Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti is a really interesting game. It came out in 1989 by Namco for the Nintendo Famicom. The original Splatterhouse is a well-known violent videogame franchise of the late 80's to early 90's. Its claim to fame was the edgygorefest best described as a cross between Hellraiser and Friday the 13th. Putting it bluntly; pop culture in the 80's/early 90's was weird. H.R. Giger threw the industrial-goth scene wide open. We had the aforementioned Hellraiser movies but also other mind-f*cks like Jacob's Ladder, Nightmare on Elm St series, Xtro, and Home Alone. Bands like Ministryand My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult were around. Even marketing producers had lost their minds: just look up Max Headroom. It was a creepy time. Splatterhouse was a reflection of that.
So coming from that headspace, you could understand my surprise when I found out there was a famicom version of Splatterhouse. A Splatterhouse for the kiddies. How in the Hell House was that going to translate? Splatterhouse had already been ported to the TG-16, which is what most of us knew in the US although sequels later came out on the Genesis, (which btw were equally if not more gruesome). Arcade games were ported to the NES all the time, and unless it was a Capcom game you could probably count on it being a watered-down facsimile of the original Arcade.
Splatterhouse: Wanpaku grafitti is like a Capcom NES arcade game. The design team knew from the get-go that trying to recreate the arcade port was a fool's errand and instead created a halloween-themed action platformer. The game has movie and pop culture references that most children probably wouldn't understand. Like a reference to the chilling sci-fi horror movie The Fly or a nod to Micheal Jackson's Thriller music video. It's all under this cutesy, super-deformed art design that reminds you a little of Sesame Street. A nightmarish version of Sesame Street where zombies are hacked to bits.
That's all great, but there are some specific design elements in this game I want to point out that I didn't get a chance to on camera.
HERE BE SPOILERS. STOP READING IF YOU INTEND TO PLAY THE GAME.
1. Side-Scroller with a rudimentary Experience Point system.
The original Splatterhouse had a basic life system where you had 5 hits before dying, similar to Battletoads. This would've been par for the course for most side-scrollers, although there were standouts like Double Dragon and River City Ransom that at least offered some sort of expansion of power over time. In this game, you increase your maximum hp--restorable by finding candy or hamburgers, or in 1 case soda--by killing a certain number of enemies. Once you kill your first 30 enemies, for example, you increase your maximum hp by 1 point, and then your next goal increases to 40.
2. The game is constantly experimenting.
There are a bunch of one-off scenarios in the game that never get repeated. For example, bats that have simply flown towards you for the entire game, will abruptly change their behavior in one of the game's final rooms so that they harmlessly pick you up and mischievously try to drop you down a bottomless pit. There is a bathroom where boogers come out of a toilet, and a plunger jumps at you. After dispatching those enemies, that's it; there's nothing else to the room, and you exit the same way you entered. Inside just one of the game's several cabins, buckets can fall down on you. As a player, your instinct is to dodge them, but if one of them manages to fall on you then the player sprite changes to account for having a bucket on your head. There are a bunch of these throughout this game. You can really feel the team's eagerness to try out new things and then just as rapidly discard them. These moments have a sense of magical brevity; something that you've never seen before or will see again.
3. The game actively misdirects you.
This is the mind-blowing part. While the two other points I made have been done before to some extent in other games, I can't think of a single game this old that does stuff like this. There is a point late in the game where you jump into a pit to proceed to the next stage. When that scene loads, you briefly have full control of your character before he is caught by a boss you thought was dead. He then has you restrained with your arms behind your back whereupon he kicks you into the mouth of a giant T-Rex skull. The skull chomps you, and the game plays the "you died" special effects, implying that not only the obviousness of your death, but that it was directly at the hands of a boss you thought you had already bested!
4. This game has a secret ending.
We never discovered it during our playthrough but according to this helpful resource the game has a secret, 2-part ending. The ending is based on whether or not you collected either of 2 crystal balls. The crystal balls are each behind a hidden stage, reportedly with new enemy types. They are bestowed upon you by a priestess character that has dialog! All of this is pretty insane. Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest had different endings depending on how many days had passed in-game. The endings of both Bubble Bobble and Ghoul's and Ghosts relied on whether or not you collected a certain item a 2nd time through. Again, when considering how straightforward the source material is, it's insane that the designers would even think "Hey, you know what else this game needs? Secret endings!"
Anyways, if you have access to this game, check it out. And if you want to learn about more Japanese famicom games, you should check out the linked videos above and check out my show videobento. We hope you'll like it.