Review: Splatterhouse (Microsoft Xbox 360)
by Mark B. on December 2, 2010

Splatterhouse
Genre: Action
Developer: Namco Bandai
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Release Date: 11/23/2010

I imagine this is not a surprise in any way, but I am a fan of Splatterhouse as a series. The only reason I owned a Turbografx-16 at any point was to own the first game. I’ve beaten all three of the US releases, gotten the best and worst endings in Splatterhouse 3, and downloaded the games and beat them, again, as soon as they were released on the VC. I mean hell, look at the staff picture, isn’t it obvious? So, to say that I’ve been looking forward to Namco Bandai’s relaunch of the franchise since it was announced is an understatement. Following the game through numerous delays and the removal of BottleRocket Games from the project in favor of an in-house developer was somewhat demoralizing and kind of made me wonder if the game would ever see the light of day, but a playable demo at E3, which I was pleased with, reaffirmed my faith that the game would indeed be coming out, and would indeed be a good time. Well, some four months after the fact, Splatterhouse is finally here, ready to be played, and as reboots of franchises go, it’s a solid effort. Granted, Splatterhouse as a series was a fairly blank slate, leaving the developers with plenty of room to work, so any additions and updates applied are generally going to be made in the interest of updating a series that hasn’t been touched in about fifteen years, so really, the developers had a lot of room to work. That said, the game isn’t going to be a winner for everyone, fans and newcomers alike, and while it’s not a bad game by any means, it has certain hurdles to overcome.

Fans of the series will have a pretty good idea of how the story works here, but for everyone else, the gist is that you play as Rick, your girlfriend Jennifer has been kidnapped, and a mask has made you superhuman so you can save her. This is more or less how all of the games have worked, though Splatterhouse adds some depth to that concept, and surprisingly enough, actually makes it work. You take on the role of Rick Taylor, a scrawny nerdy college kid who decides, for whatever reason, to accompany his girlfriend, one Jennifer Willis, on her visit to the estate of one Herbert Henry West on the outskirts of Arkham, as she wants to interview him for their college paper at Miskatonic University. This ends about as well as you’d expect with so much Lovecraftian name-dropping: Rick is fatally wounded by a monster and Jennifer is kidnapped. Oops. In the process, Rick disrupts a bunch of ancient artifacts and finds a ceremonial bone mask… that starts talking to him. The mask makes Rick a deal: if Rick puts the mask on, the mask will heal his wounds and give him the power to save Jennifer. Dying and out of options, Rick does this thing and becomes a hulking monstrosity bent on saving his girlfriend, while slaughtering as many demons as possible along the way. While the story is your typical “save your girlfriend” fare, the original games were also this thing, and the story here actually manages to keep that concept intact while also adding enough to it that the story becomes interesting enough to carry the experience along. Rick and the Terror Mask have an interesting dynamic with one another that works well and adds flavor to the experience, as does having an actual enemy to face in Henry West, and the way the storyline wraps everything together and justifies how everything has come to pass is interesting and works out well. I mean, granted, the game is full of more profanity than a Quentin Tarantino film, but that doesn’t mean it’s not funny profanity in context, and while you’re not likely to want to read a novel of the game’s exploits, the story works and that’s what’s most important.

