System: I: Arcade, TurboGrafx-16, Wii VC / II: Mega Drive, Wii VC / III. Mega Drive
Developer & Publisher: Namco | Reviewed On: MegaDrive / PlayStation 3 (Ports)
Horror has always been a genre that has pushed the boundaries in entertainment. Through fiction, its depictions of unnatural enemies, psychotic individuals and suspenseful situations have captivated audiences around the world; inviting us into worlds with tense & heightened circumstances. Whilst the legendary tales of Dracula, Frankenstein & The Mummy would set the stage, a new era of horror movies would be ushered in at the start of the 70s. As for video games, they too would encounter a similar shift in the 80s. With the advances in video game graphics, it presented an opportunity for developers to create games that further brought their vision to life from a presentation standpoint. On the flip side, games could be rendered with graphic content in a more detailed way than before. In horror, the only games in existence at the time were either very basic in nature, text-based or tame in their themes.
In 1988, Namco would change this as they unleashed Splatterhouse into the arcades. At a time when family friendly games were being promoted & regulated by Nintendo, it would set a standard for horror-themed video games with its use of gore & violence alongside a standard platform format of gameplay, creating a fun experience for gamers to enjoy. The series would only see two sequels, a spin-off for the Nintendo Famicom & a reboot in 2010. The sad part is that Splatterhouse has always had a stigma surrounding itself & critics have been very critical historically. This is likely why it’s not seen in the same light as other horror games like Resident Evil & Silent Hill.
Today, I’ll be looking into the Splatterhouse trilogy & will be asking if this series is worthy to be in the same conversation as the greats in this genre. Let’s break it down!
First, let’s take back to where it all began. In the midst of a storm, you play as Rick; a student trying to find somewhere to wait-out the torrential rain with his girlfriend Jennifer. They seek refuge in a nearby mansion, unbeknown to them that this is owned by the notorious Dr. West; infamous for his questionable experiments. When they enter, the doors slam shut behind them & Jennifer screams in terror as she’s taken away, whilst Rick is left for dead in the mansion’s dungeon. His saving grace is a mask of incredible power, who attaches itself to Rick’s face; bringing him back to life & granting him superhuman strength. The mask holds its own consciousness & spurs our protagonist to find Jennifer & try to escape these unhallowed grounds.
As a 2D platformer, you will progress through 7 stages encountering a variety of undead monsters & ghastly creatures that lurk in the crevices of this manor; from its decrepit halls to its haunted forest. You must punch, kick and use weapons to lay waste to these unnatural entities; an action that felt satisfying every time & to watch them dissolve. Each stage finishes with a boss, of which most are well designed and challenging. A special mention to Biggy Man; a muscled beast with a bag over their head and chainsaws for arms. Damn son!
Most levels, you’ll simply scroll forward until you reach the end, leading into the next level. Some sections also use an auto-scroll, forcing you to stay within its boundaries to avoid losing a life. Multiple paths also feature in one of the stages; allowing a player to enter a new section, if they should fall down a hole along the main path; with each path presenting a different area. Certain environments will also interact with your position; from enemies dropping down from above to bursting through the background. These create a nice layer of uncertainty to spice up the tense atmosphere.
Controls feel responsive and satisfying but after a while, I felt it does rely on you being in the right place at the right time with a well-timed strike. The game does have some level of difficulty to it, but only as the game progresses to its later stages. It’s difficult until you know how to overcome the situation; a theme used in many platformers at the time. In some cases, I witnessed enemies brush my face & I still took damage, leading to some minor frustrations & deaths, as you are only given a limited amount of health per life. Luckily, the game will only restart you at designated checkpoints if you die & has unlimited continues.
The presentation of this game is delightfully eerie. All environments maintain an horrifying vibe with great selections in enemy design & songs that deliver a series of creepy melodies and strong percussion, to keep you in an alert yet unsettled state. There are also a few surprises that await you on your journey, but you’ll have to find out those for yourself.
