The first of two Castlevania games released for the arcades, Haunted Castle is a kind of awkward game. On one hand, it’s technically not part of the canon (Haunted Castle is one of the many, many re-imaginings of the first game) and it appears to be a cheap knock-off. But on the other hand, it’s a decent arcade game to look at. Playing it on the other hand, not so much.
Haunted Castle was only released in the arcades and has become one of the more obscure entries in the franchise. If you’re a diehard Castlevania fan, Haunted Castle might be worth checking out, even with its awful design choices.
Haunted Castle has great aesthetics and a…story?
Wedding bells are ringing for Simon Belmont and his lady love dressed in all white (it actually looks kind of hilarious), but then, in a scene totally not ripped off from Ghosts N’ Goblins, Dracula abducts her!
Problematic storytelling tropes aside, this marks the first time a Castlevania game gave a Belmont a personal reason to go after the Count. Not a great story, but it’s a pretty cool trivia thing for Castlevania nerds.
Anyways, Haunted Castle looks fantastic for a late-80s arcade game. Backgrounds are well-detailed and every stage has a unique little feature to them. For example, the fire that rises up in the first stage is actually pretty cool. Simon looks Conan the Barbarian-like and it’s a welcome change in his usual design. He’s still missing pants though…
Shockingly enough, it’s the music that will actually stick with you. “Bloody Tears” makes an appearance and a few of the original tracks are pretty great.
Short and difficult, Haunted Castle is perfect for the arcades
Ask any old school, hardened retro gamer what they think is the most difficult game and they will probably give you a different answer. The aforementioned Ghosts N’ Goblins, Ninja Gaiden, Robotron, etc. are all typical answers.
Haunted Castle is that kind of difficult. The kind that ruins your day and never makes you want to play it again. And one that brings it down from “decent” to “terrible.”
The controls are sluggish and exceptionally awkward. Having a constant barrage of enemies coming at you does not help at all, as Simon appears to wind up his whip. This makes the game cheap, as the control response is beyond atrocious. This also makes the platforming segments beyond frustrating and it always feels like pure luck whenever Mr. Belmont makes a jump.
Also, the enemies are incredibly uninspired. Bats? Zombies? Yay. Although, Dracula has an interesting final form…
Had the game just been a linear, single plane beat ‘em up, and a couple extra months of debugging, Haunted Castle may have been a better game. It would have been repetitive, but at least it wouldn’t be seen as one of the worst games in the franchise.