In 1988, horror movie franchises like Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street were in their heyday. It only made sense for Namco to take horror tropes common to those films and transpose them on to the side-scrolling brawler action from familiar titles of the day like Double Dragon and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. The result was Splatterhouse, an unimaginative game that starred Rick and an evil mask that gives him the power to avenge his girlfriend and beat his way through a mansion infested with undead horrors. Nearly 22 years later, Namco has deemed Splatterhouse worthy of a AAA remake and, while the outcome has more blood, the gameplay is little better than the original.
You start out as Rick as he escorts his girlfriend, Jen, to the abode of Dr. West, a professor of the fake science of necrobiology. Things don’t go so well, and Rick is left in a pool of his own blood with his intestines leaking out as the good doctor takes away his girl. Inexplicably, a mask appears and starts talking to Rick, offering him a way to save Jenny from certain death. All Rick has to do is put on the mask. If you pay attention to any trope in pop culture, you should know to never willingly wear masks that talk, but Rick complies and is immediately given a new body and muscles worthy of the All-Drug Olympics. In come the enemies and you use your new powers to beat them to a pulp.
Blood is the fuel upon which Splatterhouse runs. As you quick or slow punch through waves of necrotic bad guys, the blood flows gratuitously and splatters all over the screen, making it hard to see what you’re fighting. Killing monsters nets you blood, which fills your necro meter, but you get more blood per kill when you do a quick time event-powered finishing move that rips the enemy apart. Once the blood meter is full, you can enter a Berserker mode (cue obligatory color shift to black, white and red) and use your bone forearms to slice through enemies. Blood is also needed to heal yourself, which you will need to do frequently as you struggle to learn the mechanics. You also use blood to purchase new combat moves, a bigger health bar and fancy combos. So the blood isn’t just for a cheap visual effect; it’s a necessary component in Splatterhouse in nearly every game system. You have to credit Namco for sticking with a theme, I guess.
Where Splatterhouse fails is in providing consistently fun gameplay. The combat just isn’t that entertaining. It feels like you are either pounding on bad guys too easily, or you need to punch one more than twenty times to do any damage at all. You can pick up weapons such as chainsaws and swords which quickly chew through zombie things, but the items quickly degrade and you soon find yourself punching again. When the monsters are ready for a finishing move, they flash red, but you are often caught in the middle of a combo and end up killing the dude before you could perform the eviscerating attack. Berserker mode kills guys almost too quickly, if that makes any sense, because you are often left waiting for doors to open or more bad guys to spawn. Using it feels like a waste.
The worst parts are the 2D side-scrolling sections of every level. I’m not sure if they were added as a throwback to the series’ roots, but the brawling controls are not specific enough for any precision movement. Why then, am I forced to jump over chasms and avoid spikes with a burly guy who doesn’t jump like Mario or Sonic? Hell, Rick feels less agile than Shrek. It was way more difficult to get Rick to jump over a fiery chasm than it was to beat up all of the bosses in the game put together.
That detail would be bad enough, but then Splatterhouse features the most annoying loading screen ever created by humans. A random enemy from the game disgustingly growls, moans and writhes on the screen for 30 seconds every time you die. An interminably long loading screen kills any action game, and Splatterhouse is doubly terrible because of those miserable growling creatures. It’s never fun to die in a game, but designers should try to make that experience as quick and painless as possible to get you back into the action. Splatterhouse fails on both counts.
The mask has some secrets, which he leaks out in between calling you a “fucking noob” and fourth wall-breaking comments like, “That’s why we got an M Rating!” Despite myself, I was caught up in the story but it was mostly interest of the “I want to know what happens” variety and not “Man, these are such compelling characters.” Audiologs peppered throughout the levels give a bit of insight into what Dr. West was up to, and I wanted to know how the world was going to end (and how I was going to save it) but the character of Rick and the mask told the same reluctant hero/corrupting artifact story that appears in countless games, movies and books. I wasn’t impressed with the details.
Your girlfriend Jen is a shutterbug, and she leaves fragments of photographs behind for you to piece together in each level. Some of the assembled pictures are innocent enough, but more than a few show your girl exposing her chest. I was more than a little uncomfortable as to who the intended audience for Splatterhouse is. The only gamers who could get substantial entertainment from the boobs, blood and brawling are that special breed of teen-aged boys who can’t get enough slasher films and Playboy. For anyone else, Splatterhouse won’t offer much.
Bottom Line: The recycled brawling mechanics and frustrating platforming don’t do anything to support the cliché story and no amount of blood, profanity or nudity can save Splatterhouse from mediocrity.
Recommendation: Buy Splatterhouse if buckets of blood and weak God of War brawling is your bag. Otherwise, you can pass on the gore.[rating=3]
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.
Greg Tito would like to thank the corn syrup manufacturers of America for providing all of the fake blood used in this game.