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If you can be turned off by excessive blood in games, steer clear of Splatterhouse. Now, that could seem like an obvious statement based purely on the title of the game, but we must clarify that none of the previous Splatterhouse games even scratches the surface of how bloody this reboot gets. Just beat on a few standard enemies for ten seconds and the environment in a thirty foot radius will be a Jackson Pollock painting if he only used one color. It’s beyond ridiculous, but for some it will be just too gross. Others, like us, will just chuckle at it initially and then become blind to it – by the end we didn’t even notice the blood anymore.
Above: This is actually not the bloodiest it gets
This reboot of the old side-scrolling horror series has had a spotty development cycle, rife with delays and shifting of personnel. This never bodes well for a game, but we’re happy to say that Splatterhouse is not horrible. It’s kind of fun, actually, but then it doesn’t go above that – it doesn’t ever become thrilling. Like its predecessors, it’s a horror game only in so much that it has spooky locales and disgusting monsters in it – it’s never anything approaching scary like a “proper” horror game. Still, it has appealing charm not found in many horror games – we liken it to one of those haunted houses you go to at Halloween, replete with banging doors and lurid lighting revealing impaled corpses hanging from dungeon walls in the background. It’s a goofy kind of horror; almost innocent.
The story of Splatterhouse is equally childlike, echoing the days when all videogames required the rescuing of a kidnapped girlfriend. In this case, Rick and his girl Jennifer travel to the West mansion to meet with Jennifer’s professor, Dr. Henry West. How exactly Rick ends up in a pool of blood and dying, with the Terror Mask offering a second chance at life and revenge, isn’t clear until much later in the game. All you need to know is that the girl is in evil clutches and Rick is pumped up like the Hulk on protein shakes and there’s a sentient, evil mask attached to his face. HP Lovecraft fans will note the Dr. West reference, and further developments in the story reveal direct and indirect references to the Cthulhu mythos, although where Lovecraft was all about stuffy New England dudes running from cosmic horrors, Splatterhouse is all about a wallet chain-wearing meathead beating cartoonish mutants into red smears.
Above: As in Splatterhouse 3, Rick can grow bone spikes and go all berzerker for a short while. The game also gets a washed out background, and this is the first thing you see in the game's initial fight. Don't worry, it's not how the graphics usually look
The combat, which forms the bulk of the game, isn’t so great. It serves up fits of gruesome glee, but also features plenty of repetition, uninspired special moves, and some less-than-smooth maneuvering. Initially the game is unexpectedly difficult, especially if you crank it above the default Coward setting to Savage (which we did). You can die in a second if you’re not watching your health meter. The dynamic of healing yourself mid-combat is actually interesting, if a bit simplistic. As you kick ass, the Necro meter fills up. Portions of this meter can be spent on super moves, the berzerker transformation, or the Splatter Siphon. Activating the Splatter Siphon causes tendrils of veins to erupt from Rick’s body and slurp up delicious health from nearby enemies. It’s the primary way to heal yourself, so combat becomes a mildly tactical game of taking damage and then timing your siphon to heal. Once you get the feel of when you should heal yourself, the game becomes a lot less difficult.
Anyone who's played the old Splatterhouse games knows that the weapons were the most fun, and here the same holds true. Rick can find meat cleavers, 2x4s, baseball bats, lead pipes, chainsaws, shotguns, and the severed limbs of downed foes. Each weapon allows for one-shot kills on lesser enemies, so plowing through groups while swinging wildly is immensely satisfying with creatures either hacked to pieces or smashed into the environment. Finding a weapon is always a treat.
The game also features the standard upgrade system: earn experience and then spend it on new moves, combos, and improvements. There's nothing that stands out as innovative, but the system does allow for a diversification of playstyles, giving the player a choice of focusing on fast attacks, or heavy attacks, or grabs, or weapons, or super moves. Hint: if the game is kicking your ass early on, save your points for health and Necro bar upgrades, along with increases of durability for weapons.
