Every once in awhile it's nice to do a Frankenreview featuring a game that isn't considered to be a major blockbuster release. Hello, Splatterhouse.
I know what you're thinking. How could the remake on an 1988 arcade game be anything less than completely spectacular? Namco Bandai worked so hard on this game that the original developer had to close down, with several of its employees joining the new internal team to help finish it. That's a sign of quality right there, and if the assembled video game critics can't see that, then they're likely represented somewhere on this chart.
The remake of an 80s arcade title (that went on to appear on most home consoles of the 8 and 16 bit era), Splatterhouse starts out more or less the same way the original did – protagonist Rick is lying in a pool of his own blood (and, on closer examination, intestines) as Dr. West drags his girlfriend Jen away. An ancient mask offers Rick a deal: it'll help Rick save Jen if he puts on the mask and destroys West and his creations. From there it's a flashback to the gonzo horror sensibilities of the '80s VHS horror boom and movies like Return of the Living Dead, Night of the Demons, and Brain Dead – it's stupid and crass and it revels in it. There's even the obligatory frontal nudity as Rick finds fragments of pictures from Jen's purse, some intimate in nature.
I haven't harped terribly much on the mechanics of Splatterhouse because, quite frankly, I have a hard time remembering very many of them. At some point the specifics of the beat-'em-up gameplay all blend together into one big, gooey, red paste. Learning the game's basic combos and attacks is most certainly important, as is earning blood, which is your primary purchasing method for additional combos and special attacks. Odds are most players will never get to a point where they memorize all these attacks, since you rarely need the most complex ones outside of the game's hardest difficulty setting—which is a real bastard, by the way. More often, though, you can satisfactorily blow through each room full of zombie men, animal-esque mutants, and various other grotesqueries by button mashing to your heart's content.
As commendably as Splatterhouse sticks to its roots, the problem is that any potential variety in play comes from the player. The enemies are interchangeable walking hunks of meat to pummel. You can drop-kick them, amputate them, or shoot them, but Splatterhouse refuses to evolve along with Rick's abilities and, therefore, quickly gets old. Attempts to craft an arcing narrative, complete with intentionally lame philosophical discussions with your mask about the duality of man and the masks we all wear, fall flat. And the way Splatterhouse hops between disparate levels (in one instance you go from an amusement park filled with flame- and ice-breathing clowns to a decaying New York City) make the game feel needlessly disjointed. It's almost like Splatterhouse was originally intended to be portioned out as a downloadable title, with each of the worlds as an individual download — that would certainly have made the repetition much less apparent.
The game's comic book delivery is spot on and although perhaps lacking in the finer details, captures the essence perfectly. Rick's character in particular has some interesting features such as his flesh ripping and bones becoming exposed as he takes damage. Even his arm will grow back as you play if you suffer a critical blow. It all looks good and is married with some fast paced CGI scenes to add substance to the action. These are well produced and non intrusive and show Rick and Jen before his death and transformation.
On the plus side, Splatterhouse has a sense of humor and offers up some good campy fun. The relationship between Rick and the sarcastic Terror Mask is definitely worth a few laughs, especially since the mask is expertly voiced by veteran voice actor Jim Cummings (who unbelievably, has done multiple voices for Winnie the Pooh cartoons). Cummings is perfect in the role, sounding near exactly like the gravelly-voiced actor Michael Wincott in his role as the villainous crime boss in cult movie, The Crow. Aside from amusing writing and solid voiceover, if you're one of those people who spends your quiet time listening to bands like Lamb of God and Goat Whore (no, I'm not making those names up) then busting heads will be even more fun for you, because the the game is set to some seriously eardrum-bursting metal.