Haunted Castle

Re-Vamp an Old Game with This New Kit

What a horrible night to have a wedding.
Haunted art by @AgentAnnK.

In a previous article covering Castlevania: The Adventure, I mourned the assassination of Castlevania by the cowards Konami. As mentioned, Castlevania is one of my favorite game franchises, and my history with it goes as far back as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System days. So, you can imagine that I was both surprised and intrigued by the announcement of the animated series set to debut on Netflix. And with its release, I was even more pleasantly surprised to find that it was good!

But we’re not about “good” games-related properties on this website: In the words of a wise bobcat, “We’re the Bad Game Hall of Fame, fur cryin’ out loud!” So, if I wanna talk about Castlevania on this site, it’s gonna have to be in the context of a bad video game. And like with most all long-running franchises, they can’t all be winners.

In 1988, Konami opened the doors to their Haunted Castle. It may not carry the Castlevania name,** but it certainly carries on its trademarks and traditions. It also carries with it the burden of trying to bring the classic Castlevania experience to the arcades — an idea which, if you think about it, actually doesn’t seem like all that much a stretch for the notoriously unforgiving series. And yet, more than a few things still managed to get lost in the translation. We’ll get into the what, the where, and hopefully some of the whys as to why Haunted Castle might very well be one of the worst Castlevania games. Also, I’ll give my theory as to why they didn’t even dare call the game Castlevania in the states.

** The game does carry the original Akumajo Dracula branding in Japan, keeping it in line with the rest of the franchise.

The Honeymoon Is over Before It Has Begun

In August of 1987, Japan got their hands on Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest (North America would have to wait until late ‘88, while PAL regions waited as late as April 1990). And while it was certainly a departure from the previous NES / Famicom installment, it wasn’t actually all that far removed from the MSX2 title Vampire Killer, which featured merchants and mazes and all other manner of additions to the formula that would be seen again later in the “Metroidvania” phase of the franchise. So, by this third installment in the franchise, you actually only had one “traditional” Castlevania title (as we consider the classic formula to be today) and two less-linear releases. For the fourth entry, Konami figured it was time to return to form.

Development for what would be known in North America as Haunted Castle was given six months — likely beginning immediately after the end of development for Simon’s Quest. Though a full list of developer credits doesn’t exist,** it has been noted that there was very little crossover between members of the Famicom / MSX2 game teams and the arcade team. At this point in time, Konami seemed to separate their teams into hardware-specific groups, with little contact or crossover between different teams. This makes enough sense for an era where developing for different consoles required almost entirely different skillsets / programming know-how. It would only make sense that the folk who specialized in coin-op games be trusted to steer the Haunted Castle project, freeing up the home console developers to work on other projects.

But according to designer / artist Masaaki Kukino, development on the arcade game was troubled, and timelines were not being met. To this end, programmers were pulled from another Konami coin-op currently in development (1988’s Hot Chase) to help wrap up Haunted Castle. Both games unfortunately lack credit rolls to confirm the cooperation, but Masaaki speaks to his role as one of the Hot Chase developers pulled from his project to help the Castlevania team:

“In essence the team that was developing Haunted Castle needed extra hands. Like hired guns. […] We needed to finish Haunted Castle, so my boss ordered the entire team [on Hot Chase] to provide helping hands to the team of Haunted Castle, for a limited time only. For two months. In order to make the game better they needed more manpower, external help. That’s what we did, working on ROM graphics, and planning, and so on.” ~ Masaaki Kukino[1]

It was at this stage of development that it seems the bulk of the work on the game was actually done, and some of the most memorable features / set pieces of the game were implemented. But given only two months to help contribute to the project, and with a hard deadline in place for the game’s release, Mr. Kukino laments that he “couldn’t do even one half of what [he] wanted to do on the game.”[1] Furthermore, there was little time for debugging or balancing, as the game was rushed to completion in its final development phase. But for what it was worth, the arcade spin-off was certainly successful in resembling its console counterpart in thematic elements and in spirit.

