Back in the early '90s, Castlevania was mostly known for being a console series, with three entries on the NES, three on the Game Boy, and four total across the 16-bit platforms (assuming, of course, you consider the PC Engine to be a true 16-bit system). But early in the series’ life, Konami released an arcade game, known as Haunted Castle, which wasn’t a port of any other outing but rather an original title. It was a flop and didn’t see much distribution, being sort of a "lost" Castlevania until the advent of emulation in the late 1990s. But Konami has been keen to keep it in circulation recently, including it as both part of the Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection in 2019, and as a separate release in part of Hamster’s Arcade Archives series.
The story in most of the other Castlevania games typically revolved around Simon Belmont (and friends, if applicable) hunting down and beating up Count Dracula, because it was the good and proper thing for vampire killers to do. In Haunted Castle, Simon gets a bit of extra motivation with his wife being kidnapped by the nefarious vampire literally seconds after walking out of the wedding chapel. The goofy manner in which the classic Wedding March song turns sour as the clouds go ominous and Simon’s lady friend is swiped away, leaving him inhis iwhite tuxedo looking mildly irritated, helps set the off-kilter tone of this incredibly frustrating entry.
The basics of a Castlevania game are in place – you adventure through six stages across the land, eventually ending up in Dracula’s castle, whipping skeletons, zombies, bats, and other assorted creatures, most inspired by classic Hollywood horror films. But a lot of it just feels wrong. Take for example, Simon’s design. As a muscular, leather-clad barbarian-type, he actually looks reasonably close to how he’s presented on the cover of the original NES game (and the title screen of this one), but it looks awfully strange compared to any of his console counterparts, especially his awkward walking animation. Movement is slow and attacking feels flimsy. This has rippling effects through the rest of the adventure, particularly since Simon’s sprite is so large, making it exceedingly difficult to kill the tiny bat enemies that remain a constant nuisance throughout the whole game.
Unlike most of the other Castlevania games, there aren’t any candles to whip, so weapon upgrades, subweapons, and hearts are dropped by specific enemies. But main weapon upgrade drops are uncommon, and if you miss any of them, you’ll be stuck with the default whip for quite a while. Still, it's not like any of the weapons are particularly strong, because most enemies take multiple hits to kill. Castlevania fans will probably be familiar with the jumping hunchback enemies, and they make an appearance here, but they also take at least two whacks to dispose of and it’s nearly impossible to clear them out without taking damage, especially since they often attack three at a time. You’ll find your energy draining very quickly in Haunted Castle.
There’s sort of a cheat around this; while you only have a single life, you can insert multiple credits to extend your life bar a few times, plus there are checkpoints partway through each stage for when you perish. The original arcade game limited the number of times you could continue, though this version lets you continue as many times as you want. You shouldn’t feel bad for cheesing it, because there aren’t any actual health restoratives, and it’s really the only feasible way to see this one through to the end.
Ex-Konami staffer Masaaki Kukino has revealed recently that the title was completed in just six months and there wasn't time to balance it properly, and it shows. Arcade games are often designed to suck in coins but Haunted Castle is especially egregious in the way it hurls hazard after hazard at the player, giving them very little chance to respond. Even if you memorise enemy and trap placement, the awkward controls often conspire to kill you. Simply put, it's not much fun on a pure gameplay level.
And despite how frustratingly designed and poorly balanced it is, Haunted Castle is actually worth at least one playthrough for Castlevania fans. Visually, it’s inconsistent, as noted with the awkward Simon sprite and some other strange-looking enemies, but the background design is generally well done. It predates all of the 16-bit console entries, and has a very different look and feel. And some of the level designs are pretty cool, at least in concept.
The first stage begins at dusk and quickly transitions to night. It begins to rain, as a wall comes to life and flings itself at you brick by brick. Then a torch is knocked over and sets the ground ablaze, forcing you to leap over its flames, before entering a mausoleum and fighting against Medusa. The second stage starts in a foggy forest before walking down to a subterranean canal, where the river water is presented with an odd colour cycling effect. After reaching the other side, you emerge to a mountainside under a blood red sky. The next stage, the typical castle entrance hallway area, has a bizarre section where you’re warped away to what appears to be Grecian ruins where you fight off harpies, only to be warped right back when they’ve been killed.
