Friday, June 18, 2010


Platform: TurboGrafx-16
Developer: Namco
Released: 1990
Genre: Beat 'em up

The Game
Rick and Jennifer, a couple of good ol' university kids, get caught out in a storm and decide to take refuge at the scariest, creepiest, most weirdest private residence in the entire town, West Mansion. Once inside, they are beset upon by numerous monsters who mortally wound Rick and steal away with Jennifer for undoubtedly nefarious purposes. Rick wakes up in the basement of the house some time later, alive thanks to a sentient object known as the Terror Mask (or "Hell Mask", if you live in a non-wussified country), which binds itself to his face and transforms him into a hulking monster. With the power of the mask at his disposal, Rick starts to tear his way through West Mansion and the monsters that inhabit it in search of his girlfriend . . .

Splatterhouse is the first of a trilogy and the only one of which was on the TurboGrafx-16 Entertainment SuperSystem, with the other two being made for the Sega Genesis. A remake is currently in the works and due out for the PS3 and XBox 360 later this year, and supposedly the remake package will also include all three of the original games.

Due to the violent nature of the game, a lot of content was either changed or removed outright when it was ported over from Japan. This includes swapping weapons out (a meat cleaver became a 2x4, for instance), toned down violence, and the removal of a few screams, amongst other things. But don't worry, there's still a fair amount of gore and horror to be had.

The Characters
Rick is a university student who nearly gets killed, gets fused with a sentient mask that turns him into a brutal monster, and rips West Mansion a new one.

Jennifer is Rick's damsel in distress girlfriend. She gets kidnapped by monsters at the beginning of the game.

Dr. West is a parapsychologist who's been missing for a while, owns West Mansion, and only gets a mention in the backstory. He might be the end boss of the game, but there's really nothing to indicate whether that's true, or if it isn't, what might have actually happened to him. For all we know, the dude's just off having a vacation somewhere, blissfully unaware that his house became a creepy spook joint while he was out.

The Terror Mask is a self-aware mask that can make people mutate into giant super-strong monsters, and it seems to have plans and motivations of its own, but it's left openended as to what those might be.

The monsters . . . man, I don't know. Maybe they'll explain it more in the other two games. And even if they don't, it seems that the remake will delve further into the mysteries of the mansion, at least. But as far as this game goes, all that's revealed is that they are monsters and they aren't very nice.

The characterization is so thin as to be virtually non-existent. The people are more or less just props for the setting.

The Writing
Having the main protagonist also be the main savage monster of the story is a nice spin, but in the end this is basically your standard low-grade horror movie plot. Monsters take girl, hero battles monsters, so on and so forth. There's a minor twist here and there, but nothing too far out there.

And this is one of those games where that's all it really needs. If more story gets added on in the sequels, that's cool, but this game is more about splattering monsters against the wall than some hoity-toity storyline.

The Gameplay
Pretty straightforward and, in some cases, somewhat disappointing fare. Rick can punch. He can jump. He can kick. He can jump and kick. He picks up the occasional weapon, but they only last for the one level they're picked up on, and they're more just for the cool splatter animations than actual necessities most of the time. There's one, the wrench, that's only found in one spot and can only be used once, as a throwing weapon. Since at that spot in the level there's usually one of the nasty ghoulies right within punching distance anyway, it's fairly pointless to even bother picking the damn thing up.

The Challenge
The game only rarely takes cheap shots, but when it does it can be particularly annoying, especially the ones dealt out by the final boss. Most enemies can be taken out by a single hit as long as you've got a weapon in your hand, and even when you don't have a weapon most of them only need two or three hits at most.

The main challenge, as with a lot of lazier games of the mid eighties to mid nineties, is remembering where everything is. The baddies only rarely switch up their positions from one run through to another, so making it through any given level without getting hit is just a matter of rote memorization. It's fairly noticeable throughout the rest of the game, but it's most blatant in the very last level where all you have to do is time your jumps over burning logs and your dashes under burning guys as they jump over you. No punches or kicks until you reach the final boss . . . just the simple rigors of an obstacle course.

The game is pretty challenging, but not for good reasons.

The Sights
Before this, I had never played a game on the TurboGrafx-16 before. To be truthful and to my shame, I was only barely aware that the system even existed at all. But having gotten a look at Splatterhouse, I'm looking forward to getting to know it. The animations are a bit weak (Rick doesn't really jump so much as he stands still and then suddenly launches up in the air without moving his legs at all), but the sprites and backgrounds are pretty well rendered, almost up to the quality of a Genesis game. The splattered forms of the monsters were pretty neat looking, and the entire house was well decked out with a grisly horror feel.

The Sounds
There were a few voice bits in there, which I wasn't really expecting, mostly extremely short phrases from Jennifer. The music was alright, getting across the sort of B horror movie vibe that most of the game seemed to be going for.

The Bottom Line
Eeeeeeeeh . . . I won't say I'm sorry that I played Splatterhouse or anything, but I really just don't feel it offered anything unique or interesting enough in a beat 'em up game. The fact that I know that I got a watered down version of the game is also sort of a turn-off, making it feel just that much blander, as the violence is supposed to be the main draw of the game.

Overall, it was an average game at best, worth one play through but not any more than that. Hopefully the sequels have some more substance to them, or at least more style. I think I'll also seek out an unfiltered version of the game to see if the changes really made a big difference.

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