I'm writing this review while Splatterhouse is paused, as I am currently trying to figure out a way around a particular glitch in which an enemy seems to be stuck behind an invisible wall in an Arena match. While said enemy can do serious damage to me, I cannot harm it, unless it attempts a grab move and I deflect it and follow up with a few blows of my own through a limited quick-time event. Actually, I'm only assuming the blows are landing – at least, the animations indicate so. And yet I haven't quite given up on trying. That, readers, is Splatterhouse in a nutshell.
In Rick's quest to save his girlfriend, Jennifer, from the insane Dr. West, he will encounter gruesome creatures alongside some bugs and wonky design decisions that prove just as deadly as any bespiked monstrosity. Through a series of hub-designed levels, where a relatively quiet hallway leads to a room full of enemies, Rick will traverse multiple dimensions in an effort to stop Dr. West from summoning The Corrupted through sacrificing Jennifer during a total eclipse. This wouldn't mean much had it not been for the inspired move to infuse the story with the Chtulhu mythos in order to explain why there are faceless blue butchers and tentacle-flailing demons wandering about. What can I say, I'm just a sucker for the Old Ones.
Things are slightly different this time around, with Rick permanently hulked up and the mask now a strange salty-mouthed, perverted sidekick. While the TurboGrafx originals opted for green ooze, the new one goes all out with the gore and literally sprays everything – Rick, the floor, the walls, even the screen itself – with blood. There's so much blood that it's as if the rooms were being redecorated with the stuff. If the regular geysers weren't enough, there are super-sized versions that come about as the result of ripping off arms, heads, and even intestines out of sphincters during cinematic quick-time Splatter Kills. Splatterhouse not only recognizes what it is, it actually tells you what it is, as the mask makes a comment to Rick about this is why 'it' is called Splatterhouse. It's this complete acceptance of itself being nothing more than a bludgeon to some demon's head, and the resulting flood of fluids afterwards, that gives it so much leeway. You actually come to brush off some of its inadequacies because of its very brutishness – "Well it is rough around the edges, after all."
Whether you're cleaving a monster in two, beating an Imp-like creature to death with a bat, chainsawing an octopus-medusa-thing, or beating the hell out of a massive snake with your own severed arm (don't worry, it grows back), there is little doubt that Splatterhouse is unbelievably cathartic. Juvenile and repetitive as all get-out, yes, but cathartic nonetheless.
For all of its "Yessss!" moments, there are, unfortunately, many which will make you want to cuss out the screen and throw something. Whether it's the initially novel side-scrolling areas that turn into repetitive grinds of trial and error from the insta-death hazards or the seemingly inconsistent timing windows for quick-time events, something will annoy you. There are very few show-stopping bugs in Splatterhouse, though the stuck enemy in Arena is about to force a restart, but what it suffers from is a slow death by a thousand little cuts.
Take the side-scrolling levels, which seem like wonderful homages to the original titles, complete with retro-style music. They are great … until you hit an invisible wall that causes you to drop to your death, where you're forced to wait through the lengthy half-minute load screen (with the game installed), and retrace your steps, only to die again once a spike trap sends you stumbling about and another finishes you off as you fight with the controls. That scenario, which most certainly happened to me, hits on a number of Splatterhouse's problems: long load times, Rick's unbelievably lethargic recoveries, unseen obstacles, and a general feeling of shoddiness. Then there is the surprising amount of life taken by a single attack from even the lowliest of enemies, camera that focuses too tightly and jerks back to reorient itself if moved, and inaccurate subtitles whose accompanied audio is frequently muffled to the point of being muted.
Even when the game does something fairly unique, it's as if it doesn't quite know how to handle it. Being the ogre that he is, Rick has a sort of momentum to his movements that seem pretty on par for a creature of his size. There's even a nice rhythm to the combo system, where holding off on successive taps allows for a shift between light and heavy attacks without committing to one of the set combos until you're ready. But as nice as this is, especially when the full force of his weight behind a clever adequately plays out through the torso of a demon, there are trap layouts that either don't take this into consideration or do so for the sole purpose of being aggravating. A massive column will be hammering down right by an enemy, where you can either attempt to block or roll, which are largely useless, or attack, which will send him heaving too far forward. There are many such scenarios, and they just feel incredibly cheap.
The game is really at its best when you're battling it out in one of the arenas. There are a handful of on-disc unlockable as well as DLC arenas, each presenting over a dozen waves of enemies to dispatch. Crates fall from the sky offering weapons, slugs, and photos. The slugs are often handy as the blood they provide fill up Rick's Necro Meter, which allows for him to unleash powerful moves using Doomsday-esque claws of protruding bone to slash back or impale enemies, syphon life from them, and even turn into a massive, near-invincible version of himself. The blood also goes into a bank that is used, both in Arena and Story, to upgrade and expand his health, Necro meter, and move list. It's a pretty standard system, but it works well. The photos are something else entirely, being four-piece pictures of Jennifer either semi-nude or hanging out in more innocent poses. The photos are an odd inclusion, especially when the game acknowledges as such with Creepy Show popping up for each of the first eight completed. And the developers are right, seeing a half-naked pixelated drawing of a woman is creepy. Thanks. All that aside, the arenas are where you can really let loose with the moves, ramming and head-ripping until your heart's content. It's the best of the game, with all of the over-the-top brawling and gore and few of its problems.
One of the best additions to this or any game is the inclusion of Splatterhouse 1, 2, and 3. And believe me, their presence definitely helps. While the games haven't aged terribly well – they were pretty simple to begin with – they are still enjoyable and offer several additional hours of play. It's also worth noting that they are all quite pricey these days, and unless someone has the urge to break out the Genesis or TurboGrafx and allocate a sizeable amount of their disposable income to tracking them down, this is the best way to play them. It's also an interesting way to see which parts were picked up for the new version. They are also easy to unlock, which is nice touch. Very cool.
Splatterhouse is like that big dog you've been around that slobbers on everyone, knocks things over, and is painfully ignorant of how bothersome it is when it head-butts you in the stomach, but you just can't help but like it. For a while. While a far cry from the polished eviscerations of God of War or intricate combo system of Bayonetta, Splatterhouse is big, dumb, and almost charming. It's not a great game, and at times it's not even a good one, but its relentless bashing of squishy monsters and ridiculous showers of blood do go as far as making it a solid rental. The original trilogy doesn't hurt, either.
(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)