Which brings us to something like the burning question: Why is the game called Haunted Castle outside of Japan instead of some variation on the Castlevania name? Surely, branding it to be more in line with other franchise entries could’ve only helped the game generate more attention / more potential profits? It almost seems like self-sabotage to ship the game with the most generic of titles and not take advantage of name recognition. Naturally, I’ve got a few theories, ranging from “plausible” to “most likely.”

  • Konami realized the project was a likely disaster, and chose to brand it as a standalone property rather than sully the Castlevania name. If the game were a surprise success, they could’ve chosen to bring it back in line with the franchise by way of sending out revision hardware / cabinet art after the fact.
  • As Masaaki Kukino claims, the game became an “entirely different game” from the original home console version of Castlevania over the course of development. The decision was made to brand it as a distinct property for the American market, while Konami was content to continue to cash in on the Akumajo Dracula name recognition in Japan.
  • My personal theory: VS. Castlevania would still be in arcades at this time as part of Nintendo’s VS. System line, and possibly still generating some amount of profit while also pointing consumers towards the NES release. Releasing another arcade game with something like the same title and similar gameplay would create both confusion and competition against itself. So, if one of the games was gonna have to change its name, it stands to reason it should be the one only loosely representative of the home console version.

Regardless as to the real reason and whatever regrets the developers may have had about the game, Akumajo Dracula was released in Japanese arcades as scheduled in February of 1988, with Haunted Castle releasing internationally in September of that same year. As Konami crossed their fingers and hoped for the best, Simon Belmont got ready to “Cross Your Heart” once again. Or is it “Crucifix Held Close” now? See, this here is why you shouldn’t rename recurring musical tracks after the fact.

** As far as I can gather, the current list of known developers for Haunted Castle consists of Masaaki Kukino (game design, art) and Kenichi Matsubara (composer).

More Bats, Bones, and Boogeymen

It’s a nice day for a fright wedding. Though he goes unnamed in-game, we’re going to go ahead and call our protagonist Simon Belmont, because this game is more likely than not yet another re-telling of the first Castlevania.** One key plot difference though this time around: Simon is no longer just a man determined to save the world from the plague of vampirism. This time, it’s personal, as he must rescue his newly-wedded bride who Dracula has captured from him. Truly, the fate of the world is much less compelling a motivator than rescuing yet another damsel in distress.

Luckily, this lame story is told in possibly the funniest way possible, with one of the most ridiculous game introductions in the history of arcades. We open with Simon and his beloved (named Selena) leaving the church as a chiptune rendition of Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” plays in the background. Suddenly, the sky turns grey and thunder destroys the cross atop the Church, allowing Dracula to make his dramatic entrance. Simon and Selena remain completely oblivious to all this, and are more than content to continue to walk in place as the world around them goes to hell. It takes Dracula swooping down from the sky, abducting the woman, and flying away with her to elicit a reaction from Simon, which basically amounts to him raising his hands as if to say “what the hell?” Trust me: It’s all very silly.

From this point, you immediately take control of Simon in his vampire killing outfit, making his way through a graveyard toward Dracula’s castle. And almost immediately after that, you are confronted with your first enemies, who can steal away nearly half your health in a single blow right out the gate. This is certainly atypical for a Castlevania game, which have the tradition of starting slow and ramping up the difficulty / damage you take as you progress. You know; like a standard difficulty curve. But seeing as this is an arcade game designed to relieve you of your quarters, it maintains a near-constant level of ridiculously high difficulty.

Actually, that’s not entirely true, depending on exactly which version of the game you’re playing. Different revisions of the arcade ROM [designated for different regions] have differing levels of difficulty, with the American “M” revision being seemingly the most difficult and the Japanese “K” revision being the most fair by comparison.*** Naturally, I played through the game on both sets, because I am both a glutton for punishment and a sucker for Castlevania. The primary change I noticed is that in the Japanese revision, enemies tend to do less damage until later in the game and have a better chance of dropping hearts or items for you. Small changes, but significant ones considering just how brutal the American revision can be. That being said, revision “K” is still no cakewalk, gradually ramping up its difficulty over the course of its six stages.