As in most beat-‘em-ups these days, there are finishing moves. We’re glad that most of them don’t require complex series of button prompts, but rather a context appropriate motion of the analogue sticks (e.g. pull both sticks outward to rip a creature’s arms off). These kills could become tiresome to some players, but for us they were short enough that we didn’t get bored of them. They also become increasingly disgusting – in one case, when fighting a frog-like beast that has a prominent rear-end not unlike a baboon’s rump, Rick literally punches into the monster’s anus repeatedly and pulls its colon out. Yeah, that happens.
Above: This is one of the tamer executions. Performing these finshers isn't just for style - they earn you more blood, which is the game's version of experience
This leads to a potential sticking point for some players. Splatterhouse is incredibly crass. Again, the game’s name might indicate such, but is it an obvious assumption from the name that colons would be torn from rectums? Aside from the other nasty eviscerations, there is also the “banter” that happens between the Terror Mask and Rick. Really, they just bicker, and it’s pretty annoying. Sometimes the mask can be funny, but the main problem is that its voice is just all wrong for what it is. When you think about a sentient, ancient mask made from bone that has helped orchestrate the downfall of multiple civilizations, do you think of a voice like a children’s cartoon villain? At least they should have applied some digital filter to make the mask sound otherworldly, but instead it makes quips like an emotionally-stunted frat boy. And finally, if the crassness couldn’t get any more juvenile, the game’s main collectible is in the form of topless pictures of Jennifer. This is not a game that will score high with gamer girlfriends.
Splatterhouse still managed to endear itself to us through its intentionally silly approach to horror. The creaky mansion with its gothic flair, the dungeons full of tortured monsters, and the combination of corny synthesized music and head-banging heavy metal reminded us of childhood fascinations with cemeteries at night and bloody drawings scrawled on notebooks by that one kid in school obsessed with Fangoria magazine. It was this sense of horror-with-a-wink that kept us coming back to play the game. We wanted to see what was around the next corner.
Above: Often, what's around the corner is a quiet moment. The pacing is not just constant blood, and in the non-combat areas, HP Lovecraft's influence becomes clear
There are also brief sections where the game goes into 2D side scrolling mode, and while they are basic in gameplay and have some annoying traps to deal with, they’re a highlight of the game. We wish more of the game was like this, because something about the game’s look really comes alive in 2D perspective. Sure, part of the appeal is the throwback to the original Splatterhouse games, but it also simply shows how much 2D really hasn’t seen its pinnacle yet now that we can apply 3D graphics to it. The foregrounds and backgrounds abound with twitching bodies and oozing gore to really give it that old fashioned funhouse appeal.
Above: The comforting green glow of toxic waste really spruces up your dungeon
The tiny amounts of 2D goodness points to a problem that shouldn’t affect such a delayed game: a sense that corners were cut. A big area that suffers from a lack of resources is in the monster variety – get ready for a palette swap-a-thon. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the monster design was creative, but for the most part it isn’t. There are variations of zombie-like creatures, variations of reptilian creatures, and that’s about it. Many of the bosses get repeated, and there are not enough unique boss battles (although we must say the fight with our old pal from the first Splatterhouse, Mr. Chainsaws-for-hands, was pretty epic). Even the final battle is just against waves of enemies you’ve fought before.
The real surprise here is the story. It’s actually kind of good. It starts off with nearly nothing to go on, but gradually builds with some cool developments, enough so that we paid attention instead of tuning out until the next gore-slicked battle commenced. Sure, the core of it is standard end-of-the-world stuff, but the twists along the way are actually well done. Heck, they could have easily not bothered with a story at all, so it’s nice to see some effort put into it.
Above: Someone's been gorging on Olestra
No, Splatterhouse isn’t a great game. It’s not even a good game. It is better than bad, though. It annoys with some cheap deaths and some distant checkpoints, and it can grate with its “attitude,” but it’s also loveable in a scruffy way. It’s a game with no pretentions, knowing exactly what it is (and in case you forget, it includes all three fully playable original Splatterhouse games). It knew it was never going to set the horror-action world on fire, and so it’s content to instead bathe the world in blood. And torn-out colons.
Nov 29, 2010