Review: Splatterhouse

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Show of hands: who remembers the old Splatterhouse games? I vaguely recollect them as “those Jason games,” which is what I remember calling the three game series growing up, in reference to the main character bearing resemblance to Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th horror film franchise. They were side-scrolling beat-‘em-ups in the arcades first before being later ported to the TurboGrafx-16, but since they never made it onto any of the top consoles of that era, like the SNES or Genesis, the series never really achieved iconic status. Cult classic maybe, but that’s about it.

In today’s age of the reboot, though, Namco Bandai couldn’t have picked a better time to bring the brand back from the dead for another shot at mainstream success – and that’s just what they’ve done with Splatterhouse for PS3 and Xbox 360.

In Splatterhouse, you play as Rick, a fairly geeky college-age dude who finds himself on a one-way trip to hell after a maniacal scientist named Dr. West kidnaps his hottie of a girlfriend, Jennifer, and leaves him for dead in a pool of his own blood. In his final moments, a voice calls out to Rick and prompts him to put on a mysterious mask, a mask that transforms the scrawny guy into a muscle-bound, Hulk-like abomination with a talent for murder and a thirst for bloody revenge.

I don’t remember a whole lot about the old arcade games, as already mentioned, but from what I do remember playing, Splatterhouse’s 2010 reboot is successful at capturing the 80’s slasher flick vibe of the originals while simultaneously expanding the beat-‘em-up gameplay into full 3D and pushing the ultra-violent shock value to a whole new level of extreme.

Surprisingly, the story puts on a good horror show and keeps you engaged with well-produced CG cut scenes, interesting twists and turns, and a steady stream of back story content revealed through Dr. West’s audio recordings and journals (you can piece together nudie photos of Jennifer as well, but obviously they hold no informational value). The B-movie voice acting also fits the plot themes nicely, and while the Terror Mask’s constant barrage of obscenities and vulgar one-liners (performed by accomplished American voice actor, Jim Cummings) can grate on the nerves at times, the banter between Rick and the twisted thing stuck to his face will get you to chuckle on a regular basis.

Don’t get it twisted, though. The storyline is merely a sideshow to the gruesome gameplay. Splatterhouse’s combat system doesn’t muck about with a lot of complex mechanics; it simply turns you loose with an elementary scheme of beat-‘em-up commands that allow you to deftly mutilate the corrupted beasts that stand between Rick and his beloved fiancé-to-be. And although shallow and hindered by problems I’ll address later, the gameplay does manage to satisfy that primal bloodlust all humans have buried inside them somewhere.

You have two basic attacks – fast and heavy – to chain together into combos; along with standard block and evasive maneuvers and Berserker powers that grant Rick even more strength and rage for a short period of time. After pounding away, enemies enter a weakened state indicated by a glowing red aura, and at these moments you can grab and brutalize them in vicious QTE (Quick Time Event) finishers called Splatter Kills. A wide range of weapons is also at your disposal, including 2x4s, meat cleavers, pipes, baseball bats, shotguns, chainsaws and even severed heads and limbs.

Splatterhouse is NOT for the squeamish, that’s for damn sure. Buckets of blood spew from enemies like crimson geysers, body parts and innards toss about amongst the carnage, and gore splashes the screen to a symphony of crunching bones, tearing flesh and splattering blood. Any game that allows you to rip out a giant ape creature’s intestines through its ass-hole or beat enemies to death with your own severed arms is A-OK in my book!

The excessive gore isn’t just for show either. In Splatterhouse, blood is the currency you need to upgrade Rick’s combat abilities, so it pays to not only kill your foes, but maim them as gruesomely as possible.

But as fun as Splatterhouse can be, the game as a whole is very sloppy and rough around the edges. In my opinion, the game tries way too hard to do too many different things. Cool side-scrolling stages throwback to the original games brilliantly, but other parts feel slapped on for no other reason than to give the illusion that the developers tried to do more than make this a simple beat-‘em-up. For example, late in the game you have to run Rick through a Crash Bandicoot-style into-the-screen escape sequence, and there is another part where Rick is falling through a portal and you have to tilt the analog stick to move him away from obstacles (sort of like those flying sequences in God of War III). The game even tries to throw in moments of platforming in which you have to climb scripted wall ledges and leap from point to point sort of like Enslaved. None of these auxiliary gameplay elements control very well, and all’s they do is distract you from the good stuff.

The bosses really aren’t that interesting or challenging either, and the mini-boss encounters are generally the same three or four creature types repeated throughout the game, demanding the same attack strategies to be defeated, only instead of facing one at a time like in the early stages, the encounters escalate until you are facing two, three or four at a time. By the end of the game, the same enclosed arena encounters with the same groups of enemies do become tedious, especially as the battles become more and more drawn out.

A lot of other little things accentuate the game’s unpolished state. The camera isn’t particularly reliable, the graphics underneath the blood and guts are a mixed bag, the frame rate likes to dip down when the action reaches its most frenetic moments, the unskippable Splatter Kill sequences break up the flow of combat and allow enemies to unfairly swarm around you, and parts of the audio design are flat out busted. Seriously, there are times when the game goes completely mute. During the end boss QTE finisher, for example, the sound effects completely cut out, and I heard nothing but silence as Rick was jumping around and slicing into the boss monstrosity. Not getting to hear the satisfying sounds of death completely ruined the moment – and it was the closing moment in the game, so it hurt to leave things on such a sour note.

Thankfully, the game provides plenty of incentive to continuing playing after the story’s six to eight hours of mass murdering come to an end, so I was quickly able to hop back in and wash the bad taste out of my mouth. There are quite a few collectibles and unlockables to go back for — including those cheesecake shots of Jennifer and Dr. West’s journals — and Namco was thoughtful enough to include all three original Splatterhouse games so newcomers can experience the reboot in full context and returning fans can relax knowing they have the entire Splatterhouse saga at their disposal. Better yet, a Survival Arena mode provides the perfect outlet to get down and dirty with the combat without getting bogged down in all that extra platforming nonsense in the story mode.

Overall, Splatterhouse is the type of game that uses nostalgia to sufficiently satisfy its existing fan base and just barely does enough to possibly draw in a few new open-minded fans, but, like the three previous games, fails to captivate on a broader scale. It’s far from great, and it certainly doesn’t do anything you’ll remember weeks and months down the line. But at the end of the day, it is a bloody good action romp with enough cheap, gory thrills to warrant a rental or maybe even a bargain bin impulse purchase down the road.

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Pros:
+ Combat system is good for hours of dumb, ultra-violent fun
+ Excessive gore effects are satisfying to look at and listen to
+ Storyline is actually quite entertaining
+ Bonus materials and side modes provide worthwhile replay value

Cons:
– Lame boss battles and tedious mini-boss encounters
– Platforming and adventure elements are incredibly weak
– Sloppy design flaws across the board
– Constant Terror Mask chatter can grate on the nerves

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3, also available for Xbox 360
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Namco Bandai
Release Date: 11/23/2010
Genre: Beat-’em-up
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!