by: Dr. Boogie
One of my all-time favorite games series has got to be Splatterhouse. They aren't games for everybody by any stretch of the imagination, but this series has a style all its own. Except for the Jason Voorhees style mask, but I digress.
In the late 80s, somewhere deep in the heart of Japan, a thought occurred: Friday the 13th was a great movie, but what if you could play as the hulking, machete-wielding mother-lover and fight off waves of hideous monsters? It was pure genius, and it stood to reason that a game would soon follow. Thus, Splatterhouse was born. I may have taken some liberties with the story, but to the best of my knowledge, that is how it came to be.
I relish any opportunity to talk more about these games, and so I bring to you this brief history of the Splatterhouse series, from its humble beginnings as a 2D side scroller to its transformation into a 3D brawler in 2010.
When Splatterhouse first came out, people didn't know what to do with it. Pounding a zombie's head in with your first, before picking up a meat cleaver and slicing another monster in 'twain? These kinds of things were unheard of in the distant year of 1988. Sure, games like Narc would give you the opportunity to blast homeless people to pieces with a rocket launcher, but Splatterhouse took a more intimate approach to its graphic violence.
It was so successful that a port to home consoles was all but inevitable. Unfortunately, a sanitizing for the home audience was also inevitable. First and foremost, the look of the iconic mask was changed to make it a little less copyright infringement-y. The developers also took the time to change the look on one boss character, a giant inverted cross, into a giant skull, which doesn't really seem that much better.
For the most part, however, the port was full of countless little changes designed to tone down the violence, gore, and scariness of the game. At the end of the day, however, you still have to wonder why they even bothered. What did the publishers think people wanted to see when they bought a game called "Splatterhouse"? Were they afraid that parents might mistakenly believe it to be a game about Jackson Pollock? It's a game about sticking your entire arm into a zombie's chest and pulling out whatever you can grab onto. You know, art!
Splatterhouse arcade version gameplay footage:
Splatterhouse Wanpaku Graffiti
Not long after the original game was released, Japan got a taste of the rather odd followup, "Wanpaku Graffiti". My knowledge of Japanese is limited to the menu choices at Benihana, but the internet assures me that the title means "Naughty Graffiti," which in turn is a reference to the game being a silly, cartoony take on Splatterhouse.
As with the original game, Wanpaku Graffiti opens with Rick being brought back to life and his girfriend, Jennifer, being dragged off. This time, however, instead of Rick facing down the hordes of some ancient, faceless evil, his primary antagonist is the Pumpkin King. Perhaps there's a Japanese instruction manual out there that explains what all went on between these two, but it hardly matters. The point is that you control a super-deformed Rick as he travels the land chopping down monsters with his iconic meat cleaver.
Once you get past the overall weirdness of the title, you're left with a surprisingly solid game. Rick controls really well, arguably better than he does in some of the other games, and the game is packed with parodies of famous horror movies like Alien and The Fly. One of the early bosses even organizes a group of zombies for a brief Thriller tribute!
But the best part is when you finally beat the Pumpkin King:
The director says, "cut!" and the whole game is revealed to be a film shoot! What's more, the last screen shows Rick and Jennifer leaving the set and getting ready to travel to the real West Mansion. Apparently, Wanpaku Graffiti was meant to be some kind of prequel.
Splatterhouse Wanpaku Graffiti footage:
Parodies are nice and all, but fans of Splatterhouse wanted a real sequel. In 1992, they got their wish with the Sega Genesis release of Splatterhouse 2. Gameplay-wise, it was more of the same: walk down a hall, punch monsters in the face, occasionally stop to pick up a pipe/shotgun/cleaver, but really, that's all you need with a game like Splatterhouse.
The real improvement game in the form of new bosses and set pieces that showcased the series' love of violence and gore. The very first boss is an enormous monster that you kill by punching it in the stomach until it bursts (note: make sure you aren't standing near the stomach when it bursts). Then you head to the basement and fight a giant glowing head by punching it in the eyes until its eyes burst (no need to worry about being drenched in acidic eye goop, though). And before you can even relax from that, you're traveling down a gore-choked river on your way to do battle with a host of acid-spewing mutant fetuses!
The results are not pretty.