Other than being hair-pullingly difficult right off the bat, does the rest of what’s presented feel like Castlevania? Well, you’ve got your whip to start with, hearts drop allowing you to use sub-weapons, and movement overall is stiff and deliberate. So far, so good! You may notice a lack of candles and breakable walls in the level design, with enemies now made to drop all manner of pick-ups. I honestly don’t have any issue with this change, since you’ll have to kill most enemies in your way anyhow. Additionally, stages here are mostly flat in their layouts, and the whole point of incorporating candles into the original Castlevania was to take advantage of the multi-levelled stage design, by making some items inaccessible if a player took a certain route. Another interesting change is the idea to have your leftover hearts at the end of a stage count for more than just points, now serving the additional purpose of restoring your health (one heart = one health point) rather than having bosses drop the traditional full-healing orbs. Again, this is another understandable change in the context of tailoring the game for arcades, even if it takes the game a little further away from it’s roots.

I’m also gonna make something of a bold statement here in saying that the game doesn’t look much like a Castlevania to me. Chalk it up to a combination of character sprites being a bit too big, colors being a bit too gaudy, and backgrounds bordering on being eyesores. The interesting thing to me about Haunted Castle is that despite running on far better hardware / having more graphical capabilities than the NES, it’s almost as if the developers didn’t exactly know what to do with it? There are stage backdrops that consist entirely of one small, overly-detailed texture repeated dozens of times directly adjacent to each other, creating an awful eye-straining effect. These are particularly abhorrent in the second and fourth stages, with some stone walls that are frankly hideous.

Speaking of hideous, none of the characters are much of lookers either! Say what you will about the classic renditions of Simon on the NES, with their limited colors and awkward gaits, but this blue-haired swole-as-shit Simon is by far the goofiest so in the franchise. I’d rather take Castlevania X68000 Simon in all his generic brown leather glory, or red-headed goth hunk Castlevania Chronicles Simon any day of the week.**** For whatever reason, the thing that bugs me most about “Haunted Simon” is this stupid red jewel he has on the back of his armor, as if the developers intended to say “we couldn’t have this many simultaneous colors on the NES,” without any regard for whether or not it was necessary to do so. Worse yet, there’s a perfectly fine Simon design on the game’s title screen rocking the traditional brown hair and gear, which makes the in-game sprites all the more puzzling.

I’m not usually one to dwell on graphics for too long, but the difference between the “technologically inferior” console games and the arcade hardware here really does deserve the attention. It cannot be overstated just how effective the original NES Castlevania trilogy was at utilizing minimal color palettes and sized tiles in the most effective of ways. The limitations imposed gave way to some beautiful, moody level design and distinct, recognizable monsters. On the other hand, having the freedom to implement more colors into larger sprites for Haunted Castle results in an altogether more gaudy experience.

Of additional note in the technical department are a small handful of what I’ll call “camera-related” oversights. For one, the stage indicator in the bottom-left corner of the screen isn’t prioritized on the top-most graphical layer of the game, meaning that foreground objects can [and will] occasionally obscure it completely. This can include grass, fire, running water, or any other graphical effect that would generally be placed on a layer in front of Simon. While those are harmless cosmetic errors, issues with the camera scrolling can be far more problematic. You can occasionally “outrun” the camera if you don’t stop moving, giving yourself little to no time to prepare for incoming enemies as the camera fails to catch up to your character on the edge of the screen.

There are some additional issues with stages that incorporate vertical scrolling, where falling below the camera – even in spots where there is ground beneath you – will result in death as if you fell down a bottomless pit. I also suspect that the timing / movement of certain stage elements is tied to the position of the camera (rather than to the player’s relative position), which can cause some moving platforms to completely break if you approach them “too soon.” This is particularly notable in the fourth stage, where a series of floating platforms will fail to rise to the necessary height for you to jump across if you get too close to them before the camera does, resulting in an unwinnable situation.