Overall, the game is a simple-yet-challenging platformer that gracefully blends the spooky aspects of old school horror with modern grotesque sentiments. There were small frustrations in gameplay, but only ones that required me to focus my efforts to progress further & felt satisfying when I overcame them. Whilst it only takes 30 minutes to complete, it will naturally take longer if you’re a first-time player & if this was still available to play in arcades, I could see myself spending a lot of money just to say I completed it; a testament to its addictive nature.
The game did receive a port for the Turbo-Grafx 16, however a number of changes were made; including a reduction in gore, religious imagery & the mask was re-coloured in a deep red, instead of white (I guess to avoid any lawsuits as the mask closely resembled that of Jason Voorhees). It’s still a fun port from what I’ve seen & heard, but unfortunately it’s stripped of some visual elements.
With its ending presenting a teaser to those who completed it, it was only a matter of time before a sequel was in the works & four years later, this foreshadowed nightmare would make its way into homes around the world.
In 1992, Splatterhouse would make its transition to home consoles with its sophomore entry, released as a Sega MegaDrive exclusive. Set three months after the events of the first game, Rick is haunted by nightmares of the events that came to pass within Dr. West’s Mansion. One day, The Terror Mask reaches out to him. He understands the gauntlet they both endured & he manages to convince Rick to re-visit the grounds he once escaped, to complete what he failed to do before.
Revisiting the mansion feels more amplified this time because of the journey we’ve already endured. Whilst the setting remains the same, strangely so does the gameplay. It feels relatively the same as before with the same moves and attacks, except for a few new weapon inclusions such as a chainsaw (Hail to the King, Baby...), coupled with a few differing platform sections in levels to mix things up. There are a range of returning & new enemy types, which were delightfully grim & kept me on my toes, as I obliterated them with style.
The game’s difficulty progresses at a nice pace, but does ramp up as you delve further into the mansion. There are still some reoccurring moments with hit sensitivity & it still suffers from “the right place at the right time” scenario, but nothing that couldn’t be overcome. Passwords has been introduced to alleviate this, allowing you to re-enter a stage whenever you want to. This is different from the original, as passwords for arcade games was almost non-existent.
What sets this game apart is its presentation and man, this game is beautiful. It gives the arcade version some stiff competition in certain areas. The journey to the house is paved with desolate halls & misty forests, as you walk into the house’s broken foundations & travel deep within the void this mansion holds. Certain areas have an added level of depth to make them feel larger & the details were often pleasant to my eyeballs. The game’s colour palette also runs wild, ensuring that all of the locations & enemies stand out in their terrifying wonder.
The music in this game is one of my personal favourite soundtracks for the system. Its eerie nature may not be as prominent, but it still delivers a combination of melody-driven tracks; some with an injection of energy that perfectly encapsulates Rick’s journey of redemption. The song in the Crystal level is a pure gem; no pun intended.
To conclude, Splatterhouse 2 may feel like a reboot at times however it proves to be a worthy successor. The ending of the first game always felt a little bittersweet, but this entry utilises its presentation & simple objective to drive a more satisfying narrative from start to finish, at least in this reviewer’s opinion. There’s no denying that some added features or innovation would‘ve helped this entry, but its a new chapter to that stays true to its predecessor & it sure as hell delivers. Out of all three games, I think this is my personal favourite.
It would only take Namco 9 months before unleashing its next chapter on the Mega Drive. Unfortunately, I had to play this via a PlayStation 3 port, as this game was never released in Europe. To my understanding, it’s pretty much the same with a small change in terms of photos (being swapped out for artwork instead, due to copyright reasons). Anyway, what has happened with Rick since?
Set 5 years after the events of number two, Rick & Jennifer have settled down & had a son named David. Rick has also become successful working in the Stock Exchange & ironically bough a mansion of his own. However, we soon learn that monsters have invaded Rick’s house & try to capture both Jennifer & David. Rick must don the Terror Mask one final time in order to save his family & eradicate this evil force; one and for all.
