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SummaryClassic beat-em-up action.
The GoodAt this point, I’m well aware that this game has received less than favorable reviews. With any luck, I can give a nice, clear point of view that makes some sense concerning this game. Because, quite frankly, I thought it was a blast. But to put this in perspective, I think I’ll compare it—best I can—with similar titles and show what did and didn’t work.
The first thing I loved about Splatterhouse when I fired it up and gave it a go was the brief, though well-made opening cinematic as the game started out, coupled with the detailed and impressive character animations during loading screens. Jumping in, I found that I had pretty much endless fun through the first stage and felt instantly that my money was well spent.
Splatterhouse has always been a beat-em-up style game, though, the first two—back on the TurboGrafx-16 and Genesis—are pretty rough beat-em-up formulas and lacking in some of the visual depth common with the genre, such as being able to move into the background to attack enemies coming at you from a variety of directions. They were built more on memorization of enemy locations and simply knowing when to punch and when to jump. This new revamp falls in-line with modern beat-em-up and hack-n-slash games such as the Conan game that launched early this generation, as well as the modern Ninja Gaiden, Devil May Cry, and God of War titles. Splatterhouse has something in common with pretty much all of these.
Like the Conan game and God of War, Splatterhouse features a combo and special move upgrade system that is purchased as the player moves through the game earning currency—here it’s blood. And like Conan, there is some sexy stuff to find and collect in each stage, here being pieces of sexy (sometimes with nudity) pictures of Rick’s girlfriend, Jennifer, rather than the mostly-nude women Conan rescued. And, like Conan and God of War there are quick-time events and ample bloodshed and gore.
Unlike Conan, however, the quick-time events aren’t hair-pulling trials in absurdity. In fact, the quick-time events in this game, I felt, were really very forgiving—often allowing what I would call, ample time for use. They’re also quick, and not the lengthy, headache-inducing sequences found in Conan (which is one of that game’s biggest failings). Rather than pressing Y, then X, then A, then Y, then B, then X, and failing at the end only to be forced to re-enact everything all over again to cause minor damage to a boss, quick-time events here are usually along the lines of “press B, hold ‘down’ on both analog sticks.” If you screw it up, you screw it up—there’s no overt punishment for failure like there is in Conan or God of War. Just start again. For once, I actually enjoyed the quick-time events. Usually these are queued to perform fatalities (Splatterkills) on enemies, or to finish off a boss character.
The beat-em-up action translates and plays exactly as I had hoped. Rick moves easily and has a lively animation about him. There are quick attacks, strong attacks, a grapple, a jump, a charge attack, and what is essentially a modifier button. So there’s some depth and variety to the gameplay. Usually, this boils down to nonsensical button-mashing in many games of these kinds with many of the moves being largely interchangeable on enemies. I know that playing through Ninja Gaiden II on the Xbox 360, I felt that the game was nothing but brainless button mashing with a heavy emphasis on whether or not luck was on my side. Like all games of this kind, that’s still true to a point. But enemies are varied enough to keep things interesting. Some require the charge attack, most don’t. Some will deflect charge attacks, requiring a little more tact (such as the using the dodge/roll move to get close). Some enemies can’t even be touched physically by Rick, requiring weapon attacks or using other enemies as weapons. Tapping two buttons over and over here will generally not work. Tapping the X button over and over again in Ninja Gaiden II made up 90% of the damn game. Every boss could be attacked with just mashing the Y button, except when I was forced to use the bow (which was something I only figured out when I broke down and used an online walkthrough). Here? Not so much.
Now, Rick takes monumental amounts of damage. In a game like Ninja Gaiden II, where it wasn’t uncommon to watch a regular enemy combo ¾ of my life bar away, the bar was refilled automatically so long as I didn’t earn too much “permanent damage.” Here, players may choose at any time to refill their life bar. Let me explain: Rick has a Berserker mode that has bony spikes and blades protruding from his body. Use of this mode uses up one part of a segmented meter shown below the life bar, and this meter is filled up by killing, and Splatterkilling enemies. Occasionally, with the modifier button, other attacks can be used that use a single segment of the Berserker energy bar. One of the moves causes Rick to siphon blood and life from enemies in the room—damaging them and giving Rick life. Using this often requires strategy, and an attention to detail as Rick’s life bar can go from full to null pretty quickly.
Boss battles are generally pretty good and varied. Several monstrous characters are introduced in boss battles of sorts, then later show up crowding stages as regular enemies. Arguably the most impressive boss battle is the revival of the “Biggy Man” character from the original Splatterhouse. He’s the guy with the sack over his head, and chainsaw blades jutting out from his wrists. This battle is dark, varied, and gruesome—and a total blast. One of the enemies introduced as a boss is this dog-like creature which features… well, one hell of a finishing move. Let’s just say there’s some serious “probing” going on to finish that one.
Several segments of most of the stages are played in a 2-D side-scrolling plane, same as the first two games in the series way back in the day. These are the only sections of the game featuring any platforming. For the most part, it’s not too challenging, just requiring some careful timing and quick reflexes, jumping over pits or dodging rotating blades. Most enemies in these segments die with a single hit. These throwback segments also feature some great throwback music.
Sound effects are great, and the music and art direction are very fitting to the game’s overall style and theme. Lovecraftian designs and inspiration coat the bulk of the game, and it does manage to deliver a lot of unique visuals and style.
One of the best parts of this game comes from some very lively character dialog between Rick and the Terror Mask (voiced by the guy that did Disney’s Darkwing Duck). The conversations and voice acting are pretty solid and often, very funny and entertaining. The tutorial segments, and most of the story arc are told through these conversations.
