By Sean Harris

The first boss is the infamous Gorgon: watch the little snakes she launches on the ground.

This little known addition in the popular CASTLEVANIA series marked Konami’s one and only attempt at bringing the vampire killing adventure game to the arcade scene. Released two years after the original became a smash hit on the NES (and nearly coinciding with the launch of its first sequel–CASTLEVANIA II: SIMON’S QUEST, also on that system), HAUNTED CASTLE kept pretty much everything in the same format as those two side-scrolling masterpieces. Dressed up with slightly more detailed graphics and music from the superior mother board, this stab at familiarizing the exploits of the whip wielding Simon Belmont to the local Chuck E. Cheeses of the world might have fared better had it not sported an insane difficulty level.

Upon coining up and pressing the one player button, you’ll be treated to a quick prologue featuring a strangely blue-haired Simon leaving a tranquil church with his newly betrothed. A wolf howl and flash of lightening interrupts the ceremony, however, and from the sky lunges Count Dracula, who swoops in and steals your lady fair. Obviously, the ensuing quest is to rescue her and put the beast from Hell back into his eternal grave.

Castlevania is just a background away.

Just as in CASTLEVANIA, your journey takes you across six stages, most of them inside Dracula’s evil dwelling as you make your way to his inner sanctum high atop the spires of the wicked castle. The first two levels are getting there, though, so on the outset you’ll be making your way from the edges of the local village and across a dangerous graveyard. Your effects are as follows: aside from the normal directional movement of all good platformers (left, right, up, and down), you can jump with one button or unleash your whip with the other. There are optional secondary weapons, too: bombs, a boomerang, stopwatch, and a holy cross can be picked up after vanquished foes and fired so long as you have a cache of hearts to fuel them. Each weapon deducts a varying amount from your stash–additional hearts can be found scattered throughout the game from defeated enemies (small ones give you one, large ones five). To use your extra item, simply press and hold up on the joystick as you hit the attack button.

The clocktower has more than bats in its belfry.

Your whip can also be upgraded to either a morning star or sword later in the game (both found at precise places), and you’re going to need it for some of the harder enemies. Each stage hosts a horror show of nasties that progressively get worse; zombies, skeletons, and bats accost you in the opening graveyard area, mermen and mudmen besiege you in the forest before you enter the castle, and inside the keep you’ll encounter everything from hunchbacks, to bouncing eyeballs, mummies, and interdimensional harpies. The bosses are a creature feature roster upon themselves, many from the previous Nintendo entry. You’ll face off against Medusa, a skeletal dragon, a stained glass window knight, a giant rock golem, Frankenstein, and of course the fanged Count himself at the finale.

Check your progress on the map between levels.

There’s a lot to like here if you dedicate yourself the mastering the game’s more frustrating aspects. There are some particularly cheap shots in abundance, primarily in the jumping category (where falls are an instant kill–thankfully there are only a few spots on the second level that drop off the screen). Enemies, even those who would be construed as “weak”, do an inordinate amount of damage to your limited life meter. You also get knocked back with each hit you sustain, and the invincibility window for recovery between each injury is too quick, which can result in successive collisions from a single monster of any type. Sadly, missing is the meat item from the original game, so forget restoring any lost health anywhere. What’s worse, HAUNTED CASTLE gives you just one life per credit, and then only allows for three additional continues before sending you back to the very beginning. You can pile in quarters and press the first player button during the game to add health to your initial allotment, but go too far and it eats away at your chances for continuations. As you can see, many things are imbalanced, so patience and practice are key for memorizing the enemy attack patterns and determining which combinations of items can do the best damage to level bosses (here’s a small hint: don’t use the stopwatch after the second boss, and try to hang on to the sword and cross as long as possible thereafter).

This very long bridge collapses behind you.

If you can endure these taxing flaws, you’ll be treated to a fairly cool arcade representation of a classic. The bigger sprites and extended color palette give the game an upgraded version of many similar sequences from its predecessors, and the music, while not quite as consistently iconic as what came before, still cranks out at least three awesome themes (the first level’s “Cross Your Heart” , the third level’s “Bloody Tears”–which also found its way into SIMON’S QUEST–and the last level’s “Don’t Wait Until Night”) that are worthy of the CASTLEVANIA name. It may be only a footnote in the legendary franchise, but if you’re a fan, you definitely won’t want to miss this forgotten chapter.