin.

Melkac

#43

Melkac said:

"Despite the critical mauling Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 received at the hands of the gaming press, Konami's gothic franchise has arguably never been in better health"

Uhhh, yes it has. Lords of Shadow 2 has sold horribly, even worse than Mirror of Fate.

hngdmn

#44

hngdmn said:

@LDXD " but it has arguably the best music in a video game "
Like most Castlevania games. Even The Adventure had an excellent soundtrack.

antonvaltaz

#46

antonvaltaz said:

@unrandomsam I don't think the Amiga was up to the X68000 though, despite having the same CPU (as did the Mega Drive and Neo Geo of course). But you're right, most conversions which appeared on it should have been much better than they were.

Deathgaze

#47

Deathgaze said:

Can't be as bad as any console Castlevania on PS2 or PS3 or that terrible Lord of Shadows on 3DS.

JCnator

#50

JCnator said:

I wonder which version the writer played. In America, there's two versions. M is the most common and the hardest, in which you get less enemy drops and sustain more damage from hits. The other version is easier, but still way more difficult than the Japanese versions (N and P).

Either way, I'm staying away from playing Haunted Castle. Even if I could use some save states, it wouldn't be enjoyable in long-term.

TheRealThanos

#51

TheRealThanos said:

@unrandomsam I got curious about the X68000 and have watched this lengthy review:

As it says in the review the X68000 has a LOT of shooters so in that sense it is not quite comparable to the Amiga, but I do agree with you that their version of Castlevania looks pretty good (it is in the review around the 8 minute 30 second mark) and overall the system had great audio, but to me most of the games shown look like they are either first gen A500 games or are even below the quality of the Amiga games that I know and love. They have Super Hang-on in this review and I'm quite certain that the Amiga version looks better. So to each their own I guess...

Nintendo_Ninja

#52

Nintendo_Ninja said:

"Simon moves with all the grace and purpose of a constipated tortoise." That made me laugh really hard! Seems like a interesting game. The extremely hard game I experienced in the series was Rodo of Blood. So hard...

LDXD

#54

LDXD said:

@hngdmn yeah I can say every castlevania has an excellent soundtrack but to me Simons quest is burned in my brain. Come on man bloody tears seriously I have every track from that game as a ring tone

moroboshi

#56

moroboshi said:

At least it still plays like a Castlevania game. The Lords of Shadow games are just mindless God of War/Devil May Cry clones, and about as interesting as smashing your head against a wall for half an hour.

khululy

#57

khululy said:

This game is horrible I recall it playing in the past
LoS is not a horrible game the first one just has some interesting design choices even so people call it a "God of war clone" (wich is a statement I hate because God of War is just a succesful Devil may cry clone.) And given entire LoS is from the perspective of Zobek the fixed camera makes somewhat sense as he is following Gabriel. I played the 3DS version while it cannot hold a breakable candle to Iga's entries it's not that godawfull as this stiff piece of pixelated poo.
That put aside LoS2 does seem like a big underwhelming mess due to the studios butchering the cool aspects of being dracula. kinda reminds me of Darksiders 2. while Darksiders was a solid game but build upon tried and true formulas it's prequel felt like arrand boy for divinity simulator.

Maybe double helix should take a swing at the new castlevania :P

Caryslan

#58

Caryslan said:

@khululy I've always found it funny that people will bash Lords of Shadows for playing like God of War, but they ignore the fact that SOTN and the Castlevania games that followed took alot of cues from the Metroid series.

Honestly, I will never get the hate the LOS tends to get. "It does not play like Castlevania!" Then will someone please tell me what Castlevania should play like? Because by that argument, the Metroidvania games are not real Castlevania games either. The only ones that would be "Real Castevania." would be the classic games.

And what entails a Castlevania game? Some magic checklist that people have in their mind. Let's see, Lords of Shadows had a main character with the name Belmont who used a whip-like weapon as he explored towns, marshes, graveyards, ruins, Castles, and other places that are generally found in Castlevania. He uses Sub Weapons, a few of which are based on classic ones, as he fights against a varied assortment of mythlogical creatures.

How is that not Castlevania? Over the years, Castlevania has had four unique play styles. There is the Classic style, the Metroidvania Style, the 3-D Action Game Style, and the 3-D Adventure Game style that were the Nintendo 64 entries. LOS fits into the same style as the PS2 entires. In other words, it already fit into a play style that already existed in the series!

Castlevania has never had a single defined style! That's why the comments that "LOS is not a real Castlevania game!" are so laughable. So what if LOS plays like God of War? The Metroidvania games take massive cues from Metroid and even the PS2 entries played very close to Devil May Cry.