Splatterhouse looks good for the most part, though some aspects are better than others. Rick is very well animated, as are his enemies both large and small, and when the combat visuals work, they work great. Rick is absolutely a monster in action, both in normal and Berserk forms, and he absolutely lays waste to everything in spectacular fashion, both normally and during Splatterkills, which are often gruesome and satisfying. The monsters are also well animated, and the game features little touches like Rick featuring visual trauma on his person when injured and such that help bring the game to life. The environments are also generally plenty nice to look at and are sufficiently varied, and you’re not stuck staring at the same bland color palette for the whole game as there’s plenty of variety from one location to the next. However, the camera tends to have issues in cramped locations at times, the blood is often so great in quantity that it stops looking impressive and starts looking stupid, and the game will occasionally glitch and not properly display an animation, such as Rick initiating a Splatterkill and the enemy just standing there until the very end, for example. Aurally, Splatterhouse is generally more successful all around, though, again, your mileage may vary. The voice acting is outstanding, almost entirely because of one Jim Cummings playing the part of the Terror Mask, so, yes, Tigger/Darkwing Duck is now informing you that you need obliterate monsters in the crudest manner possible and that’s pretty great. The in-game music is one part remixes of the original tunes from the prior games, which is awesome, and one part metal from bands like Five Finger Death Punch and Mastodon, which is… less awesome. I mean, I like metal as much as the next person, but here it just seems forced and doesn’t work in the way the developers intended, coming off as something tacked on instead of something interesting. The sound effects all sound good, especially when dismembering and obliterating enemies, as various sickening sounds of the rending and tearing of wet meat accompany Rick’s Splatterkills and lend a convincing feel to the proceedings.

Splatterhouse is fairly simple to pick up, due in large part to the fact that the game eases you into the experience and spreads the tutorial elements out a good bit as you go along. The left stick moves Rick around while the right stick adjusts the camera. The X button is mapped to a weak attack, the Y button to a strong attack, the B button to a grapple, and the A button to jumping. The right trigger allows you to sprint forward for fast movement or combat actions, the right bumper allows you to block and dodge around, the left trigger allows you to perform special attacks in conjunction with the X, Y and B buttons, and the left bumper kicks in Berserk mode, which we’ll address shortly. You can string the X and Y buttons together to generate combos and charge Y button attacks for added damage, and as you play through the game and Rick improves, you’ll be able to increase and vary those combos a good bit. You’ll also find that you can add things like the ability to attack immediately after coming out of a dodge or while sprinting, for example, which adds some useful variety to the gameplay. You can also press Up on the D-pad to use “Mask Vision”, which shows you your next target, or Down to pick up and drop weapons you’ll find throughout the game world, depending on whether or not you need the assistance. The game also occasionally throws in some side-scrolling segments as a nod to the original games, which work in more or less the same capacity, except that there is no up or down movement to speak of. Otherwise, these segments use the exact same controls, just on a 2D plane, and while this might take a little getting used to, it works well enough.

Splatterhouse‘s most vaunted “original” element is that of the Splatterkill. Basically, if you’ve seen God of War or any of the games it’s inspired, you know how this works: after damaging an enemy enough, it gets stunned and you can run up on it and press a button to initiate an Active Time Event that kills it more violently than normal. Splatterhouse is no different, as by kicking in the Splatterkills, Rick will smash monster heads between his meaty hands, rip arms out of their sockets, and in one instance, rip out a monster’s lower intestine through its sphincter. Yup. This also earns you additional Blood when done successfully. Blood serves two purposes: first, it charges the Necro Meter, which powers all of your special attacks. You can burn Necro energy to perform moves that drain enemy life energy and add it to your own, slice enemies to pieces with wrist-mounted blades, and so on, at the cost of one bar. You can also kick in Berserk Mode when you have three or more bars, which turns Rick into a hulking version of his already jacked-out self, which is invincible and can do massive damage to enemies, though this only lasts a short time, so you’ll want to make it count. Blood also acts as your experience points, as you can use Blood to upgrade your skills, as noted before. You can buy various upgrades, such as added combos, more health and Necro space, upgrades to weapon durability, and so on, as you see fit, allowing you to make Rick even more of a killing machine as you play.

