Can Splatterhouse throw enough internal organs, flesh-ripping kills and liquid gore to keep players interested in a middling beat 'em up adventure that full of gristle and bloodshed, but little meat?
Splatterhouse is a violent, excessively gory brawler, a mostly faithful retelling of Namco's 1988 side-scrolling schlock horror game, that's swimming in blood, guts and severed limbs. In this modern-day Splatterhouse, goateed metal head Rick Taylor and his girlfriend Jenny find themselves in a house of horrors made outlandishly perverse by "necrobiologist" Dr. Henry West. We're quickly thrust into the story, with Jenny kidnapped by West, Rick left for dead, and the mystical Terror Mask transforming our fallen hero into a hulking, torso-ripping, jean shorts-wearing weapon of vengeance. Rick and his mask set off on a blood-soaked beat 'em up adventure to rescue Jenny and, while he's at it, prevent the end of the world.
The beat 'em up fan who appreciates weird worlds, showers of blood and viscera set to heavy metal and doesn't really mind if a game doesn't play very well.
Why You Should Care
Maybe you're that serious of a Splatterhouse fan, one who has waited nearly two decades for a proper update. At least this game has the first three Splatterhouse games on the disc—but you'll have to play through this new Splatterhouse to unlock them.
How is this Splatterhouse like the originals? Story-wise, this game and the 1988 original are nearly identical. The new Splatterhouse tells a more interesting version of that story, however, with Rick bouncing through time and space, beyond the confines of Dr. West's mansion. Aesthetically, the new Splatterhouse makes strong allusions to the originals, with environments that drip gore, fleshy abominations to beat up, innards smashing against the walls, fanged sphincters as doors... wait was that in Splatterhouse in 1988? Regardless, there are even side-scrolling segments that trade 3D exploration for walking-to-the-right, beating-up-anything-in-your-path gameplay.
As a beat 'em up, is the combat any good? It's so-so. Rick and the Terror Mask can dish out light-heavy attack combos, throw thorny beasts or use familiar Splatterhouse weapons like a chainsaw, shotgun and two-by-four plank to thwack enemies. The grossly repetitive nature of a 10-hour-long beat 'em up like this gets some variation in the form of unlockable moves. And when Rick has absorbed enough blood from his eviscerated and decapitated foes, he can execute Berserker moves, essentially turning him into a bony, razor sharp blender of bad guys. One more way to spray liquid gore on the screen is to perform cinematic Splatterkills, which results in limb-tearing, head-squishing or torso-ripping displays of grisliness. Like this!
Great! Over the top violence! What's not to like? Oh, the main problem is that Splatterhouse is a bloody technical mess. The game suffers from long load times, a jittery frame rate, tons of visual, audio and gameplay glitches, mushy controls, absolutely terrible platforming sequences and iffy hit detection. During my playthrough, Splatterhouse locked up on me twice, forcing hard restarts, but other major bugs forced me to reload levels so that world geometry could load properly—too often, doors simply would not offer the option to open. Eventually, I began to question every design quirk, thinking "Is this a bug? Or am I simply missing some terribly designed visual cue?"
So there's a few bugs. Some games can overcome that and still be fun! Sadly, Splatterhouse is not one of those games. Combat is serviceable, but it's easy enough to blast through much of the game using basic combos. The 2D side-scrolling sequences may suffer most from the game's technical shortcomings, offering plenty of cheap, insta-kill deaths. 3D platforming sequences weren't much better. Having to suffer through 30-45 second load times after those confusing deaths only makes the experience worse. It's not like there are any memorable moments or cleverly designed battles to make up for the design failures here. Splatterhouse is largely a repetitive series of perfectly adequate fisticuffs, interspersed with gushing gore and frustrating gameplay.
Yikes. Anything else? Yes, the Terror Mask makes for a grating companion. He cracks wise with terrible, tiresome puns over and over and over again. "For a Dick, you are such a pussy!" the Terror Mask says to Rick at one point, the typical caliber of humor you can expect. Terror Mask does cut a few choice lines, making fourth wall-breaking quips about the game's M-rating and its splatter-filled style, but he's mostly annoying.
Well, are there any redeeming values? I liked Splatterhouse's visual style, a mix of cel-shaded cartoonish looking characters set in a bizarre world filled with giant, jaundiced eyeballs, creepy organic mush and mutated creatures. Blood spatters nicely and Rick takes damage in a graphically impressive fashion. Plus, you can beat monsters to a pulp with hacked off limbs, including Rick's own. Some people might enjoy the game's chief collectible, which are naked pictures of Rick's girlfriend Jenny, which I found to be an incredibly strange choice in this tale of love and graphic violence. But if you like nipples in your video games, Splatterhouse has 'em.
Splatterhouse In Action
See Rick go berserk at the very beginning of the game.
The Bottom Line
Splatterhouse is a massive disappointment, a game that's moderately stylish, proudly not for the squeamish, but bogged down by all sorts of technical flaws. From beginning to end, Splatterhouse does a decent job retelling an interesting tale of horror, dragging the player through some thoroughly disgusting locations. Splatterhouse expertly slakes one's virtual bloodlust, but doesn't satisfy with enjoyable gameplay. Ultimately, repetitive brawling, dull boss battles and a host of glitches make Splatterhouse a horrific experience for all the wrong reasons.
Splatterhouse was developed by BottleRocket Entertainment/Namco Bandai and published by Namco Bandai for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, released on November 23. Retails for $59.99 USD. A copy of the game was purchased by Kotaku for reviewing purposes. Played story mode to completion on Xbox 360 on "Coward" difficulty, replayed select levels on "Brutal" difficulty. Tested survival arenas.