Haunted Castle also commits the cardinal sin of messing with the original subweapon / weapon upgrade formula. Gone are throwing knives and axes or anything similar to them to take their place: Instead, you get two variations on the holy water with the bomb and torch, two variations on the cross including a boomerang (neither of which travel back to you), and the old stand-by in the stopwatch. Furthermore, the whip upgrades are further between one another, with the third and final upgrade somehow turning the Vampire Killer into a sword? Sure, that latter change is totally cosmetic and not really worth making a fuss over, but the changes to the subweapons are altogether ill-advised.

At least the large bulk of the enemies are pulled from the original entry. You’ve got your cavalcade of bats, skeletons, swamp creatures and so forth, plus the classic bosses in Medusa (whom the English arcade owners manual oddly refers to as “a mermaid”), Frankenstein’s Monster, and the protagonist of 1994’s Clockwork Knight for the Sega Saturn. Okay, maybe that last one ain’t exactly a series staple. Also curiously absent is Death / the Grim Reaper, who would also go on to skip Castlevania The Adventure and Belmont’s Revenge in the following years. As a consolation prize, we get… a goofy-looking stone golem, who is also the only boss to not even have a death animation for when you finish him off. Also, after facing off against a decently difficult first-form Dracula, you are confronted with an incredibly easy to defeat second-form where he transforms into a giant disembodied head, and can be killed in a matter of seconds so long as you have any of the subweapons on hand.

A frustrating repeating element in the basic enemy design are enemies who “die” only to have some secondary enemy spawn from their dead body, usually lunging in your general direction. These are pretty much guaranteed damage for first-time players, and hard to avoid even when you’re aware what’s coming. As if the army of monsters trying to kill you weren’t stress enough, the stages themselves are also littered with traps and hazards just waiting to crush, burn, or otherwise harm you. The first stage alone features two such traps, including a wall that hurls itself at you brick by brick, as well as a flaming graveyard forcing you to dodge shooting flames as you jump across from pedestal to pedestal. Conceptually, these are fine little action set pieces, but in execution they give you too little time to prepare yourself and almost no room for error.

I understand the quarter-munching nature of arcade games, but as a developer you should allow for players to at least believe they can potentially overcome obstacles on their first attempt. Haunted Castle takes some sick pleasure in letting players know that there is nothing they can do to prepare themselves short of trial and error. For another example: In the final stage, as you approach your final confrontation against Dracula, the bridge you are walking across begins to collapse behind you. At the same time, the game tosses bats at you forcing you either take damage while maintaining your pace, or stop to attack them and risk letting the collapsing bridge catch up to you. Granted, you are able to attack the bats while jumping in order to maintain most of your momentum and keep ahead of the crumbling, but this requires you to be able to predict / remember precisely when the game is going to toss the enemies at you, and acting within an incredibly tiny window in order to land without standing in place for too long. Needless to say, accomplishing this feat on a first attempt is an incredibly unlikely occurrence, and it’s not hard for you as a player to realize that fact.

This would all be one thing if the game gave you the chance to drop another quarter in, hit the Start button again, and pick up where you left off from. Amazingly though, Haunted Castle drops this standard function of most arcade games of the era, opting instead to allow for only three continues. Once you’ve used those up, it’s back to the beginning of the game, regardless of how many coins you’ve fed the machine! Additionally, you can also choose to use your credits to give yourself more health mid-stage, which also takes away from your total number of continues. If the idea behind this was to encourage players to engage with the game for longer / pay more up front as a sort of preemptive measure, it was a really bad idea, as the first thing I felt like doing upon being sent back to the beginning of the game was to never play Haunted Castle again. Mr. Kukino attempts to explain the rationale behind this truly terrible idea.