I understand people don't like LOS, but to bash it while praising garbage like Haunted Castle and The Castlevania Adventure is just sad. At the end of the day, garbage is garbage, and LOS is a far more polished and enjoyable game that those two titles could ever hope to be.

I personally don't like Skyward Sword, but I'm not going to start comparing it to the CD-I Zelda games and act like garbage is suddenly better because I don't like the direction a game takes. As much as I dislike Skyward Sword, its still a more polished game than the CD-I games. Garbage does not suddenly get better just because you don't like an entry.

Haunted Castle and The Castlevania Adventure are pretty much considered garbage by most gamers who have played them. LOS on the other hand, gets bashed less for being a bad game, and more for being a "God of War Clone" and "Being nothing like the other Castlevania games!"

I'll be blunt, LOS is better than Haunted Castle and The Castlevania Adventure. Everyone is free to their opinion, and maybe there are some who like those two games. But the LOS hate just gets petty at times. "It plays nothing like Castlevania!"

Tell me, do people who say that say the same thing about Mega Man? Because that series also does not have a defined gameplay style. You know, kinda like Castlevania.

LDXD

#60

LDXD said:

@Caryslan lol but in no way is sotn a clone of metroid
Los is almost identical to god of war
Sotn took basically one aspect of metroid Los copied everything gameplay wise from god of war big big difference man
And I never thought I was playing metroid when playing sotn but I did however feel like I was playing gow when playing LoS get it?
Sotn wasn't even really the first metrovania castlevania

TheRealThanos

#62

TheRealThanos said:

@Caryslan quite a well thought out comment. As for your (rhetorical?) question: "Then will someone please tell me what Castlevania should play like?" the answer to that should probably be either the first two games or the one time masterpiece that is Rondo of Blood. Those to me are the best examples of what a good, classic Castlevania game should be.

unrandomsam

#63

unrandomsam said:

@TheRealThanos Not Simon's Quest - either III (Famicom) / Rondo or X68000. (Konami always cut corners for the US/EU releases like making the rom size smaller causing slowdown. And the Playstation Chronicles is a bad port).

TheRealThanos

#64

TheRealThanos said:

@unrandomsam it's not set in stone, but it is my opinion that they are. (hence the "Those to me" part in my previous comment) To me they do represent the more classic Castlevania and even though there have definitely been a couple of good 2D Castlevania games after that, I agree with most people on here that instead of pure Castlevania, they were more Metroidvania, and don't get me started on most of the 3D games.

D2Dahaka

#65

D2Dahaka said:

In all honesty I think LoS 2 is a pretty good game and nowhere near as bad as the gaming press would lead one to believe.

My favourite 3d Castlevania game is still Lament of Innocence on the PS2, with a few tweaks it could have been a 3D SotN IMHO.

EarthboundBenjy

#66

EarthboundBenjy said:

@Damo

Hmm. you're right. The video clearly shows a full-health Belmont getting an instant Game Over. I can only think that maybe my experience had something to do with the fact that I turned everything to the easiest settings?
In the Oretachi Ge-sen Zoku version, you can get up a menu by pressing R1 and L1, and you can and mess with the difficulty settings.
It's been a while, and I don't really feel like experimenting with this game, so I'll take your word over mine. Apologies!

Mike1

#67

Mike1 said:

Honestly, I hated LoS. I did beat it, but really didn't enjoy it at all. Ironically, the PS2 Castlevania games I didn't really enjoy either. Even though they are bashed, I always loved the N64 Castlevania games. And as much as I like SOTN, I never liked any of the MetroidVania games either. FOr me, I enjoy the old style Castlevania games. But I get it, they rebooted the franchise. Some people like it and some don't. Sometimes reboots are good. I never liked the Tomb Raider games, and yet the newest Tomb Raider was fantastic. As for Castlevania, if they continue to put of games like LoS, then I'm not interested. As for what someone else said, I hated Skyward Sword as well. It wasn't a bad game. The story was epic, but for me I hated the motion controls. I wish they would re-release that one on the Wii U with normal controls.

Refurin

#68

Refurin said:

The three game story arc of the Lords of Shadow series is, quite frankly, easily one of the best stories ever told in video games. Gabriel Belmont is the most interesting and fully realized character to ever come out of the Castlevania franchise and I enjoy the whole series. The narrative combined with the voice acting is simply stunning. I've never played GoW, so I can not comment on the oft cited similarities. But I can say I loved the game play for the games. Some of the modern day setting parts for LoS2 were underwhelming, but all told, I am happy with the series. Lords of Shadow easily toppled Symphony of the Night from my top Castlevania spot.

DamoAdmin

#69

Damo said:

@EarthboundBenjy To be fair, I'd tinkered with the settings in that video to make it a little easier. Not sure if putting the game to "easy" changes the effect of falling into pits?

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