Originally published November 29, 2010 at 12:33 p.m., updated November 29, 2010 at 12:33 p.m.
When Splatterhouse first arrived in 1998 it was probably the most violent game on the market, pitting college student Rick against an onslaught of monsters in a haunted house to save girlfriend Jennifer. This contemporary reboot of the series stays true to nearly all of the roots in the original –– including the original's penchant for violence. Make no mistake, Splatterhouse is the most violent video game ever. Splatterhouse is an old school brawler that clings to the previous titles so strongly that the gameplay mechanics and level design can appear dated to today’s gamers. The result is a promising return to form for fans of the series that limits the appeal to the niche audience that loved the cult classics.
As with the original, scrawny college student Rick awakens in a state of confusion and near death in an old haunted mansion, his girlfriend Jennifer missing. Next to Rick is an ancient “terror mask” that promises him strength and vitality if he puts it on, empowering him to take on the throngs of creatures that inhabit the house and get his beloved Jennifer back. The catch is that the mask thrives on blood, a sacrifice Rick must make as often as possible to continue to reap the the benefits of the mask. You need only play the first few minutes of Splatterhouse, witnessing the walls painted red by simple button mashing and the occasional “splatter kill” to see that this game is going to be remarkably violent. In fact, I must admit that from start to finish I never got tired of seeing all the twisted and explicit ways in which the developer had Rick finishing off enemies. If it isn’t already clear, this game feels like a teenage boy developed it, which I will admit plays into its charm. It is filled with sarcastic harsh language, brutal acts of torture and violence and of course the collectibles are nude or racy photos of Rick’s girlfriend Jennifer. Needless to say this game is not intended for anyone under 17 and you’d probably be best just saving this title for when no one is home.
Splatterhouse controls like a traditional brawler, with each face button correlating to a type of move and a slew of combos. If you manage to damage an enemy to the point of death, that enemy will glow red at which point you can initiate a “splatter kill” –– a brief quick-time event that results in an ultra-violent end. There is a block mechanic but I was having major issues figuring out when it allows you to block a move and when you get hit, so I just banked on the dodge roll to get out of hairy situations.
Rick has the power to regenerate his health, but unlike traditional health-regeneration systems, it is player-initiated and acts like a special move, which is limited to the amount of “blood power” you have saved up. It takes a bit to get used to but after a few cheap deaths you’ll be regenerating like a pro and hardly notice it. The camera mechanic could use some work as it seems tight and rigid, not really wanting you to look around, but given that most enemies will spawn in front of you and any trail off the beaten path is usually blocked by an invisible wall, it’s not that much of an issue. From time to time the game will switch gears to a side-scrolling platforming area, an obvious nod to the original title that was both refreshing and fun to run through.
As previously stated, this game is old school, and by that I mean that many game mechanics long forgotten from the '80s and '90s return in full form in Splatterhouse. As a brawler, you’re only going to meet a handful of enemies that will be thrown at you in various groups and circumstances as you progress. Some may consider this to be repetitive and write it off as a negative, but others who enjoy this mechanic, know its just par for the course. You will also encounter moments that result in an instant (cheap) death because you didn’t know what to expect, but rest assured the next time you get to that point you’ll know exactly what to do. Each level has a checkpoint system, but it does seem that you will have a slew of dangerous encounters before reaching the next checkpoint and will bring back memories of those perfect run scenarios from your past. Damage is something I still can’t wrap my head around. It seems like Rick can take a beating of epic proportion until he suddenly gets hit by a combo of moves at which point you watch his health drain to nearly nothing in a heartbeat. One of the earliest and quite common enemies in the game has the ability to sever limbs from Rick, including his head, which results in an instant death. Not since the Hunter enemy in Resident Evil have I encountered such a frustrating enemy that thrives on exploiting a weakness in the battle system. All of these challenges are integrated into the game in a balanced way that makes them just that: challenges. At the same time, certain types of gamers already know that this is not a gameplay mechanic they are going to have fun with, so you have been warned. In addition the load screen each time you die stretches for what seems like forever, especially if you’re dying on a difficult segment multiple times, which is just unacceptable. Here’s hoping that Namco can trim those load times with a future patch but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Putting aside the dated format of the title, there’s a lot to appreciate here. I commend the return of a traditional game type, which involves playing through a uniquely themed level and finishing with a large scale challenging boss battle. I personally didn’t expect this title to leave the mansion, a rare feat in previous titles of the series, but Splatterhouse has distinct and varied levels that bring you across different worlds and even time periods. Weapons are scattered throughout the game with plenty of variety, each one having appeared at some point or another in the original titles. Melee weapons are the most frequent like a blunt metal pipe or a razor sharp cleaver, each one accompanied by visuals of pulverized enemies or a full on dismemberment. Later in the game you will get your hands on a chainsaw, which allows everything from slicing and dicing masses of enemies to charging down a corridor cutting up everything in your path. There’s even a shotgun in the game that acts as a temporary kill all for most things that stand in its way. Rick and other enemies can lose limbs in the game (don’t worry, they grow back), and yes, these limbs can be used as a temporary weapon before they fall apart. Every time you kill an enemy they will release blood that the mask absorbs to be used to purchase power ups. This integrates an experience point and leveling system to Rick’s library of attacks and power-ups, which is a thankful addition to the series.
Graphically the game uses a gritty, yet shiny look, which makes everything seem wet and squishy. You won’t be noticing much about the environment though, despite some intriguing set pieces, because it’s really all about watching everything get caked in blood and guts. The ability to display these various brutal deaths is something that is surprisingly worth mentioning. This game has its own physics engine for the blood, guts and various other parts that go flying when Rick goes on the rampage. It makes the title just as much fun for those watching it as those that are playing because they can notice all the little details the player can’t focus on, like that dismembered corpse trying to crawl away before eventually dying. Metal bands including Mastodon, Five Finger Death Punch and Lamb of God provide music in the game. I don’t know why, but there’s just something wonderful about mass killing in a video game to the tune of violent music with a lead singer that sounds like he’s throwing up on the microphone. Voice actor Jim Cummings, most known as being the voice of Goofy’s nemesis Pete, brings the terror mask to life in a slew of profanity and one-liners. All in all each of these elements bring together the overall world of Splatterhouse in a clear and cohesive package.
Splatterhouse is all about the original, with this title ultimately being the result of what would happen if the Turbografx-16 classic were to be developed today. It clings to the past so tightly that the game may come off as dated in terms of gameplay, but I assure you this is intentional. It creates a great package with a full campaign, collectibles and the original three Splatterhouse classics as unlockables on the disc, which might be worth it for those titles alone. The biggest problem is that the draw of this game seems to be in creating an over-the-top shock title intended to bring in the masses to see all its bloody glory. If it was intended to rope in the younger and more recent gamer, I can’t quite understand why they chose such an old school direction. Replaying areas and dying frequent cheap deaths just doesn’t seem to be something a contemporary gamer will want to deal with. All the same it was a tasteless and immature trip that made my jaw drop over and over again.
Sound: 9.0 Gameplay: 7.0
First Play: 7.0
Replay Value: 5.0