“What was important for arcade game development was the fine tuning of the difficulty. […] What we needed to do was adjust the difficulty level so that as the levels go up, the game becomes more difficult to complete. So even skilled and really experienced players have a hard time going on to the next stage and continuing forever. But the truth is, we didn’t have enough time to refine the game to that level, and also a different programmer was working as a director on Haunted Castle, which was not myself, and that director’s intent behind the scenes probably played a role in making the decision.“ ~ Masaaki Kukino[1]

It’s pretty hard to argue with a member of the game’s development team who admits that the game they helped create is poorly balanced. Surprisingly though, the game’s difficulty actually does relent right before the game’s end, with one of the easiest second-form Dracula battles in franchise history. If you pick up the cross subweapon and at least a handful of hearts from some of the bats on the crumbling bridge, you should be able to spam them with ease against a floating Dracula head, stopping his projectiles and stopping him in just a small handful of hits. In terms of underwhelming Draculas, I’d rate it slightly above Castlevania: The Adventure, with Simon’s Quest probably forever holding the dubious honor of having the most easily defeatable king of vampires.

And what do you get as reward for your game completion? A brief cutscene of Simon and Selene staring at the sinking castle… before the game immediately begins again at stage one, and expects you to play it again at a slightly higher difficulty. Standard arcade game design for the time, sure, but it still strikes me as a sour note to “end” an already sour game on. That Hot Chase game Kukino and company were working on certainly knew how to end with a bang. It’s not as if I have a better suggestion as to how the game could’ve ended either, aside from maybe allowing for an epilogue text / credits roll to give the game that added bit of cinematic gravitas? The classic Castlevanias may not have been heavily story-driven affairs as the later installments would move toward, but they still carried a certain “weight” to them that required a little more closure for their conclusions. Haunted Castle – for all it’s flaws – still manages to convey some of that same sense of poise and purpose, but fails to properly pay it off.

It’s easy to dismiss much of Haunted Castle as ill-advised, rushed to pass, and being of generally dubious quality. But it’s not a game entirely without its merits, and it’s clear that some amount of care was put into its craft: The soundtrack is excellent, as per usual for Castlevania, with returning composers Kenichi Matsubara and Masahiro Ikariko apparently being involved in the musical arrangement. The stage one theme, “Cross Your Heart,” holds a special place in my heart, and it was nice to see it reappear in Portrait of Ruin. Stage three also features the second-ever rendition of soon-to-become series staple “Bloody Tears,” which isn’t half-bad. I’m also a fan of stage four’s eerie “Den of Worship,” which has yet to [and probably never will] see an official re-arrangement in any later installments.

For as unfair as they may be in execution, several of the action set pieces are still conceptually pretty neat and end up being fairly memorable: Dodging and whipping projectile bricks during a rainstorm in the first stage is a strong way for the game to convey that every bit of scenery in the game could potentially be – and often is – a hazard. The opening of stage five, which has you riding a rapidly-ascending lift up a spiral staircase while trying to dodge overhead platforms, is an interesting idea, even if the placement of said platforms ends up being a major pain. And for as poorly-implemented as the stage six crumbling bridge may be, it’s still a cool visual that continues to stick in the mind. I personally prefer the dramatic effect of walking up a suspended staircase immediately preceding my battles against Dracula, but I can see why even a brief moment of “downtime” like that doesn’t necessarily fly in an arcade game.

Unfortunately, the developers best intentions simply can’t stand up against the most terrifying monster of all: Project deadlines. I’m sure that given a few months more time to be polished and possibly even expanded upon, Haunted Castle could’ve been a true torchbearer for the Castlevania legacy. But in the shape it was released in, it doesn’t even hold a candle to it. The game would’ve greatly benefitted from an additional stage or two — possibly some variation on the classic “Laboratory” tileset or a trip through a town under attack. Other tweaks and changes I would make would include extending the length of Simon’s melee attacks, bringing back an axe-like subweapon with a vertical arc to it, and generally re-arranging some of the stages to give them more layered designs / less long flat planes to walk across. Would this be enough to transform the game from frustrating to fun? Quite possibly, to be honest! The framework is here for a fine little Castlevania game, but the team simply weren’t given enough time to bring it to fruition.

