When the original Splatterhouse debuted in arcades back in 1988, the video game landscape was in a much different state. In a medium where almost everything was sanitized and fanciful, the game placed an overlay of blood, gore and grotesque monsters on what was essentially a light platforming beat-'em-up. It worked well enough that it saw a home port; while censored, it was still considered a success and spawned two sequels. After its run during the 16-bit era, though, the series was never continued and remained a cult classic. Several console generations later, Namco Bandai Games brings back the series in a reboot for the Xbox 360 and the PS3. By now, people following the game are already familiar with the controversy surrounding its development. The question is whether or not the final product was worth the trouble.
The plot of the remake is essentially the same as the original arcade hit. You play the role of Rick, a medical student accompanied by his girlfriend Jennifer to the mansion of Dr. West. It was supposed to be a typical visit to a university professor, but it turned into something much, much worse. After being attacked by unknown creatures and left for dead, Rick was lying in a pool of his own blood and entrails next to a mask that spoke, offering him a deal so that he would live at the cost of his soul. With nothing to lose, Rick put on the mask and became a hulking creature of destruction with only one thing on his mind: saving Jennifer.
The remake plays out quite similarly to the original title, albeit updated to fit modern gaming conventions. For those unfamiliar with the original, it is just a simple brawler. As you walk from room to room, you encounter many skinless enemies that exhibit no intelligence and have the objective of killing you. In turn, you must use your fists and feet to pummel them into a fleshy pulp. On occasion, you can pick up items like machetes, two-by-fours and pipes to help in your fight, and while they might not do much to stronger enemies, they make quick work of the smaller minions. The usual weaponry is complemented with more unusual fare, such as severed limbs and heads — either from enemies or yourself, if a creature rips your arm off.
There are a few things that add more substance to the simple structure of beating up enemies over and over, ad nauseam. The blood that you earn by killing various enemies acts as a currency for the game; it allows you to buy more health and power for Rick as well as new moves and combos to add some depth to your fighting. While most of the game is presented in the traditional 3-D perspective, there are a few levels presented in the classic 2-D side-scrolling manner as an homage to the series' roots, and they play out just as well.
The game also takes a page from BioShock in the use of gramophones to act as personal audio diaries for Dr. West, similar to the personal recorders in the aforementioned series. Splatterhouse also lets you collect photo pieces of Jennifer in each level. The photos are explicit but don't show anything beyond breast shots; they show both nice and naughty sides of Jennifer, and they give her more character than the cut scenes, which only show her as a typical screaming victim. Completing each picture also gives you access to the history of the West family and the reasons for things being as messed up as they are, though the fact that they can only be accessed from the main menu hurts the immersion since you have to almost exit the adventure to give the game's plot more depth.
It is also worth mentioning that the developers had the foresight to include the original games with this remake, giving the title just a little more value in the process. The arcade version of the original Splatterhouse as well as Splatterhouse 2 and Splatterhouse 3 from the Sega Genesis are available in their full 16-bit glory, complete with the original gore. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your outlook), the games are easily unlocked with simple level progression, and by the time you hit the halfway point of the game, you will have unlocked all three titles for play at any time. The emulation on these titles is perfectly done, resulting in games that play exactly as you remember, and it makes for a nice bonus to those who finish the game and those who want a copy of the games without having to obtain another system.
Despite the additions, the simplicity of the game can be a dividing factor for players. The levels are straightforward affairs, and while most areas look ripe for exploration, there are always a number of things to keep you focused on the only path you can take, whether it's invisible walls or doors that should open but never do. There are also opportunities to scare the living daylights out of the player, but the game never takes the time to do so. It maintains the horror by being grotesque, but that's about it. All you really have to do is beat up monsters, perform fatalities, occasionally dodge traps and use monsters as keys for switches. It helps that the platforming works out fine and that the combat feels just right. Seeing the same fatalities performed on the same monsters over and over again can feel tiring, but beating up on them never feels old, especially on the side-scrolling levels, where they seem to expire more easily. While you can get away with using the same basic combos and moves in the easy difficulty level, anything higher than that will require some knowledge of more efficient moves. If you're looking for a deeper gameplay experience, though, you should look elsewhere.