Immediately, the game takes a drastic change in terms of gameplay, moving to a more brawler-like style; similar to the likes of Streets of Rage & Final Fight. Single path levels are now open areas with many rooms for you to explore. Your objective is simply to reach the designated room of each stage & defeat the boss in time. That’s right; there is now a time-limit imposed on these stages. Getting from A-to-B in the quickest time is recommend & whilst a timeout does not incur the penalty of death, running down the clock will impact the story as there are 4 possible endings you can receive (excluding a standard game over).
Combat has also been tweaked with Rick now being able to grapple enemies, spin-kick and even morph into a super-powered version of himself for a limited period of time, similar to the Centurion in Altered Beast. This is managed by a Power bar, topped up by collecting Orbs throughout the game. This mode also allows you to use a special move that sees mounds of flesh spike out of your body, to deliver a healthy slice of damage.
Its difficulty has been stepped up with tougher enemies & bosses, as well as the imposed time limit added on top. The game does introduce a level setting here, if the experience does get too intense. At times, I felt the game was a little unbalanced; especially with the final boss, which was quite underwhelming. Whilst weapons can be used to help fend off against tougher enemies, getting hit even once will see your weapon taken away from you. At least in Streets of Rage, this was three.
Visually, the game still delivers a pleasantly haunting atmosphere with the mansion looking like its slowly starting to decay in places. There appears to be a bit of inconsistency in the level design as I noticed some rooms that felt like others, yet there were a variety that were incredibly detailed. We also see the use of digitised photos, which are used during the game’s storyline sequences. They give off a creepy vibe, complimented by eerie music, but it appears some humorous spelling errors made their way into the scene’s subtitles. Speaking of sound, the music retains a fitting theme of haunting melodies but I felt most of the songs didn’t really stand out, unlike its previous entries. It’s suitable; just not as inspired in my opinion.
Final thoughts; Splatterhouse 3’s reinvention of gameplay was a delightful change that the series needed, to avoid an early grave. Everything additional from the different endings, supercharge mode & mandatory multiple paths were all welcomed graciously on my part. Unfortunately, my experience wasn’t as memorable as the former. I had my fair share of frustrations with certain enemies & felt a sense of defeat opting for its easy level setting in a further playthrough.
There was a sense of unbalance & repetitiveness in theme and gameplay, especially when I had to rely heavily on the spin-kick to defeat certain enemies. It was able to improve its visual quality, but only maintained its sound appeal. I would understand if fans of brawler games appreciate this entry more. For me, the combination of less favourable elements prevented it from being a great game, however its still fun to play, the multiple endings give it a lot more replay value & it's a true challenge if you want to obtain the best ending.
So I must ask myself the same question from the start; is this series worthy to be in the same conversation as the greats in this genre? My answer is Yes. It’s a delightful horror series at a time when games of this genre were still a niche in the market. Keep in mind that the original entry came almost a year before Tokuro Fujiwara’s Sweet Home; the proclaimed spiritual predecessor of Resident Evil.
Artistically, they are beautiful to play & the music finds a perfect middle ground between arcade & spooky to create the right atmosphere. Whilst it may appear as a series that prioritises style-over-substance & glorifies “blood and guts”, I don't believe this to be a fair assessment. At its core, it carries a very human message; doing everything in your power to save the person you love. Sure, there were the moments of gameplay frustration in my playthroughs, but most of the time they were just based on the game's hit sensitivity & I willingly sucked it up and tried again. It’s certainly no Ghosts n’ Goblins level of difficulty; I will give it that.
Even though it's not celebrated in the same light as other horror franchises, Splatterhouse is a key part of the evolution of horror in video games; one that should at least be played once, especially if you are a fan of either platform and/or horror titles.
Unfortunately, there were many limitations with its releases including its exclusivity with systems & regions. If you want to play these games, I recommend buying a disc version of Splatterhouse (2010) for either PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360. The game contains all three original games reviewed here in uncensored form. Whilst these are locked at first, they can be unlocked very easily during the main game’s campaign. Unfortunately, the limitations continue here as it can only be purchased in disc form & is not available on any online stores, as of writing this review.
I will save the 2010 game for another time, but thank you very much for taking the time to read my review! Stay spooked & stay tuned for more horror reviews, here at SkyPunk Media.