The saddest thing about Haunted Castle is that the classic Castlevania formula could’ve / should’ve easily worked in the context of an arcade game — hell, Vs. Castlevania does a better job demonstrating that fact than Haunted Castle manages. And it’s a shame it did such a disappointing job of things, since it sort of put the kibosh on Konami allowing the franchise another attempt, at least until 2009’s rail-shooter Akumajō Dracula: The Arcade. Ironically, the best chance we have of seeing future Castlevania games at this point in time are potentially as arcade releases… in the form of pachinko cabinets. Dracula may be a monster, but Konami is truly the most terrible creature in the context of the Castlevania property.

** An argument might be made that this game could actually be another in the line of sequels to Castlevania, with Dracula’s revenge for the events of the two NES installments being to kidnap his enemy’s bride on their wedding day or what have you. Remember that there was a period in time where Super Castlevania IV was considered by some to be a “sequel” as opposed to a remake.
*** There is an additional “E” revision floating around on ROM repository sites, but a lack of documentation to explain its origin / the differences between this revision and the other two. I can at least confirm that it carries over the more forgiving damage values from the “K” revision.
**** Truth be told; as admittedly goofy and unfitting for the setting as he may be, I actually kinda like redhead Simon. Then again, I have also been known to refer to Symphony of the Night Alucard as a “heartthrob,” so I reckon I might have something like a type when it comes to men.

And They Lived Happily Ever After

This is Dracula. He bids you welcome.
(Arcade promotional flyer)

Unsurprisingly, Haunted Castle was basically hung out to dry by Konami on its arcade release, apparently receiving little in the way of promotion or post-release support. It was distributed as an unappealing, bare-bones conversion kit for existing cabinets, and pretty much left to fend for itself in the competitive arcade space of the late 80’s. It did, however, boast one of the goofiest promotional flyers of all time to try and convince arcade operators to purchase the hardware. Hell, if I ran an arcade myself back in the day, I totally would’ve ordered myself a kit on the merit of this silly-ass-looking Dracula.

The Japanese release did have one bit of additional gimmickry going for it: Before the final battle, an audio cassette (or CD) embedded inside the cabinet would apparently play a brief conversation between Simon and Dracula. Unfortunately, I can’t find any recording or transcript of this supposed exchange, though KLOV** goes as far as to specify the specific formats that the audio track came in (either a “SHARP Volt89 cassette tape” or a “Sony 78 CD”).[2] So, with that added bit of novelty in place, was the game able to overcome the odds and draw in crowds of arcade-goers? We go now to Masaaki Kukino for comment:

“JS: Was it considered a success in arcades?
MK: No. We would have liked to make it a better game if we had the time.”[1]

CORRECTION (2-21-18): As commenter “Jonny2x4” has contended, this whole bit of trivia is more likely than not a hoax. By this point in time, Konami’s PCBs were more than capable of playing back audio samples without the need for additional cassette / CD playback devices, so this whole mechanism would seem to be a needless addition. When not even an official VHS guide for the game features the recorded exchange, it’s a pretty fair bet that it never existed to begin with.

Look, there was basically nothing Konami could’ve done here to try and salvage what had been handed in to them. Sure, they could’ve delayed the release by a few more months, but that would amount in that much more money spent on a game that the majority of players might end up playing through once and then never again: A linear platformer like Haunted Castle was never gonna match the drawing power of a Space Invaders-esque shooter or Pac-Man-like maze game, even if it had been fully realized by its programmers. For once, I can’t really blame Konami for wanting to just get this game into circulation as it stood, and washing their hands of it shortly afterward.

Thankfully, the failure of Haunted Castle would do little [if any] damage to Castlevania as a home console franchise, as 1989’s Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse would wind up being one of the best platformer games of all time (in my humble opinion) and paving the way for dozens more Castlevania games to come. In spite of Konami’s worst efforts to expand the brand into arcades and handhelds – in spite of having seemingly no clue what made the original Castlevania successful in the first place – the heart behind the “core” entries in the series was too strong to succumb to the stake. That being said, it may be for the best that the arcade game dropped the traditional franchise branding outside of Japan: As a casual consumer, I certainly wouldn’t want to bother giving what I might perceive to be the “console versions” of the game a try if Haunted Castle were my first exposure to the property.