These are the highlights of the game, and the rest of the stages are a little blander. But it’s still cool to see since it has many classic Castlevania tropes but before they were fully formed – after all, this is technically the fourth release in the series, published in 1988 after the MSX2 game and the first two NES games. For example, while the whip has been tied to the series’ identity for a long time, in this game, Simon can actually wield a sword. It doesn’t function any differently, but it sure is a novelty.
There are subweapons like firebombs and a boomerang that doesn’t actually return when you throw it, but also a cross that fires out a series of extremely powerful beams. Some of the ideas that were used in later Castlevania games pop up here – like a gigantic rock monster, haunted dining tables, and a knight made out shattered stained glass window shards. The soundtrack, too, is fantastic. It was composed by Kenichi Matsubara, who also worked on Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest and other classic NES Konami games, and even includes the series' trademark “Bloody Tears” tune. The synth quality is stellar for a late 1980s arcade game and nearly every track is fantastic, plus some of them have popped up in later games.
But what sets this standalone Arcade Archives release apart from the Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection? Well, not much. Both versions were ported by Hamster, so the emulation is basically identical. Both versions let you tweak the difficulty settings a bit, too. That release contained the American and Japanese versions – the American version is significantly harder, with enemies inflicting much more damage. The Arcade Archives release includes those two as well as the European version, which is almost the same as the Japanese version but with an English title screen. The Arcade Archives version also has more display modes, allowing you to customize the scanlines and such, and tweak things like enabling or disabling continues.
There is also the usual Hi Score and Caravan modes found in other Arcade Archives releases, allowing you to post your score online. Due to these options, it’s very slightly better than its Anniversary Collection counterpart… but that version includes previously unseen supplemental artwork, plus seven whole other games, making this one a far weaker value overall.
For the most part, Haunted Castle is a pretty miserable experience, and in a strong contest with Castlevania: The Adventure (the first Game Boy game) for being one of the worst in the Castlevania series. The options in this collection help allay some of the issues – or at least allow you to cheat through them – and it’s still (begrudgingly) worth struggling through for its unusual place in the Castlevania series. However, in the cold light of day, there's no denying that this is a pretty poor video game and one that most people will want to ignore.
Too high of a score IMO. 2/10 for me. I played the arcade classics version and quickly noped right out of there. Its not a game I have the time, patience or desire to keep long playing to become good at it.
I don't get the point of this release. This game is available in the Konami Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection which has been available for less than this single release costs and contains seven other games. So many classic arcade titles Hamster could be releasing ahead of this one.
@BionicDodo I imagine this is just a quick simple easy release for them. Its been on PS4 for a while now. I appreciate Hamster archiving as much as they can, so its to be expected there will be some bad or unnecessary releases from them. They clearly aren't motivated by profit or they would hand-pick the games they release more carefully. If they have access to it, they'll release it sometime, sooner or later.
Every screen grab looks like vomit.
I love Castlevania (even the first Game Boy game!) but I bounced off this when it came on the Konami Collection. Just not fun.
Someone hasn't played the original Castlevania The Adventure, Lords of Shadow 2 or Castlevania Judgement
This game is pretty bad, but as a Castlevania nerd, I can't help but enjoy the ridiculous difficulty and unfair design of this one. I bought this release, knowing full well what it was.
If you want to play an actual Castlevania game for real, though, head on over to the Castlevania Anniversary Collection and avoid this one.
I agree castlevania fans will want to check it out and that's what I did. But man I totally could see walking away from this mess quickly in an actual arcade.
Side note. Cool to see the CV dungeon creator is the reviewer of this game.
As an arcade game I honestly do not think its anywhere near as bad as people like to make it out to be.
It's just a simple action game, with some jank and great music.
It's not some hidden treasure or anything like that by any means but it's hardly anything offensive.
'Weakly-animated sprites and an awkwardly controlling main character'
In fairness thats a staple in most Castlevania games - I just played and completed the original Rondo of Blood, which was very good, some say the best classic style Castlevania. And although the animation of most enemies was ok(ish) the above description fits the main protagonist on both 'Counts' (pun definitely intended).