Also, the original three Splatterhouse games are on here, emulated in their original form. While none of these three games are exactly perfect, it's cool that they're all on here. Be warned, though, the first two games are pretty brutal--not in a "splattery" sorta way--but they're rough in their concept, and not very forgiving in their difficulty. The only one I've ever finished is the first, but then, I put a lot more time into that one than the other two.
The BadThere are two major issues with Splatterhouse. One of them is, as far as I’m concerned, is pretty inexcusable in this day and age. And that’s the loading times. While stages play pretty smoothly without ever stopping to load (a problem Team Ninja has with all their games), the initial loading times, and the loading times after deaths are simply atrocious. It doesn’t matter how cool the animation sequence is during the loading screen, eventually, it just goes on way too long. I’m talking up to a minute or more on some of these.
This can be especially frustrating during a few sequences where death occurs painfully easily. One area was literally right on a checkpoint requiring some bizarrely timed jump from one ledge to a building across a street—as a platform falls out from under the player. It took 5 seconds to screw up the jump and die, and a minute to reload the sequence so I could die in another 5 seconds. Why, just why couldn’t they have programmed this crap to have the sequence preloaded to the checkpoint? But no, instead, there’s a crap-ton of loading and waiting going on. This problem occurs a couple times over the course of the game—some relatively cheap deaths made all the worse by frustrating loading times.
One way this game fails where the original games succeeded is in enemy character design. While several look spectacular (Biggy Man for instance), and there are designs and elements in the game that are very creative, too many of the enemies are either bi-pedal “zombie” things or quadruped little monsters. Take a look online at some of the enemy character designs (if unfamiliar) in the original games. All of them featured bloated, creepy, monstrous beasts that were the kinds of designs only describable in words by H.P. Lovecraft himself. Nasty worms with feet standing upright, fleshy Jabba the Hutt-style roving human-ish blobs, worm-infested living internal organs, bodies twisted together, and all manner of unsightly horror weirdness. None of those more ghastly and creepy enemies show up here, and all-too-often, the game resorts to somewhat generic “man-zombie” designs. Given the franchise’s history for shocking graphical presentations, some of this stuff just feels uninventive or lame. Background designs and such have some redeeming value, and a mini-boss character that’s little more than a gigantic twitching eyeball aren’t bad, but the previous games showed so much more graphic and grotesque creativity.
The game is a little on the short side, which may be a bummer for a lot of people.
The Bottom LineWell, there’s my take. Now, clearly, Splatterhouse is not going to appeal to everyone. I like B-horror movies, underground splatter cinema, and quite a few things that exist on the edges of society. This is where Splatterhouse belongs. It’s like a B-game that revels in it’s very un-mainstream nature. Kinda like Friday the 13th films (where this series once took ample inspiration), or personal favorite, Evil Dead 2. It has a lot in common with other modern beat-em-up/hack-n-slash titles, and for what it’s worth, I think this game is a lot more fun than Ninja Gaiden II, which I found to be largely frustrating and painfully clichéd. And I think Splatterhouse is a lot better than the Conan game which suffered from some of the worst quicktime events imaginable, and some of the crappiest and most illogical (broke the rules of the game, essentially) boss battles in recent history.
But Splatterhouse is not for everyone. If you take your narratives too seriously… or prefer vastly more ridiculous anime themes, this likely won’t appeal to you. The game, like many these days, revels in violence and bloody gore, and if that’s a turn-off for you, then again, skip this one.
Now, the short length? The campaign mode will run about 8-10 hours or so, and beyond that are a series of Survival modes. But, despite the somewhat short length and negatives I listed, I found this game to be, overall, extremely fun and entertaining. The beat-em-up action was exactly what I was hoping for, and the action was awesome and varied. It’s rare for me these days to play through a game more than once (I have too many games, and so many are just too damn long), but with Splatterhouse I did just that. Partly due to it’s general shortness, but mostly because it really is so much fun to play. As it stands, it’s my best game where Achievements are concerned having earned 46 out of 50 (no, I’ve never gotten 100% of Achievements in any game—I just don’t have the time for the dedication anymore). Unlike Ninja Gaiden II or Devil May Cry 4, the Achievements here don’t border on absurd daring to be impossible. Ninja Gaiden II features several for playing through the game using only a single weapon the whole time—which is just asinine considering how useless some of them are—but also a testament to the mindless button-mash nature of the game in that the weapons are largely interchangeable.
Frankly, I like shorter games. I grew up in a day and age where a game could be finished in 20 minutes (like the original Contra), and was still considered worth $50. We live in an era where we drop $25 for a DVD or Blu-Ray for 84 minutes of Hollywood dreck. So $60 for ten or so hours of entertainment is easy for me to stomach. Still, I could see this selling at a $50 price point, and that being a more reasonable deal. But like I said, I don’t have ample time for gaming these days. I have lots of games across lots of systems, so being able to cruise through a game fairly quickly, and being able to round up a good number of Achievements in that time equates to some good value to me. And again, I think the game is a lot of fun. Plus, don't forget that the original three games are still in here--they just don't have any Achievements of their own (which is a shame).
Like any B-movie horror shlock, it’s somewhat imperfect, and nowhere near trying to showcase itself as some AAA high-profile release. But like many of those schlocky B-horror flicks, Splatterhouse is visceral, unique fun while it lasts. If you like ample action and beat-em-up gaming, and don’t mind the gore (if you don’t love it), then you really can’t go wrong here. Again, I think it’s more fun than Ninja Gaiden II and Conan, less absurd than Devil May Cry 4, and generally very entertaining. Note: It’s not as good as God of War.