“The key is blood, Rick,” says the Terror Mask, a super-violent demon trapped in slasher movie prop not terribly different from the object of similar character from the Jim Carrey comedy. “It’s always blood.”
And not long into Splatterhouse, we kind of want to be like, “Yeah. We get it. Blood.”
Splatterhouse, the 3D update of three arcade classics from the early 1990s, is bathed in blood. It revels in blood. And years ago, when Mortal Kombat was edgy and getting flashed by strippers in Duke Nukem was the talk of the schoolyard, yes, Splatterhouse’s extreme amount of virtual monster blood and gore would have probably been a big deal.
Splatterhouse (XBox360 [Reviewed], PS3)
Release Date: October 26, 2010
Today, however, this game is trying too hard to be true to sensibilities that made its predecessors noteworthy and controversial, while failing to inspire any real shock or excitement. Blood is the key to everything in the game, from power-ups to health to the actual opening of doors, but mere digital blood and guts don’t have the same shock appeal they did in the earlier days of the Console Wars. Today, Splatterhouse’s main characteristics — splatter, in a house — have worn a little thin.
At the start of Splatterhouse, you find yourself joining the story of wormy college hipster Rick Taylor, as he lies bleeding in the middle of a large room, his screaming girlfriend being dragged off to some unspeakable death by a Bride of Frankenstein-haired Mad Scientist named Dr. West.
Already, the game is awash in the stylized, almost cel-shaded red that will be its primary hue for the rest of the game. In his seemingly final moments, Rick manages to reach out and get hold of a mask that seems to be calling to him. Getting hold of the mask and putting it on saves Rick’s life and transforms him into a hulking, nigh-unstoppable killing machine as the demonic mask and the nerd meld as one. Think Spider-Man’s Venom, but pointier.
The Terror Mask, as it’s called, agrees to help Rick save distressed damsel Jennifer in returns for Rick helping to shed copious amounts of blood from various monsters employed by Dr. West. Some are small and kind of look like the atomic monkey-like wretches of Gears of War. Others are more man-like. A few could be demons that have stepped straight out of Doom. One resembles a massive frog. All could easily take jobs in some Resident Evil title.
So begins the slow slog of Rick hacking through, dismembering, and generally annihilating these monsters on a quest to reach West and Jennifer. Splatterhouse takes great pleasure in the various ways you can mutilate enemies as you go, and rewards you for being gruesome. Blood accumulates as Blood Points, which are spent to purchase new skills and abilities for Rick, and blood also fills a gauge you can expend in order to heal or activate special, super-strong moves.
Cooler kills often give you more points, and Splatterhouse always wants you to think about how you’re doing your killing. You can wield various melee weapons (and one massive shotgun), or just punch and throw enemies until they die. But the best way to finish enemies off is to weaken them and then perform a Splatterkill on their stunned bodies. This is generally a quicktime event in which Rick does something horrible to finish off the enemy, like smashing its skull in his hands or ripping its lungs out.
Splatterkills are cool — once. Unfortunately, while the game is going for over-the-top uberviolence with the feature, you can really only tear the arms off an enemy so many times (like, 200, tops) before it starts to get boring.
It’s actually right about your tenth Splatterkill that you start to see the biggest chink in Splatterhouse’s armor: repetition. The game is all about its combat system, which is a lot of fun at first, but it really is all the game has to offer. You don’t even need to adjust your strategy at any point. If you have a weapon, use a weapon. If you’ve upgraded to better skills, use your better skills. You can punch the biggest, and the smallest, enemies in the face with about the same level of effectiveness.
And you’ll be doing the same things over and over again because all the enemies in Splatterhouse are recycled over and over and over. Early level boss-type characters become later level common enemies. Sometimes they change colors or get a slight amp in power, but the way you deal with them is always the same, and subsequently, the Splatterkills are the same, so you’ll find yourself performing the same quicktime actions over and over. For example, you’ll fight zombies, killer clowns and something that looks like a swamp monster, but if its human-shaped and about your size, the Splatterkill is always to tear off its arms or rip it in half. It begins to feel unimaginative after a while.
Forward progress is always kill-related. You’ll hit locked doors pretty frequently, but they rarely require you to do much of anything except kill a requisite number of enemies that are conveniently flooding into the room.
These are occasionally mixed up with kill-specific locks, although these drop off substantially around the fourth level of the game. They consist pretty much of spikes on the wall you need to impale enemies on by flinging them in the general direction of the spikes. That’s accomplished either by picking them up and throwing them, or hitting them with a weapon or something toward the spikes. Either way, it’s more irritating than exciting — usually, picking up enemies is hampered by them getting loose or you getting attacked by the crowd gathering around you.