To best honest it's kinda weird Castlevania games work as well as they do - I've played quite a few and love the series but the animation and movement is rarely great or elegant. Artwork is also constantly recycled and inconsistent - but it does work somehow.
@BionicDodo I am happy hamster is individually releasing games which previous were on compilations. Many times I only want one or two games of a collection and my ocd preference is to simply continue my collections via hamster instead of company compilations.
It's not the worse.
It was meant for arcade coins eater.
Pretty sure all the 3D Castlevanias are the worst
Best box art i've seen in a while
Seems like it was definitely designed to eat your money back in the day.
@Muh-ario Really makes me wish Castlevania were a Nintendo IP.
I.rather play a Castlevania Pachinko machine.
I thought Hamster already had this for sale? Or was it just PlayStation and Xbox? Where’s Raiden?
While I played Castlevania Adventure and the 16-bit games the most and generally enjoyed them, I always felt the controls/physics for 2D Castlevania sucked (I never got into the 3D ones).
The 2D controls feel sluggish, your character flies backwards when he gets hit (and often ends up down a hole), and any time precision platform jumping is needed, you better douse yourself with holy water and start praying. Because chances are you'll miss a platform or the game won't respond properly your jump command. This was particularly on the SNES games.
I'm going to say Castlevania: The Adventure is the worst, because it's also ugly to look at and the soundtrack sucks.
Battle Of The Holy was the best thing about Castlevania Adventure.
I wondering if there are Operator Settings that could be used to make the game more playable (extra lives, enemy limits).
I honestly don't know what they were thinking making the U.S. version so hard. Yeah yeah, eat customers' quarters. But I mean seriously, at least you stand a chance in the Japanese version. Interestingly, it's usually the reverse.
To be honest, it is an old game and it won't get any better unlike wine. So reviewing a game back from the days nowadays is ridiculous in my eyes.
We get trash like this, but still have to wait on A Masterpiece like ‘ZOMBIES ATE MY NEIGHBORS’!
What kind of madness is this!?!?
Can anyone confirm if the Konami code unlocks the ost at the game mode selection screen? I heard the PS4 version did. It will be worth me double dipping for this one if true.
@Wavey84 “steak to the heart”? No bro - this game is way worse than getting high cholesterol.
"in the cold light of day"
is an excellent turn of phrase.
3 is pretty generous IMO, this is an absolutely terrible game.
I've played pretty much every Castlevania game, and I'm totally fine skipping over this one.
Name recognition must be the primary reason they chose to release this even though there are superior Konami games like Mystic Warriors, Violent Storm, Metamorphic Force, and even Vendetta, and unlike The Simpson, X-Men, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I don't think license issues would get in the way.
Weren't we supposed to be getting a Castlevania Collection Vol. 2? And why isn't Symphony of the Night on Switch?
@GrailUK It's because of Castlevania: Requiem on PS4, which is a bundle of Rondo of Blood and SotN. I believe Sony signed some kind of exclusivity deal with Konami, which is why we haven't seen those games on Switch, unfortunately.
@OldManHermit Awww. Boooo
Don't really understand the point of releasing Haunted Castle as a standalone game when it's already included with Konami's Arcade Classics Collection which is also available on the Nintendo Switch. Would've done them better to release an Igavania Collection instead IMO.
People are too harsh on this game (and Castlevania: The Adventure also). Honestly, they are both great games if you give them a chance. They are both in my list of top 10 favorite Castlevania games. I highly recommend both of them. They are awesome!
This game isn’t even on the U.S. EShop at the time of this comment. Every time I go to search for the game on the Switch’s Eshop, there’s no results for it, it lists all of the other Arcade Archives games except that one. It’s listed on Nintendo’s website, but when I click to buy it digitally on Nintendo’s website, it always comes up with an error. So, not sure if it has actually released yet or if it’s going to be released later on the U.S. Switch Eshop. Hopefully it’s just an error or something that will correct itself soon.
I liked Castlevania Judgement. Not a bad time with a classic controller in hand. This game here is a bit of a turd however.
Tap here to load 39 comments
Leave A Comment
Hold on there, you need to login to post a comment...