Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Splatterhouse Retrospective



I've loved the Splatterhouse franchise for as long as I can remember. Growing up in the 1980's amidst a steady stream horror movies and pizza parlor brawlers like Double Dragon, when Splatterhouse first arrived I felt like it had been created just for me. "It's a game where you play as Jason!" was the general description and review it first received from everyone in the neighborhood. It was a gruesome and "controversial" game at the time, in an era long before video game violence was fodder for network news.

With so many incarnations, a few sequels, and a reboot, I wanted to pen a short retrospective on what I feel is an important series of entries in the horror gaming sub-genre. Check out my full write-up after the jump.


Splatterhouse:

Chainsaw-hands dude has chainsaws for hands

The original that started it all. Unleashed in 1988, Splatterhouse made its way to American arcades in 1989. A side-scrolling beat' em up; the game pushed the established limits of violence and gore for its day. The story involves Rick and his girlfriend Jennifer visiting the West Mansion for a college project. They are attacked by a demon who kidnaps Jennifer and leaves Rick to die. He is subsequently brought back by the Terror Mask, which bears a striking resemblance to Jason Voorhees' iconic hockey mask. From there, it's a seven stage slog of punching, kicking, chopping, and splattering as you fight to rescue Jenny.

Definitely not for everyone, or the faint of heart. The original pushed the envelope on a lot of levels. Exploding corpses, embryonic fluid, decapitations and dismemberment, along with turning the "rescue the damsel" trope on its head in a horrific way. Completely unique at the time, it felt deservedly eerie sitting in the back corner of a dark, smoky arcade. It's the type of situation that just can't be re-created in today's era of digital download gaming.

Splatterhouse in its most raw form was a little too bold for home consoles (even in Japan), so when it eventually ported to Turbografix-16 (and later the PC and Wii virtual console) what arrived was still a splatter-fest, but a toned down one. A lot of the stuff featuring fetuses, along with Christian/anti-Christian imagery was altered or removed entirely, and in the US, the Terror Mask was redesigned into a red and black tribal design. This was likely to keep Paramount from suing Namco into oblivion.

Fortunately, you can grab copies of this game for extremely cheap if you own a Wii or pick up the 2010 reboot (more on that shortly) on 360/PS3. The re-make contains all the classic titles as bonuses, including an arcade perfect rendition of the original! That makes it my go-to suggestion since you can score it for a song these days from Amazon or other retailers.

Splatterhouse 2:

Rick solving problems with violence. Like a boss.

The official sequel. By 1992 Sega had established the Genesis (or Mega Drive if you're across the pond) as the 'edgy' console. It was willing to take risks and provide more mature content that the family-friendly SNES wouldn't touch. This made it the perfect platform for Splatterhouse 2. An official sequel, but only a slight twist on the original story. I always felt this paralleled the progression of The Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2, which seemed rather fitting. In this chapter the Terror Mask lures Rick into the West Mansion once more with the temptation of bringing Jennifer back to life. What ensues is more gooey gore, weapons from a hardware store, and an elevator stage. Overall, still fun but nothing groundbreaking.

Splatterhouse 3:

MONSTER MONTAGE!

In 1993 the trilogy was formed and Splatterhouse 3 significantly switched up the pitch. Taking place roughly five years since the events of the previous game, Rick and Jennifer are now happily married and have a son named David. They also live in a mansion in Connecticut since Rick is apparently a Wallstreet tycoon.  Of course, like most houses in New England, the place is infested with demons who want to destroy families and sacrifice children. Being from Connecticut, this held a special place in my heart since they really nailed the stereotype.
Gameplay in Splatterhouse 3 changed up to "2.5-D" and added a host of features like non-linear stages, a map with alternate paths, and power up orbs that let Rick change into a new monstrous form who could choke hold creatures and throw cinder blocks 100 feet. Totally awesome.
This also marked the first time a Splatterhouse game had multiple endings that would be determined by defeating levels within a certain time limit.  The third entry definitely revitalized the franchise with some new mechanics while staying true to its beat 'em up horror roots.

Splatterhouse (2010):

The Terror Mask is the Letter O...GENIUS!

 REBOOT! A little over 20 years after slashing its way into existence, Splatterhouse got a full makeover. This one is a fully 3D brawler, with far more advanced mechanics and gameplay, building on a lot of queues taken from Splatterhouse 3. The story is a more fully fleshed out re-envisioning, written by Gordon Rennie of 'Judge Dredd' and 'Warhammer' fame. It also features voiced dialogue with some great work by Jim Cummings as the Terror Mask. 

I quite enjoyed this game. It has some technical faults like wonky camera angles, but it's so over-the-top and ridiculous that the fun factor more than compensates. Additionally, it includes all the previous titles, most notably the uncensored arcade edition of the original. Getting the entire franchise on one disc is more than worth the current bargain bin price. Also, if you're a heavy metal fan, the soundtrack is pretty legit, featuring some great bands like Municipal Waste and Goatwhore.

In Conclusion:

Splatterhouse  occupies a special place in gaming history. It's never going to grace any "Top 100" lists as a technical marvel, and even fans of genres like survival horror may scoff at it. I like to think of it as the "Troma of video games" because it's for people who can look past production values to enjoy campy, gross, fun. As of this article, there is even a new world record holder for Splatterhouse. Caitlin Oliver set a world record at her local arcade which is in tight contention. If anyone reading this has never played Splatterhouse before, go pick up a copy and enjoy one of the most infamous series in horror gaming history.





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