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Splatterhouse Review

3
  • PS3
  • X360

The splatter is most certainly on display in this functional, yet indistinct beat-'em-up.

Splatterhouse is probably not a game that was in dire need of rebooting. The original 1988 arcade game, and subsequent TurboGrafx-16 release, mostly served of interest due to its highly graphic (for its time) violence. At its core, the game was a fairly forgettable beat-'em-up with a few interesting monsters to bludgeon and eviscerate, but the sheer amount of blood and gore on offer (again, relative to other games of this era) made it an enticement, even in its heavily edited TurboGrafx form. Basically, it was all guts, no substance.

 Don't let the jorts fool you: Rick is as brutal as they come.
 Don't let the jorts fool you: Rick is as brutal as they come.
And yet, here we are with a modern-day take on the franchise. Arguably the most interesting thing about this remake--apart from its protracted development history, which makes for interesting reading elsewhere--is that the reverse is largely true here. The modern day Splatterhouse for the Xbox 360 and PS3 is a game that manages to construct a more interesting gameplay experience around piles upon piles of largely forgettable gore. This is still a fairly standard beat-'em-up, but there are enough wrinkles, tweaks, and amusements here to keep a player functionally engaged through the entirety of its story. Simultaneously, no matter how much blood, viscera and spinal fluid the developers see fit to dump on you, it's exceedingly difficult to muster up more than a casual shrug at the sight of it all.

The set-up for all this "house splattering" is a pretty typical boy loves girl, boy and girl visit creepy mansion of lunatic doctor, lunatic doctor kidnaps girl and leaves boy for dead, boy finds ancient Aztec ceremonial death mask and uses it to become a hulking, jorts-wearing juggernaut of death kind of deal. The talking death mask transforms Rick, the aformentioned boy, into said juggernaut for entirely self-serving purposes. That said, Rick has little choice but to work with this demonic mask, since he would ideally like to save his comely young girlfriend before the doctor turns her into a sacrificial vessel and unleashes some creatures that exist halfway between Hell and Earth.

Halfway Between Hell and Earth would make a pretty good heavy metal album title, as would much of the stuff found in this game, really. Splatterhouse is basically the video game equivalent of a gigantic ASCII devil horns, a metal and gore geek's fantasy of grotesque violence by way of screeching guitar solos. As you run through this game, alternating between the weak and strong attack buttons to form accidental combos and periodically picking up boards, machetes, chainsaws, and even the occasional weaponized severed limb to ramp up the damage, licensed tracks from the likes of Mastodon, Five Finger Death Punch, and Goatwhore will often begin blaring in the background.

All the while, the spirit ensconced within the mask goads and curses at Rick to do better, makes fourth-wall breaking cracks about M-ratings and the nature of what makes a Splatterhouse, and occasionally takes the well-deserved opportunity to call him a pussy. This kind of dialogue could have been deathly with the wrong combination of writing and voice acting, but here it's generally chuckle-worthy, thanks in no small part to the delivery by veteran voice performer Jim Cummings. It's just a shame the rest of the game's voicework is pretty boilerplate, and that the game frequently suffers from audio mixing bugs, where dialogue gets drowned out by metal guitars or otherwise chops up into glitchy nonsense.

 You could paint the Great Wall of China a lovely shade of red with all the blood in this game.
 You could paint the Great Wall of China a lovely shade of red with all the blood in this game.
I haven't harped terribly much on the mechanics of Splatterhouse because, quite frankly, I have a hard time remembering very many of them. At some point the specifics of the beat-'em-up gameplay all blend together into one big, gooey, red paste. Learning the game's basic combos and attacks is most certainly important, as is earning blood, which is your primary purchasing method for additional combos and special attacks. Odds are most players will never get to a point where they memorize all these attacks, since you rarely need the most complex ones outside of the game's hardest difficulty setting--which is a real bastard, by the way. More often, though, you can satisfactorily blow through each room full of zombie men, animal-esque mutants, and various other grotesqueries by button mashing to your heart's content.

Fortunately, that serves the game just fine. The combat is largely satisfying, if not overly exciting. There are some nifty kill moves you can pull on weakened enemies. These launch you into quicktime events and play out like low-rent versions of Mortal Kombat fatalities. The main problem is that there just aren't enough of them. You've seen all the ways to kill one enemy type by the first or second time they appear, so repetition does tend to set in rather quickly. Still, it's a beat-'em-up, and repetition is kind of the thing with these games. If you aren't willing to put up with a little of it, even in light of how brutal and decently entertaining the combat can be, then this is definitely not the game for you.

Where Splatterhouse falters is in the areas where it tries to veer outside of the standard beat-'em-up trappings. As a throwback to classic Splatterhouse--which, by the way, you can unlock a playable and well-emulated version of in the game (uncensored), along with Splatterhouses 2 and 3--the game will periodically morph into a sidescroller, letting you knock enemies silly from a different perspective, while also avoiding pitfalls and traps via copious amounts of jumping and ducking. In theory, these are a nice little nod to the classic games, but the controls for the jumping and dodging sections aren't quite responsive enough to avoid becoming a frustration. It's even worse in the non-sidescrolling platforming bits, where you're hopping from highlighted jump point to highlighted jump point. The timing is just janky, and for all the tough battles I ended up fighting through over the course of the game, the trifling little jumping bits proved to be infinitely more vexing, simply because the controls lack the necessary tightness. There aren't a million of these sections, thankfully, but there are enough to be a royal pain the ass, especially due to the atrociously long load times that plague both versions of the game. How do you make a game where you can die instantly, and force someone to sit for 30-to-45 seconds just to load up the last checkpoint?

 Splatterhouse's monsters alternate between decent throwbacks to the games of old, and generic creature crap.
 Splatterhouse's monsters alternate between decent throwbacks to the games of old, and generic creature crap.
The game's visuals are a bit of a disappointment. I am a self-professed gore junkie, but much of what Splatterhouse passes off as gore feels rather bland and superfluous. Interesting kills--and, to that point, interesting enemies to kill--are largely overshadowed by your ability to simply paint the walls with ungodly amounts of fakey-looking blood. This goop has the consistency of a bad spaghetti sauce, and while it's amusing for a bit to see Rick completely drenched in the junk, after a while I think the red detectors in my eyes started to fritz out, because I just stopped noticing or caring. There just isn't enough variety in the ways to kill, or in the designs of the enemies you're fighting, to really give all this violence the visceral impact you'd want. At least the basic visual style of the game, with its faux-cel-shaded design and frequently brutal environmental aesthetics, is nice enough to look at. Now if only the frame rate could stay halfway consistent...

Above all else, Splatterhouse is a game that screams "competent." Specifically, it screams it with a guttural heavy metal growl over the deafening din of grinding power chords and machine gun blasts of double bass, while simultaneously vomiting a fire hydrant's worth of blood all over the screen. That all that gratuitous violence and gushing gore manages to inspire so little reaction is perhaps more a testament to where we as a society sit now compared to the late '80s. More to the point, it speaks to the notion that a bunch of bleeding freaks and severed torsos maybe isn't quite enough to sell a game all by its lonesome anymore. It's good, then, that Splatterhouse has a bit more going on upstairs than the games it originally spawned from. This isn't a game you're likely to remember for too terribly long past its conclusion, but if you're a die-hard nostalgist for this franchise, or just someone looking for a decent outlet to punch, stab, and batter the living hell out of some crap for 10 or so hours, Splatterhouse will scratch that itch.
Alex Navarro on Google+