Back in 1989 Namco released an arcade game that stuck out like a sore, bloodied thumb compared to the rest of the market. Called Splatterhouse, it was a blood-splashed horror-fest rendered in tiny 16-bit pixels. Taking control of Rick, a beefy, masked killer, you rampaged around a mansion, mulching endless streams of monstrous nasties in ever more gory ways. The Mushroom Kingdom it was not.
Though it was never a critical hit, the notoriety of the original Splatterhouse ensured that it's now regarded as a bit of a cult classic. But by today's standards the violence is comically tame. And with that gory gimmick stripped away there really is very little to get nostalgic about.
Regardless, over twenty years on Namco have taken the opportunity to offer a full-blooded 3D reboot for a new generation of bloodthirsty gamers. And when I say full-blooded, I mean it. Splatterhouse is positively drenched in the stuff. But does it transcend its source material's limitations? Not really. But it's not entirely worthless.
Sticking pretty close to the original storyline, Splatterhouse takes place in the evil Dr. West's spooky mansion. Wandering in one night, our hero Rick Taylor is attacked by the Dr's fiendish monsters, The Corrupted. His girlfriend stolen away, Rick is left to die, his guts spilling out over the floor.
Rick has no choice but to don the Terror Mask, a nefarious object possessed by a demon with an unquenchable desire for blood. Transforming Rick into thick-limbed, brutish killer, the mask allows him to head off around the mansion in an attempt to rescue his girlfriend, butchering everything in his path.
The mask itself narrates your every move, giving tips, offering comments and generally taking the piss. Representative of the tone of the game, it's amusingly arch and gleefully immature, especially when it breaks the fourth wall. Some particularly messy kills are accompanied by the mask growling "This sort of shit is why we got an R rating!," while dying can cause it to say, "Could you hurry up and hit continue?!"
It's all about Jim Cummings' delivery really. Wonderful stuff. It's just a shame that once the novelty wears off and you start hearing the same comments repeatedly, it can grow a little tiresome.
Combat is pretty straight forward. You start out with just your fists and feet to fight off The Corrupted, with a range of combo-able kicks and punches at your disposal. But soon you gain access to a plethora of weapons, ranging from a simple nailed bat, to the franchise's iconic chainsaw and even your own detached limbs. You can also grab enemies and kick them to the nearest wall with a thudding splat.
In addition to all this are the Splatter Kills. Mercilessly, ridiculously gory, these are quicktime events that see you ripping open monsters' jaws, tearing them in half or otherwise ripping them to shreds in some hilariously disgusting ways. Perhaps the one where you jam your arm up the sphincter of a monster is the pick of the bunch. "I bet you spend a lot of lonely nights on the internet," says the Terror Mask. Lovely.
As you progress, collecting blood for the thirsty Terror Mask, you can unlock new moves, combos and grabs to eviscerate The Corrupted in ever more creative ways. Shoulder charges, grabs that allow you to swing enemies around to clear some much needed space, heavy blows and quick light blows; there's plenty variety on offer.
Yet regardless of your choice of weapon, every hit is accompanied by a tsunami of viscera. It's impossible to overstate. Truly, this is the most violent game you are likely to play for a long time. Blood drips from every inch of the environment, splashing up onto the screen, covering everything in thick, sticky claret.
All of this combines to make some squelchily satisfying combat. Coupled with genuinely tough difficulty levels, the very core of the game works well. It's just a shame that what's built on top of Splatterhouse's foundations undoes much of the good work.
The level design, for example, is hopelessly retrogressive and uninspired. Much of the time you are tasked with clearing room after room of monsters, with little to distract you from what is essentially brawly button-mashing. Doors remain locked until a set number of monsters are mashed, at which time the path opens up once more. This is mixed up a little by rooms that require a switch or lever to be pulled usually by impaling somebody or something on them but it does little to freshen the experience.
This task is instead heaped on the woeful platforming sections. Included both as a nod to the original and a much-need break from the Corrupted slaying, these sequences are almost irredeemably frustrating. The awkward jumping, instant deaths and unforgiving difficulty levels may be a fittingly old-school tribute, but that doesn't make the experience any more fun.
Which, ultimately, is the problem with Splatterhouse. Clearly made by people that love and understand the original games, it is slavish in its desire to update the franchise while staying true to its roots. So the retrogressive level-design and general lack of ideas aren't the result of a lack of creativity, but a conscious decision to offer the best in fan-service. Indeed, even the first two games in the series are included on the disc.
But while this is all admirable, it doesn't make the game any more fun. The truth is that as a result of Splatterhouse design, its real strength is the combat and the humour lose their appeal with repetition. And the platforming sections... well, it's hard to be kind about them. Not without appeal, Splatterhouse is a disappointment.