And so, much like a vampire at rest, Haunted Castle would remain dormant in its coffin for the next eighteen years. Until one day, a stray rodent found its way into the morgue, and managed to dig up the accursed corpse. As part of the “Oretachi Gēsen Zoku” (translated as “Our Game Center Family”) series of arcade re-releases for the PlayStation 2, Akumajō Dracula would see the light of day once again, published by Hamster Corporation. Released as the fifteenth volume of this series in May of 2006, the package contained the same accoutrements as other games to receive the re-release treatment: A CD-ROM of the game running in emulation, a CD featuring the original game soundtrack as well as re-arrangements of the music, a DVD containing a “Masterplay” of the game itself as well other other promotional trailers, and a collection of other historical information about the original arcade release.

Unfortunately, I get the distinct impression that not much care or effort actually went into this particular installment of the Oretachi series. The emulation provides little in the way of options, only giving you the basic dip switch options and two methods of screen-scaling (neither of which seem to properly match the original 8:7 pixel aspect ratio). There are also some issues with screen-tearing that might distract folk who tend to get distracted by that sort of thing. Other than that, it’s a faithful enough emulation of the original release. The bonus music CD contains all the songs from the soundtrack in decent enough quality, plus a compilation of all the game’s sound effects (again, still no trace of the Dracula conversation), and a decent remix of several pieces of the game’s soundtrack combined together into a six-and-a-half minute “Super Sweep Remix.”

The bonus DVD, on the other hand, is a largely bland affair consisting mostly of promotional material for the other Oretachi releases. However, the “Super Play” feature that is typically supposed to demonstrate the game being completed from beginning to end in a somewhat “super” fashion is, uhh… well, it’s not all that super, as it turns out. As a matter of fact, the player in the video just barely survives to stage four, before it just abruptly fades to black! Even with the far more forgiving “K” revision, they still couldn’t find someone who could manage to record themselves completing the entire game! Hey, Hamster Corporation: If you ever decide to re-release the Oretachi Gēsen Zoku outside of Japan, hit me up. I’m sure I could practice to the point where I could beat the game in one run. I might still need to use the additional credits for extra health, but at least I can get you to the game’s ending.

Haunted Castle isn’t among the worst arcade games of all time — far from it, honestly. It does certainly rank as one of the worst Castlevania games of all time, providing little content and overly-frustrating gameplay. Sure, I’d still take it any day over Castlevania: The Adventure, but I reckon that’s not really saying much. I chalk the game up as an underwhelming disappointment rather than as an abject failure: More “pitiful” than it is “loathsome.” But with dozens of other, better Castlevania games out there now, I don’t think the world lost much by not seeing a particularly great arcade installment in the series. And if you happen to be a die-hard Castlevania fan, I really don’t think you’re missing out on much if you’ve never been able to play this game for yourself.

**  The International Arcade Museum’s “Killer List of Videogames” is an immensely helpful resource in researching the specifics of arcade game hardware.

[1] Szczepaniak, John. The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers: Gold Edition. SMG Szczepaniak, 2014. Print.
[2] “Akumajou Dracula.” Killer List of Video Games. Web.

About the Author

Cassidy is the curator of a bad video game hall of fame. Whether you interpret that as "a hall of fame dedicated to bad video games" or as "a sub-par hall of fame for video games" is entirely up to you. Genuine cowpoke. Contact: E-mail | Twitter
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2 Responses to Haunted Castle

  1. Jonny2x4 says:

    The bit about the Japanese arcade PCB having CD player with a recorded conversion sounds like a hoax to me. I’ve never seen any Japanese source ever mention this trivia and it’s not even recorded on the official VHS guide. Not to mention by the time Haunted Castle came out, there were plenty of Konami PCBs capable of playing sampled voices such as Super Contra and Vulcan Venture/Gradius II.

    1. Cassidy says:

      You may very well be right. I reckon it was just the thing where KLOV was so specific about it, I had to wonder if there was at least something to it.

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