Game Review: Splatterhouse
Genre: Action Platformer
Available Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: M (Blood & Gore, Intense Violence, Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language)
Haunted house. Possessed Mask. Stolen Girlfriend. These things have defined Splatterhouse through the years, and gamers looking for a trip down memory lane will not be disappointed. This story puts you in the sneakers of Rick Taylor, who is having a bad day. Visiting Dr. Henry West with his girlfriend Jennifer, Rick finds himself fighting for his life when things don’t go quite as planned. Taking power from an ancient mask, you will track down Dr. West in an attempt to save your girlfriend from his evil clutches. No, this story will not win awards for its originality, but it’s light enough to make sure your attention is focused squarely where it needs to be; the action on screen.
The game plays like your typical action platformer most of the time, with attacks being tied to two buttons for weak and strong. You will slowly unlock new moves and abilities both as the story progresses, and by spending blood points for them. How do you acquire blood points, you ask? By taking blood from your enemies. They rarely give it up willingly, so you will need to execute devastating combos and finishing moves in order to maximize the blood acquired. After absorbing enough blood, you can also utilize your mask’s Rampage mode, allowing you to pulverize your enemies with ultra-powered moves that result in carnage and devastation everywhere. If your fists aren’t enough for you, you will also find a variety of weaponry around the levels, from baseball bats and lead pipes, to dismembered arms and beating hearts.
Paying homage to its side-scrolling roots, you will occasionally find yourself in a side-scrolling mode for certain parts of the board. These portions of the level transition seamlessly, and really bring home the origins of the series. Enemies will be tossed into the screen, pits jumped over, and flying objects dodged as you break from the free-roaming boards to move from left to right. Even the music takes a break from the heavy metal offerings to take on a driving beat featuring a more retro synthesizer.
While the old games lived up to their name of Splatterhouse by having disgusting environments and a haunted house theme, the new version has blood. A lot of blood. Think The Shining’s elevator scene, and multiply it by twelve. You, the environment, your enemies and weapons will all be covered in blood at all times, as the moves you unleash tend to cause your opponents to explode into various bloody pulps. Add to this the execution moves you can perform (done on near death enemies via quick time events), and you have a recipe for a vampire feast. Your mask feeds off the blood to power you up, so there will never be a time where pacifism rules, and for good reason. Your mask will talk you through this blood rage with witty (and sometimes annoying) comments about your destructive tendencies, so you’ll never feel bad about the chaos you’re creating.
Other features of the game include a survival mode, where you face 20 waves of enemies and use any moves unlocked in the story mode (and vice versa). You can also collect photographs of Jennifer as you quest in the main story and fight in survival mode. There are four per level, and frequently these pics will reveal a naked girlfriend, so there’s some incentive to finding them, if that sort of thing interests you. For what it’s worth, the drawings are good quality, and feature a variety of poses and scenes. The game also tracks how you kill, awarding bonuses for the variety of ways you dispatch your foes (and many of the achievements in the game are acquired by utilizing this kill variety). Throw in the 3 classic Splatterhouse games that can be unlocked, and you have a lot of game on your hands.
So with all this game, what’s to like? Fortunately, quite a bit. The graphics and sound are, generally, good. The music is a good mix of actual heavy metal music and theme appropriate ambiance. The game plays well for a platformer, with minimal camera issues (a few exceptions aside: I found that the game actually handles your camera better if you let it, rather than trying to override it, which can result in not seeing what you were trying to). The dialogue is good, and the story is minimal, told mostly through movies during level loading. That being said, the story is engaging enough to want to see it through to the end, so even the minimalist approach works in this case. Being able to level up your moves is a nice touch that lets your decide what you want based on your play-style. Everything else aside, the game is just generally fun. You won’t need to think too much when playing it, and as a result can just concentrate on stringing together kills as you plow your way through the game. The game doesn’t mind poking fun at itself, or anything else for that matter (The Xbox exclusive mask that you can unlock has a description of creating a “red circle of death”, an obvious nod to RROD). The gore is more campy and funny than realistic, and the whole game plays like a B-movie, so there’s nothing too serious here. That being said, this game is VERY MUCH adults only. The graphic nudity and blood aside, the language in the game borders on verbal abuse at times, and nothing in the game is off limits. The boss battles are also appropriately epic and imaginative (the final battle aside, which is strangely lacking).
I know you’re thinking, “Well great, a game for us adults! It’s about time!” And you’d be half right. The game hits on a lot of guilty pleasure niches, but it’s so over the top, that it plays like something that SHOULD be for kids, despite the content being anything but. As such, you will find yourself rolling your eyes at times when the game does something juvenile or predictable. But let me not confuse you as to what the single most annoying part of this game is: the load screen. Splatterhouse has always been known as a game of cheap deaths, twitch gaming, and “gotcha” moments during boss battles (such as chandeliers falling or acid emitting from a recently defeated boss that always seems to hit you when you have one heart left). This was not so bad because when you died, you were back up and running in a few seconds. When you die in Splatterhouse, expect to wait 25-30 seconds before getting back to the action (and this is with a hard-drive install). That’s 25-30 seconds for every insta-death pit, 25-30 seconds for every boss battle death as you learn the pattern, and 25-30 seconds for every poorly executed plan of attack. It’s almost as though the game is trying to make you not want to finish the game (it doesn’t help that the load screen involves cool-but-quickly-annoying creatures swinging and grunting loudly at your screen. Couldn’t they just put more naked pictures of Jennifer up and make the whole experience a little more bearable?). It’s a shame that such a simple thing detracts so much; I wouldn’t even mention it normally, but you will die often in the game, and this load time is an unnecessary punishment for it. Finally, the execution moves are performed in a stylistic way that changes the graphics, which is not only distracting, but take a lot away from the execution itself. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was necessary in order to avoid an AO rating, but it’s worth nothing.
vttym’s take: There’s a lot going on with Splatterhouse, and enough of it is entertaining that you should make some time for it. Between a light and engaging story to pull you through the story mode, several different arenas for survival, and the 3 original Splatterhouse games all in one package, there’s a lot to like here. The over-the-top violence and sometimes lame humor may turn some off, but there’s also a lot of little gems sprinkled throughout that make the overall experience worth going through. Replayability will depend on whether you find value in classic games and the survival mode, but at least both of those options avoid the ridiculous load times associated with the story mode.
+: Light story and fun action
+: Several game modes
+: Side scrolling portions well implemented
-: Excessive load times on death
-: Somewhat repetitive gameplay
Final Score: 7 out of 10