Interspersed between these “kill everything right now!” rooms are side-scrolling, platforming-type sections meant to pull players back into the old 2D mindset of the Splatterhouse series’ roots. The side-scrolling portions are heavy on environmental traps, and while they’re a cool idea in theory, in practice they also tend to get frustrating. True to their inspiration, the 2D parts generally are filled with pits and sharp implements that kill Rick instantly — but really terrible jumping mechanics, for one, make playing through them more toilsome than nostalgic.
In fact, most of the time when you’re killed in Splatterhouse, it’ll feel like a cheap shot, and that’s definitely the feeling the 2D portions invoke. Often an enemy will start to lay into Rick, totally stunning him and making him unable to move — with little indication that he’s being hit except his rapidly vanishing health bar. Especially early on in the game, it’s a struggle to get clear of enemy attacks and not just get the crap kicked out of you. If Rick loses a limb (which he can regenerate and also use as a weapon), you can pretty much count yourself dead if you don’t have the blood to heal quickly, because his movement and abilities are so restricted that escape from the enemies that are after you is usually next to impossible.
But there’s no real way to avoid deaths — it’s not like you come back from getting killed and say, “time for a strategy change,” because there’s no such thing in Splatterhouse. If you come across a hard fight, you can switch on Berserker mode and totally wreck whatever you’re up against. Not that you’ll usually need to do so, as even the bosses are totally underwhelming (the final fight, more than any other, is a complete joke), and really no battle is that difficult. If you’re killed, it’s because a cheap shot go through or you didn’t pay enough attention to the fact that you were dying. Reload, repeat.
And dying is stupidly prohibitive, on account of the fact that Splatterhouse includes some ridiculous loading times. In sections where it’ll take you a minute to figure out what you’re supposed to do — specifically the platforming sections — death early on is almost guaranteed since you have no idea what to expect. And each time that happens, you’re staring down something like a two-minute loading screen. It feels like a massive waste of time and serves to exasperate the player, making playing through some sections feel a lot like work.
But despite the flaws, though, there’s something about Splatterhouse that does make it fun to keep pounding through enemy after enemy, even when it gets totally frustrating. Some of it is the story, which starts out confusing and slowly reveals bits to become slightly less confusing, but at least those bits are interesting. And a great deal has to do with the banter and comments that come from the Terror Mask and the stellar voice work that goes along with it.
The mask is voiced by veteran cartoon actor Jim Cummings, and if you watched a cartoon in the 1990s, you’ll recognize him (my favorite role of his was as Beowulf in a Mighty Max episode — you’re probably too young). The mask has all the best dialogue, and while a lot of it is repeated during fighting, the meta-game humor Splatterhouse employs can be pretty funny at times. It reminds me of Evil Dead: Regeneration, a fairly weak PS2 game that employed a similarly endearing humor style — Splatterhouse even includes a shout-out to Evil Dead when you find the shotgun on the body of a guy who looks a lot like that franchise’s main character, Ash. In Splatterhouse’s case, the humor isn’t quite enough to push players all the way through the game like it was with Evil Dead, but it certainly helps.
It also helps that, while repetitive and fairly lacking in challenge, it is fun to beat the hell out of things, and in that way Splatterhouse reaches its goals. There are enough different moves and abilities, and Achievements and Trophies that encourage you to use them, that mix up combat pretty sufficiently in all cases. Splatterhouse also includes a Survival Mode, which is basically more of the same since the vast majority of the story mode is just surviving waves of enemies. The six stages include collectibles and achievements of their own, and coupled with amping up Rick with abilities, offer enough fun to keep you playing, at least for a while.
Namco’s reboot of this cult-classic series isn’t totally perfect, or polished, to say the least. It includes weird bugs and it puts way too much emphasis on the gore facet, which just doesn’t resonate all that well (the ’90s called — it wants its controversy back).
But it wins points for style, clarity of purpose and the ability to remind us of a simpler time when you only need two buttons to play a game. Splatterhouse almost can’t get out of its own way when it kills you needlessly or lets you pound through a boss fight without breaking a sweat, but when you get down to the nuts and bolts — literally ripping apart monsters in various ways with the comments of the Terror Mask and heavy metal chords echoing in your ears — it’s hard not to have a good time, despite everything, at least for a little while. Not awesome, but not awful, either.
- Competent 3D reboot of the classic beat-em-up genre
- Upgradeable fighting abilities augmented by achievements that get you mixing up your style
- Some over-the-top awesome gore moments, like tearing out enemies’ lungs
- Quality voice work
- Some fairly humorous moments
- Crazy and gross environments and art direction — there’s always something to look at
- Enemy type and fighting gets repetitive
- 2D portions, while a nice idea, are actually not much fun
- Underwhelming boss fights
- Real lack of challenge on anything but the highest difficulty, coupled with lots of cheap shots
- Story ultimately goes nowhere
- Seriously lame final boss
Final Score: 68
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