Friday 10 June 2011

Haunted Castle

Hey look it's Akumajō Dracu- HAUNTED CASTLE. Following that last Castlevania review I felt the urge to go hunting for the other three games that share the same Japanese name. Bad idea.

This is perhaps the worst Castlevania game in the history of the series, which probably explains why it doesn't use the Castlevania brand name. There may be 3D or Game Boy releases that beat it on the crap scale, but you can expect this one to be near the top.

Simon Bel-wait I don't think they specify a surname, has just got married! Hurray! Dracula's popped up to steal his new wife though, because he has nothing better to do, and so Simon must go after them in a typical whip-those-crazy-freaks style.

As an arcade game, Haunted Castle makes some rather radical decisions, namely to take the majority of features that made Castlevania bearable and turn it into one of the most generic walk-whip-walk-whip games you could ever conceive. It is perhaps the most bland game of the lot - it has stairs yes, but platforming? Don't count on it. You won't be changing direction much in this title, it's just "hit whatever is in front of you", then "hit the ones from behind". Rinse, repeat, and then rinse again to cleanse yourself of the mediocrity.

You can jump but that mostly just exists to complicate things. No, Haunted Castle would rather you walk and occasionally duck, though it also expects you to know the entire layout of the game and predict what's coming. During my first two attempts at this game, I was killed within a minute. No matter where I jumped or walked, I always managed to hit something. Some enemies are completely unavoidable because they spawn right next to you. It's stupid.

Whether it was a bat, a skeleton, or things that shouldn't even hurt you like statues which haven't fallen yet, they've all got something against Simon, and they all steal a big chunk of your health bar when you inevitably collide with them. Seriously, we're talking like, 25-50%, and Simon insists on making that damned UGH sound whenever he gets hit. What's the point of sixteen little blocks if you're going to treat it like two?

I know clunky, unresponsive men can't afford to let wives go, since I'm pretty sure this sort of conduct only turns a lady on once in a blue moon, but the amount of hasstle that Simon goes through in this game seems to greatly outweigh the reward. In a proper Castlevania game, the world depends on the Belmonts defeating Dracula. Here it's just a case of saving one woman, and in a situation such as this, she's just not worth it. And even if she was, this version of Simon shouldn't be allowed to breed. It means we won't get Richter Belmont down the line but it's better than him living with this shame. Let Dracula win - he'll get bored eventually.

The normal traits of Castlevania still exist... almost. You collect hearts which are used to fuel your secondary weapon (though don't expect to ever see one unless you're loaded with credits), and your vampire whip can get rid of anything, whether that be demon spawn or projectiles. What makes this game difficult is that Simon is ridiculously slow, so it becomes a challenge to out-run threats. And when you're killed, there's only a certain amount of continues that the game grants you, even if you've inserted more coins. Seriously people, I could not get past the first level - I had to judge the rest through YouTube videos. It is a bad sign when a game does forces this upon me.

You can tell a different branch of Konami were behind this one. The sprites are bigger than in previous games, but that just makes you a bigger target as well as showing off Simon's silly attire. The levels, though not specifically boring, are flat and linear and generally fail to impress and the only thing left to help Haunted Castle succeed is the music. However, since it owes some of its tracks to earlier games, the game still gets a "leg up" from better Castlevania games. Haunted Castle actually feels more like a parody of Castlevania - it's like it took the worst parts of the original game and exacerbated them for giggles. It's virtually unplayable unless you have the patience of a saint.

Am being too harsh here? No. Sure, perhaps if you're good at this sort of thing Haunted Castle stands as a solid arcade game. There are many beat-'em-ups of this nature from the late 80s and early 90s, and even though I've never seen the appeal, others certainly have. Look at Sega's Altered Beast for example - it was deemed so good that it became the original pack-in title for the Sega Mega Drive (though it should be noted Altered Beast is significantly better than this garbage). Someone was buying this stuff, it just wasn't me. I hate this sort of thing and I hate Haunted Castle.

I suppose the big issue is that it took a perfectly reasonable (if a little flawed) platform game and turned it into a hack-and-slash arcade release which is stupidly difficult and lacks entertainment value. I just can't understand the thinking behind it, especially when they weren't planning to keep the Castlevania name. Was the world really crying out such riveting games like this? Could Konami not have invested in an arcade version of one of their broken MSX shooters? I've already put forward my demands for a more fluid Space Manbow.

But hey, maybe it's for the hardcore Castlevania fans. Who knows, who cares, it's just not for me.


  1. If you are losing around 4 health per hit and you haven't found any subweapons or hearts, you have Version "M". Version "M" is for those who hate life. To remedy this, download and play Version "K". It's still frustrating and subpar, but nowhere close to being as abysmal of an experience as Version "M".

  2. That would explain things. Thanks for the tip!