In September of 1990, Kemco released a side-scrolling license platformer called Bugs Bunny Birthday Blowout, which was a middle-of-the-road game with neither any striking memorability nor crucial flaws. But before they ever tried their hand at platforming, Kemco released an action puzzler called Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle a year earlier, in August of 1989.
The Crazy Castle follows protagonist Bugs Bunny is his attempt to gather every carrot per level, typically about a half-dozen of them, as he avoids roaming enemies comprised of classic Looney Tunes characters. He does this by walking back and forth, up and down stairs, and using doorways to travel to a matched other doorway. The carrots are in plain sight, and just need to be moved over in order to be picked up.
Bugs Bunny does have one interesting little limitation: He cannot jump. Despite this game following in the old-school footsteps of classic arcade-style games like Donkey Kong and Mappy-Land, the rabbit cannot hop. This makes every change of direction a tactical choice, weighing the risk of possibly running into enemies against the efficiency of getting to the nearest carrot. The foes, too, use the doorways and stairs to traverse every part of the level that Bugs can.
To aid Bunny in his endeavors, he can pick up helpful items, primarily to help avoid or defeat the enemies. Invisible ink will let him pass right through them, while the boxing glove can be launched with the B button once after being picked up, enabling Bugs to permanently kill an enemy that it connects with. There are also items such as crates and anvils spread throughout the dozens of stages, which can be pushed off ledges. A well-timed push can crush the opposition below.
Bugs Bunny gains an extra life per every completed level, and beating an area earns a password for the next, which can be entered using an option on the title screen, enabling players to pick up where they left off. Astonishingly, the password system only uses four characters, which is a refreshing change of pace from some more complex titles like Metroid or Kid Icarus.
Although the gameplay is fairly repetitive, at least the level designs are different enough to have a varied feel throughout. Fans of this type of game should enjoy the Castle; but, too, it executes smoothly enough and is made well enough that newcomers to the genre should find it to be a worthy introduction.
The animations are competently drawn, and the Looney Tunes roster is surprisingly recognizable, given the limited sprite size for each of their iconic likenesses. Then again, it is hard to mistake characters like Yosemite Sam. While the levels themselves do not vary in appearance as often as some may like, at least they are composed with detail, as the graphics artists included little items such as the individual bricks and such, which go a long way toward looking better than just using enormous swaths of one color. All in all, not the most stunning-looking NES game, but neither is it ugly, and the lack of flickering or slowdown issues is a plus.
Kemco’s 8-bit games tended to have a signature sound to them, with complex multi-channel background tracks bobbing their way through percussion and impressively low-toned melody beats. Some will like it, some will not, but obvious skill and care were taken in a composition that had to take a bit of effort on the NES hardware. It may work a little better in settings like Deja Vu, and its overproduced nature may make it slightly more laborious on the ears during long play sessions, but nonetheless, it is not bad.
Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle would be an interesting case study in game design, and in its prior influences. The core concept is reminiscent of old-school arcade cabinets of the “get all items and proceed to next stage” format started by Pac-Man, but appropriately refined for the 8-bit era. There are many arcade ports on the NES, some better than others, yet Crazy Castle is a license-game original. Is it truly creative or original? Not really, but its total recipe is unique, and makes for a quirky, decent entry on the early Nintendo pantheon worth a few stars out of five rating.
Overall score: 3/5 stars.