Splatterhouse also tries to vary things up a bit by having you go through some gameplay segments outside of the normal “beat everything you see to death” segments that make up the main game. Several stages will place you in side scrolling segments, in an homage to the original game, complete with easily destroyed enemies, traps to avoid and pits to jump over. These sections are mostly about dodging traps and such than anything else, but they’re fun enough in small doses. The game also sporadically pops in jumping puzzle segments, though these are really more like less obvious Active Time Events than anything else. Basically, an object in the environment will shine, allowing Rick to jump to it when you press the appropriate direction and the Jump button. You’ll then have to aim Rick at the next location you’ll have to jump to and jump to that until you reach your destination. Some are timed by way of the item you’re hanging onto being in danger of falling at any moment, while others are simply about dodging obstacles and such while you’re making the jumps, depending on the stage. The game also offers a survival mode for you to plow through as you complete stages in the single player campaign. Each one is twenty rounds and mimics a stage from the main story, as well as enemies that appear in that stage in increasingly difficult waves. The faster you clear the stages, the better your score, though you can also complete various hidden objectives, such as not taking damage for a set time or crushing a specific amount of Boreworms for Blood, to earn yourself extra weapons to use to even up your odds a bit. The higher your score, the more Blood you earn toward upgrading Rick’s abilities, so you’ll want to run through the missions as fast as possible if you can.

The main game can be completed in around ten hours, more or less, with the Survival missions probably taking around another three hours to complete in total. The main game offers three different difficulty modes to go through, however, and each one adds to your overall game completion score. There are also hidden picture pieces of Jennifer to collect (which the game explains that she left behind as a trail to follow) and gramophone recordings Dr. West has left behind to find, and you can assemble pics of Jennifer in Survival mode as well if you can survive all twenty rounds of each mission. For every ten percent of the game you complete, you’re awarded a page of Dr. West’s journal, which increases the overall amount of story information you’re given, as many of the bits of information you learn past the first seven pages is information the game doesn’t explore, so fans of the storyline will find this interesting. There are also plenty of achievements to earn, many of which will take multiple playthroughs to unlock, and the game has already received DLC in the form of more Survival missions and masks to download for your amusement. As such, Splatterhouse offers a pretty decent amount of content to keep you coming back, whether you’re an achievement fan or not, and if content volume is your thing, you’ll have plenty to play with here. Oh, and it comes with all three of the original Splatterhouse games on the disc, as an added bonus, and they’re all easily unlocked by playing through the main game, so if you never played them before, NOW YOU CAN! They’re still surprisingly fun fifteen years after the fact, though the first two will require a steeper learning curve than the third.

That said, Splatterhouse has several issues to it that make it hard to recommend to fans and newcomers alike. First off, the side scrolling segments aren’t very fun. There are numerous places where Rick can die in one hit in these segments, which sends you back to the beginning of the segment and forces you to try again, which is in complete contrast to the rest of the game. This wouldn’t be SO bad except for the fact that the game is a MAJOR loader; with the game installed, it takes thirty or so seconds for stages to load up, and without I’ve seen loading times as long as a minute, which is a major no-no in this day and age. Having to wait through thirty seconds of loading each time the game one-shots you is simply going to be annoying, especially if it happens three or four times in one section. The few jumping puzzle sections that come up also aren’t very fun, either because they’re obtuse in design and often result in instant kills, or because the mechanics don’t work as well as they should and, again, result in instant kills, neither of which is enjoyable in the least. The Active Time Events that pop up also often don’t allow for much time to react, which is fine to a point when dealing with Splatterkills, which are bonuses that aren’t required, but less fine when dealing with boss fights that make this mandatory, especially when you have to whittle the boss’ health down again as a result.

