Splatterhouse Review

16 Dec 2010  by   Paul Younger
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Splatterhouse is trash. It is trash in almost every way imaginable, from the somewhat repetitive combat mechanics, to the overabundance of gore, to the unlockable naked pictures of the only female character in the game. The game knows it’s trash. It revels in being trash, and in constantly one-upping itself in just how trashy it can be. And this, perhaps, it why it’s so much bloody fun.
Splatterhouse is a reimagining of the late-80s/early-90s schlock-horror side-scrolling beat ‘em up series which managed to cause a degree of controversy back then with what was, for the time, ludicrous ultraviolence. In the first in the series, protagonist Rick had no choice but to don the Terror Mask, an ancient – and undoubtedly evil – artifact that improved his strength and resilience, in order to battle his way through West Mansion to save his girlfriend Jennifer.
Cut to 2010, and Splatterhouse follows the same rough plot. Students Rick and Jennifer head to West Mansion to meet with Dr. Henry West, a professor of Necrobiology (and if the Lovecraft-inspired name didn’t tip you off, his specialist subject should.) Thirty seconds after arriving Jennifer is abducted by West, while Rick gets pretty much torn in two by a throng of demonic creatures. Fortunately for those of us wanting a game lasting longer than thirty seconds, his death throes reveal an ancient white mask which calls out to him – and, upon donning it, his body not only regenerates but becomes gigantic and grotesquely muscled. Are you a bad enough dude to save Jennifer?
It occurs to me that. in the previous paragraph, I had to qualify “torn in two” with “pretty much.” The reason that I couldn’t just let it stand – because living creatures are routinely, literally, and graphically torn in two throughout the game – should tell you pretty much all you need to know about the gore.
But that would be no fun, so we’ll dwell on it some more once we’ve explained a bit about the game. Splatterhouse is, by and large, a third-person brawler: think Devil May Cry or God of War and you’re not too far off. You’ve got the requisite light and heavy combos as well as grab moves, a rage mode (which makes Rick even bigger), and defensive capabilities like blocking and rolling. Killing creatures gets you blood, which can be spent on upgraded moves and combos, and the more brutally you dismember a creature, the more blood you get.
The more brutal executions come from the Splatterkill feature, which is a fancy way of saying “low health quick-time event.” Getting pretty much any foe in the game to low health gives them an inviting red glow; grabbing them in this state focuses in on Rick and the hapless creature, removes the background, and gives everything a lurid technicolor look – and then prompts you to waggle the analogue sticks or hammer buttons to rip its arms off/squash its head between your hands/tear its torso off/you get the picture.
“But Tim,” you cry. “We’ve played God of War and Mortal Kombat. We’ve seen really hideous dismemberment before. This can’t be that over-the-top, surely?” Alas, reader, you are wrong. Let me put it this way: grabbing a foe – a move which does no damage whatsoever – results in a splash of blood on the floor. Hitting an enemy with a light punch daubs the floor, the walls, and the screen in red. After hammering the attack buttons for ten seconds… well, let’s just say it can sometimes be difficult to see what’s going on in the thick of battle. Rick’s not immune to dismemberment either; various foes can slice off an arm, which can make combat a bit tricky. Fortunately, our protagonist isn’t harmless while armless: you can pick up the dismembered limb and batter the hideous beasts to death with it while you wait for it to regenerate.
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By rights I should hate this game. I should hate it for the fact that it doesn’t do anything new. I should hate it for the occasionally dodgy camera, the utterly infuriating instant deaths that require precognition to avoid, the QTEs that get incredibly repetitive as the game goes on, the side-scrolling  sections that involve some truly dire platforming, and a pair of closing levels that rival FarCry’s conclusion in terms of frustratingly unfair difficulty spikes. If nothing else, I should hate it for being tacky, exploitative trash with its major selling points being an overabundance of gore and unlockable naked pictures. Yet, after finishing it, I spent some time in the Survival mode and then went back and started up a new game on a higher difficulty. Why?
Because it’s fun. I’ve said before that “fun” a terrible term to use when describing any game and I stand by that, but the simple truth is that Splatterhouse is more than the sum of its parts. Being placed in a traditional horror environment but being given the role of a monster bigger, stronger, and far meaner than anything else present is oddly refreshing. Letting loose your aggression on waves of foes and being rewarded with truly gratuitous displays of graphic violence is cathartic. Being egged on by the Terror Mask, voiced remarkably well by Jim Cummings (who has been in everything, ever) is a pleasure. He’s not quite Mike Patton in The Darkness, but in a game as campy and over-the-top as this, it works. And, of course, the regular stream of new enemies, environments, and mechanics keeps things feeling fresh. You’ve seen them all before, but when played in short bursts, Splatterhouse – on the whole – doesn’t feel repetitive.
Yes, the side-scrolling sections are crap, but as with a few enemies and bosses they’re a heartfelt nod to the original games (right down to smacking foes into the screen) which you can see for yourself when you unlock the original trilogy by playing through the Story Mode, and they’re mostly too short and easy to infringe much. Yes, the camera is occasionally painful, but the game’s rarely so hard that it’s a problem. Yes, the gore is tasteless and tacky, but the fact that the game knows this somehow adds to the charm rather than subtracting from it. And no, the game doesn’t do anything new, but what it does, it does well: enemies have discernible patterns, and figuring out how to use those patterns to beat them down is a joy, as is discovering new moves, new combos, and new weapons to use in your quest to dismember everything moving.
Splatterhouse is exactly what the name implies: it’s tacky, it’s tasteless, and it’s a love-letter to both its predecessors and the old-school splatter films. I’m not about to call it the Grindhouse of gaming, but it certainly bears a resemblance to Braindead in that it’s so stupidly over-the-top that you can’t help but enjoy the ride. It’s sure as hell not going to win any game of the year awards, but anyone hankering for something to hold them over to the next big-budget brawler, or anyone who fondly remembers the ultra-violent schlock-horror B-movies of yesteryear, will have a ball. A great, big, bloody ball, covered in naked pictures, and probably ripped off of something gigantic. With tentacles.

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