E3 2010 First Impressions: Splatterhouse (Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PS3)

I’ve been a big fan of the Splatterhouse series for several years. The first game was one of the very few reasons I was ever interested in owning a TurboGrafx-16, and it was a fun and horrific game in a sea of otherwise generic crap. The second game, while it was in many respects a retread of the first, was as much fun as its predecessor and neatly resolved the story of the first game with a somewhat happier ending for fans of that game. The third game was a distinct departure from the prior two, and featured a whole new play style that focused more on pure beat-em-up mechanics over the odd platforming action style of the first two games, and added new mechanics like the ability for Rick (the main character) to transform into a hulking brute for added damage and timers that changed the story as you progressed. After the third game, the series went on hiatus for more than a decade, causing much dismay amongst fans of the series, myself included, but with the announcement of a sequel said fans have been drooling with anticipation for quite a while. After the removal of Bottle Rocket as the development team, worries arose of the game being put on an indefinite hiatus or worse, but Namco Bandai seems committed to releasing the game this year come hell or high water, as there was a functional playable demo available at this year’s E3, in addition to a fairly large and imposing statue of the main protagonist. Having spent a significant amount of time with the playable demo on the floor, for those fans who are worried about the overall fate of the game considering all of the delays and issues involved, I can safely say that this is a title to look forward to in the coming months.

Fans of the series are probably already aware of this, but Splatterhouse is meant to be something of a reimagining of the first game in the series, and as such, the story is more or less the same: Rick and Jennifer pay a visit to the mansion of Doctor West, only to be assaulted by his monstrous creations. Jennifer is kidnapped and Rick is mortally wounded, but before he expires, the Terror Mask appears to him and offers him the power to survive and save Jennifer should Rick wear the mask, and Rick, out of options, obliges. The story and concept have been expanded significantly beyond this, by all indications, in a number of ways that help to make this feel more like a reimagined new start than a simple remake. Instead of the mask simply making Rick into a somewhat muscular Jason Voorhees clone, the new game has bulked him up considerably, making him into a large hulking behemoth in his own right. Further, instead of the game taking place in a dilapidated West Mansion exclusively, the game takes place in several environments that have been infested by West’s minions, allowing the game a greater amount of diversity in its locales than its predecessors. On the downside, this also modernizes Rick and Jennifer a bit, meaning that Rick now wears jean shorts, a chain wallet and high-tops instead of his usual duds, but overall the changes made to the aesthetic and concepts are for the better and make the game really feel like a successor to the older Splatterhouse titles while allowing it to feel like its own product.

The gameplay essentially feels like an evolution of the gameplay from Splatterhouse 3, and for the most part, this is a very good thing. Rick has a light and a heavy attack which can be chained together into various brutal combinations to inflict massive damage on enemies that assault him. In addition, he can grapple enemies, which allows him to toss around weaker enemies and perform more involved attacks on enemies who are closer to his size, allowing him to deal massive damage in a hurry. The game also allows you to modify Rick’s attacks with the triggers for added options in battle. The right trigger allows Rick to dash in at an enemy, allowing him to hit them with wicked dashing attacks or tackles that allow him to lump on the enemy while they’re pinned under his massive frame. The left trigger and bumper are tied to a rage meter of sorts that charges as Rick defeats enemies, allowing him to mutate into a more hideous version of himself, again, as in Splatterhouse 3. Pressing the bumper when the bar is fully charged turns him into his mutated self for a set period of time, allowing him to rend enemies asunder with bony attachments to his body and increased power, while pressing the trigger and a button allows a heavy damage attack that can massively hurt enemies or drain health into him, at the cost of one segment of the bar. These additions, though simple, add some useful depth to the gameplay and make the experience a lot more fun than it would be without them.

The demo also showcases some other elements to the game aside from the simple beat-em-up mechanics, some of which are more interesting than others. The game incorporates various Active Time Events (of course) when beating the mess out of enemies, be it for painful grapples or finishing combinations and such, as one would expect at this point in this sort of a game. The game also allows Rick to pick up various weapons for added damage, though in an interesting twist the weapons aren’t simply hatchets and boards, as I discovered when I ripped an enemy’s arm off only to wield it like a club. There are side-scrolling platformer-like stages dumped into the game in-between the regular combat sections, which seem to be a nod to the gameplay of the original platforming sections of Splatterhouse, and while these sections of the game don’t play quite as well as the rest (or as the games they’re trying to emulate), they’re fun enough for what they are. The game is also unapologetically “metal” in its design, between the grotesque imagery, the heavy metal soundtrack and the immense amount of gore in every part of the demo I played, which is a noticeable deviation from the roots of the series, though it has its own appeal to it that’s interesting all the same.

If the E3 demo was any indication, Splatterhouse is looking to be shaping up nicely for its October release. Stay tuned for any further updates and look for a review when the game hits store shelves this year.

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