Beyond that, as a fan of the original games, while it’s obvious that the series had to make concessions to modern technology and appealing to current gamers, it’s hard to look at what the game is as a fan and be totally okay with it. Like I mentioned before, just because I’m a fan of metal music doesn’t mean that I want it in this game where it doesn’t really fit right, and frankly, I know at least two people who hate metal music and are fans of the series. What was the point there? It’s not like the bands included have such a fanbase that including the music will instantly sell the game to fans, and the normal in-game music is outstanding, so what was the point? Further, why is Jennifer naked in like seventy five percent of the pictures you pick up? I have no problem whatsoever with video game nudity, but I literally don’t get the point of this except to just have it in there. I can kind of understand the mentality that the game is trying to be tasteless, like some sort of modernized grindhouse experience, complete with nudity, blood, and profanity all over the place, but there’s a point where you just kind of stop being shocked and start laughing at how absurd it all is, and Splatterhouse reaches that point pretty early on. By the end of the first stage you’ll have seen a picture of Jen naked in the shower, covered the walls in blood multiple times and ripped a monster’s head off with its own tentacle-like arm. Where do you go from there? The earlier games were effective because they progressively got weirder and more grotesque, while this game starts out there and only manages to shock the player with the aforementioned lower intestine removal bit. It’s like the developers had a good idea where to start and no idea where to go from there. They weren’t interested enough in straight-on going nuts with things but wanted the game to be over the top, and the end result is a game that’s over the top for about one stage and then mostly just kind of throws blood and cursing around from there.

Splatterhouse is a good game and all, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t take much effort to see where the game could have been great, either by excising elements that didn’t work or by exercising a little imagination, and the end result is a game that will likely please fans of the series to a point, as well as fans of 3D beat-em-ups in general, but doesn’t do anything to really make it stand out. The story is generally written well enough and is reminiscent of the old games while managing to update itself for the modern era, and the game looks and sounds good all in all. The game is fun to play as you rend enemies asunder, and there is enough variety to the gameplay to keep it interesting throughout the whole game and beyond. There’s also plenty of content in the game, with pictures to collect, difficulty modes and Survival missions to plow through and achievements to unlock, so you’ll find plenty to do to justify the asking price. However, the platforming sections are often full of one-hit kills and the jumping sections are similar, and since the loading time is noticeably harsh, this makes these segments of the game far more frustrating than they need to be. Further, the active time sequences don’t really offer a lot of time to react, and the game doesn’t really seem to have an idea of what it’s trying to do, as it does things that will and won’t appeal to old-school fans and it’s apparently trying to be tasteless and shocking, but not to a level that’s actually tasteless and shocking. Splatterhouse is fun to play, though, and frankly, that forgives a lot of its flaws, and the end result is a game that’s entertaining and fun, though not quite the classic fans might have been hoping for.

The Scores:
Story: GOOD
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: GOOD
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: CLASSIC
Balance: ABOVE AVERAGE
Originality: MEDIOCRE
Addictiveness: GREAT
Appeal: MEDIOCRE
Miscellaneous: GOOD
FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Splatterhouse is a solid reinvention of the franchise that’s fun to play and honors the franchise enough that both fans and newcomers should be able to enjoy it, but some issues in both mechanics and theme prevent it from being as good as it could have been. The story is solid and remains faithful to the original concept while fleshing it out enough for modern audiences, and the visuals and audio are both pretty good, though not perfect. The game is easy enough to play from the get-go and there’s plenty of variety to the combat, and the game mixes things up enough to keep the game interesting as it goes along. There’s plenty of content in the product, between multiple difficulty levels, Survival mode stages, and achievements and pictures to find and unlock, and if you’re interested in what the game has to offer it gives you plenty of reasons to come back to it. That said, the platforming and jumping puzzle segments are littered with instant death segments, which becomes problematic because the loading time hurts, frankly, whether the game is installed or not. The active time sequences don’t give you a lot of time to react, either, and while the game has interesting artistic elements, it doesn’t seem to have an idea of what it wants to be, as it seems like it’s trying to be shocking and offensive, but it never manages to get to that point because it starts off bloody and profane and never really raises the bar beyond that. If you can overlook its flaws Splatterhouse is fun to play, and it’s great to see another entry in the series after so long, but some time spent focusing on what the game is supposed to be and ironing out the technical issues would be of great benefit to the game if and when a sequel is announced.



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