This time around, the Terror Mask looks more like a grinning skull, as opposed to its usual hockey mask appearance. I suppose it makes sense, given that the mask is supposed to be some kind of ancient Mayan sacrificial mask, and Teotihuacan wasn't exactly fielding a lot of great hockey teams at the time, so I can't really complain. What I can complain about, however, is the difficulty on some of the later bosses, particularly the final boss. The tradeoff for Rick having a small amount of health and being fairly ponderous is that his enemies typically exhibit set patterns that aren't too tough to figure out. By the end of SP2, however, you'll be facing a floating mound of flesh that tries to bury you in a veritable avalanche of severed heads. For crying out loud, it's hard enough just getting Rick to face the left side of the screen!
Splatterhouse 2 footage:
The series was due for a change. The 2D side scrolling was okay, but the heart of the series had always been the spectacle. The team behind Splatterhouse 3 understood this, and so they decided to make their game a brawler instead. And it was good.
It had always been fun to see enemies disintegrate in a mist of gore after receiving one of Rick's punches, but SP3 managed to make combat both more sophisticated and more visceral. Rick's punches and kicks would send the enemies flying, and as they took damage, they'd show it. Some would simply get a bit bloody, but others would take a pounding and then have their heads slough right off of their shoulders. And that just made them angry!
The overall atmosphere of the series was captured perfectly, with an added element of tension: The monsters that are after Rick are also after his family. If Rick can't finish a stage on time, things get ugly...
But the best part are the new features of the mask itself. Forget the hockey and skull mask of previous games; the Terror Mask now has its own distinct look: a bleached, bone like consistency; deep, sunken eye sockets; grating over the mouth opening; and what looks like the back of the mask stretching slightly to encompass all of Rick's head.
Also new to the game are powerups that give Rick the ability to unlock the mask's true potential, namely the ability to mutate him even further:
At least twice as muscular as before, Mutant Rick forgoes any of the finesse regular Rick may have shown as a fighter in favor of raw power. Body slams, strangulation, and when all else fails, he simply launches his flesh out in thick tendrils to impale the enemy. The mutation is only temporary, but it's still damned impressive.
Of all the Splatterhouse games, the third is easily my favorite. It's not often you have a series change its established gameplay conventions, only to become that much better for it. I couldn't wait for the next installment to come out, but alas, the series had finally come to an end. Or so it seemed...
Splatterhouse 3 footage:
aAlmost twenty years later, the world finally got a chance to revisit the blood-drenched Splatterhouse universe. Splatterhouse (the 2010 version) is a remake of the original game, retelling that classic story of a boy and his mask. The violence was turned up to 11 for this one, with death and dismemberment being so commonplace that you won't think twice when the opportunity arises to beat a monster to death with your own arm! And there's nudity too, for some reason.
The devs stayed true to the series' roots by including a few 2d side scrolling sections to break up the 3D brawling sections. These bits were... less great. They tended to be unforgiving, even for a Splatterhouse game, and the controls were a bit loose for the kinds of maneuvers you're asked to pull off. Even so, it's impressive that the devs were able to include them without the transition being too jarring.
Violence and gore are the hallmarks of the Splatterhouse series, but the 2010 game seemed to have drilled it into the ground. There's definitely no shortage of gore, but seeing the same decapitation/impaling/forced rectal prolapse over and over again lessens the effect. It's still a fun game, but it needs a bit more variety. Or a shorter play time. I believe all the other games clocked in at around 45 minutes for a single playthrough. Maybe that's just the right amount of time for viewing the full rainbow of monster viscera.
Splatterhouse (2010) footage:
Splatterhouse is one of my favorite series because, if nothing else, it has its own unique style. A cursory glance at the original game would suggest that it was just some ill-conceived game hoping to cash in on the public's love of violence and famous movie monsters, but that would be an oversimplification. Splatterhouse has shown considerable growth as a series in spite of having only a handful of titles. If a sequel is ever made to the 2010 game, my only advice to the developers would be to remember where the series came from. Bizarre, grotesque imagery, moments of horror punctuated by graphic violence, monster designs that went beyond humanoids with claws and sharp teeth, these are the hallmarks of the series. If you can nail those, you can make a successful Splatterhouse game that delights as it disgusts.
Now if you'll excuse me, it's been almost half an hour since I last played Splatterhouse 3.
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