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Splatterhouse


The return of Rick, Jenny, the Terror Mask, and the gore! Oh...the gore!
In preparing for the return of Splatterhouse to my gaming console, I discovered, much to my dismay, that most of the people in my life knew nothing of the gore-drenched gaming series. So, for those who don't know, here's a quick primer:

The original Splatterhouse was a side-scrolling beat 'em up published by Namco. In it, you played Rick, a scrawny guy whose girl has been kidnapped by the evil Dr. West. Even though Rick is seemingly going to die, he encounters a demonic mask (called the Terror Mask), who revives him, bulks him up, and sends him off to find his true love in the demonic halls of West Mansion.

splatterhouse monster green goop

The original Splatterhouse titles (of which there were three), were like manna from heaven for a kid like me. It delivered gore, horror, T&A, and some damn challenging gameplay. The different room designs fascinated me to no end, and the various enemies, many stolen from horror movies I was not yet allowed to watch, were great fun to kill over and over. I didn't know it at the time, but it was the birth of my love for horror schlock. So I was understandably excited when I discovered a new game sporting the same title was coming out on the Xbox 360. But does it stack up to the originals?

In some ways, yes. It's pretty clear the developers of this new Splatterhouse were fans of the originals, as the main plot is almost exactly the same, and several other nods to the series pop up (including a chainsaw-armed boss that any fan of Resident Evil 4 will recognize). In some ways, the new game goes even further than the old ones. The gore runs rampant and freely, often covering the screen with blood. Subtle the game is not. You can also discover scraps of photos Jen has left behind, many of them salacious, some of them outright nude. This game very much deserves it's M rating.

In basic gameplay, the developers have tried to stay true to the series' roots while updating it for the 3D gaming crowd. At its core, Splatterhouse is a series of rooms (or arenas as they're called in this game) separated by spooky corridors and pre-scripted events. As Rick, you can punch, grab, whack, or shoot at any enemy within range. In addition, you can do devastating finishing moves that leave your enemy in pieces if you time your attacks right. The game offers a variety of different environments and enemies, including some epic boss battles.

splatterhouse nasty boss fight

As great as this sounds, it's not all roses. The combat can get quite repetitive, so the game tries to break things up with side-scrolling and platforming areas. These don't work at all. While the side-scrolling portions are a fun throwback to the originals, they don't translate well and poor controls often lead to Rick's untimely demise. Even worse is that the load times are unforgivably long for a game that's so obviously segmented to begin with. Heck, there are times during the game where you'll have to wait for the next pre-scripted event to trigger, even if you've already killed all the enemies in an area. In this aspect, it feels slapped together, like I'm playing a beta instead of the finished product.

Other little issues pop up here and there, including the game's intrusive heavy metal soundtrack (thankfully the options allowed me to turn the music down; I guess I'm getting old), and the Terror Mask's perpetual running commentary. Voiced by veteran voice artist Jim Cummings, the Terror Mask never shuts up. It alternately heckles, supports, cajoles, teases, and warns Rick of danger. I suppose, since the villains you fight are voiceless beasts, this provides some break from the endless action, but repeated lines and the non-stop nature of it quickly makes it a chore, especially when you're stuck in one of those sections where you keep dying due to poor controls.

Ultimately, it seems like Splatterhouse doesn't know what kind of game it wants to be. The environments and the plot try to build up tension (including a larger plot point involving Lovecraftian "Corrupted Ones"), only to have the ambiance torn apart by the Terror Mask's irreverent and out of place comments. In fact, I wouldn't call it a Terror Mask so much as an Annoyance Mask. The game even goes meta, with remarks such as "This is why we got an M rating" and "Show him whey we call it Splatterhouse." While I realize the series has always been a bit silly, there's never been such a blatant disconnect between tones.

splatterhouse purple monsters

Splatterhouse does feature several unlockables (including a second mask you can use for subsequent play-throughs if you're so inclined), but by far the most interesting is the first three games. In particular, the original game is presented in its arcade form, which differs significantly from the Turbo Grafx port with which most US players would be accustomed. In playing the originals again, it's clear that games have gotten both easier to control and more forgiving. I had my ass handed to me repeatedly trying to play through the old games, but in many ways they were more satisfying than the 3D version that's the main selling point of the title.

Splatterhouse isn't a bad game, but it's riddled with enough inconsistencies that I can't wholeheartedly recommend it. For fans of the first three games, this might be worth picking up just to get those titles again in unaltered forms (the version of Splatterhouse available on the Wii Virtual Console is censored, unlike the version found here). For those unfamiliar, this is a rental at best.