One thing that can be frustrating or great, depending on how you like your games, is the difficulty level. When played on the equivalent of easy, the difficulty is manageable. It'll still take some skill to get through the platforming areas, and enemies won't exactly go down without a few good hits, but you can complete the rather lengthy quest. Bump it up to the normal difficulty level, and the game starts to become very tough. You become a more fragile being thanks to the increased strength of the enemies, but they also employ some cheap team-up attacks. Don't be surprised if, for example, you see your health boost get whittled away almost instantly thanks to a knockdown swipe from the enemy followed by swipes from others as they crowd around you. Anything higher than this, though, becomes maddening enough that broken controllers may be inevitable. Thankfully, you have the ability to transfer your leveled-up character from one game to another, making the task of beating the game again on a higher difficulty level a little more bearable.
The graphics look good, though a bit rough in some areas. The overall look of Splatterhouse borrows from Afro Samurai in terms of how things are colored, and while it doesn't look like it's cel-shaded at first, closer inspection shows off subtle hints of black lines and cel-shaded coloring. Rick looks fine, and while some fans of the older games may have preferred that he still wear the torn medical scrubs, his new look of torn jean shorts and sneakers actually shows off some nice details, like open gashes and exposed organs on Rick's body as he takes on more damage.
The monsters look fine but generic by today's standards. Aside from exposed muscles and lack of skin, they look grotesque enough but aren't especially haunting, though some of the bosses are creative, such as the baby doll made up of various household items. One graphical feature to take note of is the gratuitous amount of blood in the game. There isn't one area where the color red isn't present, and the amount of blood is so large that it splatters all over the place (including the screen) after every hit. The splatter isn't enough to obscure the action, but it does uncover things, like invisible walls, and after a short while, the effect loses its shock value, so it becomes more bothersome than exciting to see as the game progresses.
The sound is also quite good, with a nice mix of sensibilities taken from both classic and modern horror films. The music reflects this mix well, with classic silence and orchestration tracks permeating most of the game's exploration areas while hard metal, both instrumental and full lyrical versions, play during the battle arena moments. Despite the different styles, Splatterhouse does a good job of making sure they don't clash. The effects are brutally clear, with the sickening thud of flesh hit with blunt objects or muscles being ripped apart. The voices are good, with each performance being good enough to not outstay their welcome. Jim Cummings as the voice of the Terror Mask stands out in a good way thanks to his lines, most of which are damn funny. Like all games, though, you run the risk of repetition when you either die often or pick up the same weapon several times. The dialogue for everyone else is also good, and while it may not be as memorable as the lines coming from the mask, they fit the characters rather well.
The controls are pretty responsive throughout the game. There may not be any complicated combos, but it is rather easy to bring out a series of moves to dispatch enemies in quick and brutal succession. General movement works fine in the 3-D landscapes and the side-scrolling portions, and while jumping is fine, people will have to get used to the act of rolling, since it's controlled with a shoulder button instead of a face button. Another thing that people would find awkward would be the act of picking up items since it's done with the d-pad instead of face buttons. This isn't really used in other games of this type because performing the move takes you out of the action for a bit.
This remake of Splatterhouse is much like a modern slasher movie. It's loud, brash and gory, but luckily, it's wrapped in an experience that doesn't try to overstay its welcome. If you're expecting deep, engaging gameplay, this game isn't your style since all you're doing is bashing grotesque monsters over and over again. If all you care about is bashing grotesque monsters, though, and you don't mind a bit of narrative and mountains of gore, Splatterhouse is a guilty pleasure and an enjoyable experience from beginning to end.
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