Now, this is gonna be fun! While I do admire games that have deep mechanics and stories, there is no shame in being simple and gory. For example, I love Psycho 2, but I also love Brain Dead equally, and I think it is such a beauty that both kinds of horror can exist in our world. Splatterhouse falls in the…. Well, the splatter category of course. It started as an old arcade game, and I am so excited to finally give it a look now that it is available on the Xbox 360 and PS3 with Splatterhouse (2010).
Simple, but effective. Like a 2×4
Being surprised by stormy weather, Rick Taylor and Jennifer Willis travel to a nearby mansion to find shelter. The bad news is that this is known as the “Splatterhouse” and it is rumored that the owner, Dr. West, is conducting gruesome experiments there. Not long after our two protagonists enter the mansion, Jennifer is captured and Rick is sent to a dungeon. Though not all hope is lost. A mask known as the Terror Mask attaches itself to Rick and gives him the strength he needs to save his girlfriend.
There is a surprisingly decent setup for a story and it has one twist that gets me every time, but this is far from a focus, which is almost a shame. I say almost because we got the mask on and can cause some much-needed carnage. Splatterhouse is a linear sidescroller, with your only path being towards the right and maybe fight a boss or a bunch of minor enemies at the end of a stage. Our Jason look-alike protagonist has only the ability to jump, duck and punch left or right. He can also do a strong slide-attack when descending from the air, and while it is tricky to pull off, it does twice the damage of a normal punch. This simple moveset works well, due to his punches and kicks being fast and having a decent reach.
Though useful, you are much better off with one of the plentiful weapons you can find laying on the ground. Each stage has a couple for your choice in carnage, such as a hatchet, a 2×4, and an axe that appears only one time. All are fun additions and while similar in function, they help you throughout the game since they deal twice the damage of a normal punch and there are a maximum of two weapons to find in each stage. The only ones that are different from these melee-weapons are the ranged one. Those you throw, such as rocks, are self-explanatory and do good damage, but the strongest one is the shotgun and with plenty of bullets, it can tear the enemies to literal pieces.
With such simple mechanics, it is lovely to see the levels being based around Rick’s moveset. This is a one-hit, beat’em up, where precise attacks are more important than anything else. Because of this, enemies never come in cheap ways that makes it so you can’t avoid their hits. This is a good thing due to Rick not being very agile, though this does not stop the enemies from being varied. Ghosts will drop skulls on you, dogs will attack or eat a fallen prey, and aquatic creatures will hide in the water. All are simple obstacles, but work wonders because of how simple Rick is designed, providing tension without requiring a diverse moveset. The boss fights follow similarly in quality: a poltergeist-boss will throw things at you, the chainsaw man will demand accurate hits and that you keep him at a distance, and others follow similarly diverse setups.
However, the levels themselves have some nice variation as well, making it so they never become stale. Traps can come from both foreground and background, one stage has alternate paths, and another will have you fight your own mirror, just to name a few examples. The focus is on you getting some lovely destruction done and it is always satisfying, due to the challenge being balanced. For an arcade game, this is impressive. You start each quarter you put in with 4 hearts and 2 lives, giving you a good chance of making it through each stage. It is certainly difficult and will demand your attention, but it is never frustrating or unfair. You are even rewarded with another heart by each stage completed, which is very nice.
This simple approach to the game works wonders in making each stage engaging and the 7 stages give the game a good length, being beatable in 30 minutes when you know what to do. This leads me to the biggest criticism: when you know exactly where to stand and where to punch, you can easily beat the game. It might sound silly to put it like this, but there is a clear pattern to everything, making it easy to learn quickly where enemies will come from and how to beat the game easily, especially due to the game’s simple design. Still, it provides a lovely challenge and never a dull moment. Simple, but effective.
Gameplay Score: 8/10
Yup, this is gory
Now, this is the main reason this game is so memorable. It is goretastic, with each weapon affecting monsters in different ways, such as splatting them against walls with a 2×4. This is simply wonderful and the sounds that accompany them are just as satisfying, like the pop when an enemy loses their head. These monsters come in a huge variety with plenty that are hard to describe. Hugely deformed fetuses, the chainsaw-man with no skin, and creatures that look like melted zombies, are just some of the eye-catching creatures you will see. Though just like Castlevania, Splatterhouse pays tribute to other known horror movies, such as Poltergeist and The Deadly Spawns respectively, and all are nice showcases of how big fans of horror these developers where.
Though it is not just the enemies that carry this uncomfortable design. The levels are incredibly unsettling, with caverns that have cells filled with decaying and vomiting experiments, a hall of mirrors where you feel spied on, a room full of bloody leeches and corpses, and plenty more makes this house alive and ready to kill you. There can be some unfortunate reuse of wallpapers that is quite dull and the last stage has some questionable rolling timbers as they are not aligned with the road, losing the immersive effect when these moments occur.
However, you are always brought back by the unsettling creatures and disgusting gore covering these places. Complementing these visuals is the uncomfortable soundtrack. It contains a deranged mix of drums, industrial instruments, and higher tones, such as piano or screeches, giving the game a dark and uncomfortable vibe, with every stage making you a bit on the edge. There are a couple of songs that are rather soothing, but also bittersweet, making the moments they are played more effective and at the same time devastating. I just wish the bit-crushed voices had a more consistent quality, as there was one incident where it was hard to hear what a character said, and the voices are muffled. However, the laughs and screams provided, are all kinds of unsettling and I love it for that.
Presentation Score: 8.5/10
While Splatterhouse is a series with style over substance, it is remarkable how it makes the first installment work so well with its simple, but effective concept. Far from groundbreaking, it knows how to keep you engaged thanks to the enemy placements, forcing you to be aware of your surrounding with your big masked protagonist. Even more impressive, is the goretastic style and unsettling soundtrack, which will make any horror-fan satisfied. A lovely gem, as long as you can stomach it.