Nyeah, what’s up, doc?
Released in September 1989 in Japan, The Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle stands as the Game Boy’s first licensed release (that is, the first to bear a license from another medium). However, the particulars of its license — or rather, licenses — and chronology of its release variants make a compelling case for all those prejudices people have against licensed games. Crazy Castle isn’t too shabby a game, but trying to keep track of all its manifold permutations is a job for an Excel file.
Simple is as simple does
At its heart, Bugs Bunny feels like a throwback from a simpler era. Say… 1983 or so? It has the feel of a classic single-screen action title like Lode Runner, Door Door, or Burger Time — though it scrolls left and right, so maybe a more accurate comparison would be Mappy. In any case, you get the idea: The player controls a protagonist (in this case, Warner Studio’s famous cartoon rabbit) dashing to and fro within a simple maze of platforms, pursued by numerous foes who hold the upper hand through strength of numbers and the asymmetrical ability to kill on contact.
Bugs, as is the way of such post-Pac-Man maze chase heroes, can on occasion turn the tables. He can snag boxing gloves that allow him to punch his foes into submission; consume potions that turn him briefly invincible; and shove crates and safes into his foes (or drop them onto said foes’ heads, crushing them flat). Unusually for this style of game, once you squash a bad guy, they stay squashed for the remainder of the stage — with careful play, many levels actually allow you to clear out all the bad guys and wrap up your objectives unmolested.
Those objectives consist entirely of collecting. Bugs gathers up carrots scattered about the maze, bring the level to an end and earning a 1UP the instant he snags the last carrot in the current level. A simple password system (simple enough that you could actually just memorize each one as it pops up) allows players to record their progress for later play. There’s also, oddly enough, a playback feature that allows you watch a replay of the most recent stage. Since this isn’t exactly the most intricate game in the world, it doesn’t really lend itself to triumphant self-congratulation.
There is an element of randomness to Crazy Castle in the movement of your enemies; most of them seem to jerk awkwardly about the screen somewhat haphazardly. The exception here is Daffy Duck, who fixates on Bugs and will shadow his every movement. Thankfully, Daffy never seems to travel to different levels via pipes and stairs, whereas his less determined counterparts like Sylvester and Yosemite Sam have an unsettling tendency to come directly at you. On the other hand, they also tend to walk right off ledges. They’re not so smart.
It’s no masterpiece, but The Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle manages to be a perfectly entertaining puzzle platformer. Taken in the context of its time, it seems fairly impressive for being a near-simultaneous release with an almost identical NES game. Unlike Super Mario Land, Crazy Castle didn’t really compromise its design to fit the portable platform; aside from the color palette and the proportion of screen sprites, Crazy Castle on Game Boy is essentially the same game as on NES. They use many of the same stage layouts and even some of the same passwords.
What the different versions of Crazy Castle didn’t use in common, however, were characters. Across two platforms and two territories, Crazy Castle appeared in no less than three permutations of different licenses. The American releases for Game Boy and NES mark the only two versions of the game to bear the same name and characters.
In Japan, however, The Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle never existed. Instead, the game began life with a February 1989 release for Famicom Disk System called Roger Rabbit. Based, obviously, on the previous year’s brilliant live/animated motion picture Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Kemco’s Roger Rabbit was a completely different creature from the Who Framed Roger Rabbit? that appeared in the U.S. courtesy of LJN. Where LJN’s approach to the license took the form of a vaguely SCUMM-like adventure game with some awful action sequences grafted on, Kemco’s Japanese version was… an action puzzle platformer in which Judge Doom’s weasels chased Roger Rabbit around a maze of stairs and pipes. In short, it was the exact same game that would be issued seven months later in the U.S. as Crazy Castle for NES, then converted directly to Game Boy.
Kemco’s grasp on the Roger Rabbit license appears to have been short-lived; both the Japanese Game Boy port and the American NES game showed up about half a year after Roger Rabbit‘s launch, and neither featured that character. The American game kept it in the family (specifically, family Leporidae) by turning Roger into Bugs. The Japanese Game Boy version, however, went the other direction and turned Roger into Mickey Mouse.
This is weirdly appropriate, actually. One of the rules guiding the Bugs and Mickey cameos in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? was that both characters had to share equal screen time. Kemco was just keeping it in-bounds.
The truth of the matter is that all four games, for all intents and purposes, are exactly the same save for the character sprites. Mickey Mouse avoids Pete the Cat, Roger Rabbit evades Doom’s weasel cops, and Bugs dodges Sylvester and Daffy. Roger gathers hearts, Bug collects carrots. But they’re all the same. Same power-ups, same skills, same mechanics, same level designs. Even the music was the same, save for the familiar theme on Mickey Mouse’s title screen.
It makes for a strange tangle of licenses, but the all-purpose design of the underlying Crazy Castle game meant Kemco (or whoever developed the Game Boy ports) could get away with simply tweaking the sprites and issue the game uncompromised in different regions. Sure, maybe it made more sense for Roger Rabbit to tackle foes with spring-mounted boxing gloves than for Mickey Mouse to do likewise, but the language of cartoon pratfalls turns out to be surprisingly universal. This would prove to be the case for Crazy Castle‘s many sequels as well — though eventually the series became established enough for Kemco to use it as a springboard for their own original character, Kid Klown. About whom the less said the better.
While not exactly a legendary classic, Crazy Castle wasn’t a bad game by any means. And for Game Boy-owning kids in 1989 and 1990, it must have been pretty sweet to own a portable carbon copy of a fairly respectable NES game soon after the color version’s launch. For their Game Boy debut, Kemco did pretty alright.
The Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle
Japanese title: Mickey Mouse • ミッキーマウス
Developer: Kotobuki System
Release date: 9.5.1989 [JP] | 3.1990 [US] | 1990 [EU]
Genre: Action (arcade-style puzzle platformer)
Super Game Boy: None
Previous in series: Roger Rabbit/The Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle [Famicom Disk System, 2.16.1989 [JP] | NES, 8.1990 [US]]
Next in series: The Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle 2 [4.26.1991 [JP] | 9.1991 [US]]
Similar titles: Hyper Lode Runner [Bandai, 1989], Heiankyo Alien [Meldac, 1990]
The Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle | Japanese (Mickey Mouse) packaging
The Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle | Japanese (Mickey Mouse) complete contents
The Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle | Japanese (Mickey Mouse) box front
The Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle | Japanese (Mickey Mouse) box back
The Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle | Japanese (Mickey Mouse) cartridge
The Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle | Japanese (Mickey Mouse) manual
Roger Rabbit, Famicom Disk System
The Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle, NES
Mickey Mouse, Game Boy
The Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle, Game Boy