The question of what’s good doesn’t always follow the logic of if something is made well. It often is a matter of taste. Some people love classical music, and others love rap or heavy metal. Some love films like Seven Samurai, or Citizen Kane, while others enjoy Evil Dead 2 and Spider-Man. Again, it’s simply a matter of taste. This is the problem that rises with a game like Splatterhouse. Like its predecessors, it’s got subject matter that may be not some gamers’ liking. But I think that, like the films and music I’ve mentioned, there’s a quality work here to be enjoyed.
In this remake of Namco’s classic title, you once again take up the role of Rick Taylor, a college student who is out to rescue his girlfriend, Jennifer Willis, from the evils in the West Mansion. This time, the story expands on what the original arcade game in the 80’s gave us. Rick is an average guy, a heavy metal dork who is in love with the seemingly too-hot-for-him Jennifer. Jennifer is invited to the infamous mansion by Doctor West, and Rick follows along, both because he’s planning to propose to her, and because he feels he needs to protect her. Doctor West proceeds to summon nightmarish monsters to kill Rick while he drags Jennifer away for a ritual. Rick finds the Terror Mask, an ancient entity who offers to help save Rick’s life, and give him the power to save Jennifer from West. All he needs to do is put the mask on, and kill all the monsters he finds to feed it blood. So begins a chase through the mansion, time, and hell itself to save Jennifer.
Graphics-wise, this game is fairly good. The use of shadow and light adds to the horror aspects, and the sheer splattering of blood on the environments and Rick himself is handled with a mixture of cheesiness and shock value, like any fun horror flick. I also like the semi-cel shading done with the characters to help them stand out against the splattering blood. I also love the design of this game. With Rick redesigned to be a hulking brute, all the classic weapons are beefed up in size to match him. The enemies are a nice combo of disturbing and well-animated. In particular, the bosses tend to have a design to match the horror films it takes inspiration from.
Sound-wise, this game is above and beyond awesome. The voice acting is great, with Rick and the Mask having great back-and-forth lines about the situations. Jim Cummings (yes, the man who played Tigger and Darkwing Duck) is particularly great as the Mask, balancing sinister with helpful, insulting, and just plain hilarious. Josh Keaton also brings a dorky charm and inner strength to Rick. Sound effects are wet and visceral as you tear and smash enemies to bloody chunks, and I love the heavy metal soundtrack.
Now, how does it play? Well, think God of War, but more gory and much harder. I’m not kidding, this game on the easy setting can kill you if you’re not on your A-game. Enemies gang up and will tear you apart if you’re not careful. Thankfully, you can transfer your upgrades to a new game plus. Speaking of upgrades, you can buy more by spilling as much blood as you can. As the Mask tells you, more blood is better. Rick doesn’t have a far-reaching weapon like Kratos, so you have to get up-close and tear into your opponents. And when you weaken them, you can unleash a splatterkill. Basically, a context sensitive use of the joysticks and buttons to tear heads and limbs off, crush skulls, and in one rather disturbing moment, reach your hand inside a monster’s ass and tear out his intestines. I think the combat works because it conveys the sense of being a huge beast of a man, while making it clear that you can die if you’re not careful.
Besides the combat moments, the game also has times where it switches to an old-school 2D sidescrolling scenario like the original arcade. There are also moments where you have to leap from edge to edge in a platforming section. These situations are the worst part of this game. Action games like this should stop trying to shoe-horn platforming sections, it’s not their strong suit. Still, a little trial-and-error and you’ll breeze past those lame parts to get to the sick gory combat.
There’s quite a lot hidden in this game to encourage constant playing. As you progress, you will unlock the original trilogy (which if you’ve followed my Weekly Retro Reviews, you know I love), along with journal entries written by Doctor West that shed light on how he became a madman bartering with demonic forces. And there’s also unlocked survival arenas that will test your skills, and help you build up more blood to buy upgrades.
I also have to bring up one of the more controversial elements in the game. Each chapter, there are four pieces of a photo of Jennifer. These photos are often of her naked or in some kind of sexual dress. While this can just be gratuitous, I love how the photos have dates and locations, as well as sound clips about what was happening. In this way, the fanservice of these pictures help us imagine the st0ry of this relationship that Rick has, and how this woman is so in love with him. It helps us sympathize with him and understand why he loves her enough to want to risk his life and soul to save her. And who doesn’t enjoy a little fanservice?
Splatterhouse is a hard game initially, until you start leveling up. It will challenge you, entertain you, and disturb you. But like the original, and the horror movies like Evil Dead 2 that inspired this series, it will grow on you and in time be appreciated for what it is. That being a fun ride that can be enjoyed again and again. Be sure to try this bad boy out if you’re man enough.