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The beat ‘em up genre has been mostly lacking as of late. This is no surprise as it seems the gameplay nearly always boils down to “do tons of light attacks, toss in a few heavy attacks, you win.” Throughout the years, developers have tried to add interesting variety to the genre (combos, leveling up, open worlds, etc.) and occasionally, it all falls into place and is fairly fun. Is Splatterhouse one of those rare occurrences?
Splatterhouse revolves around the main character Rick; a guy in his mid-20’s that is madly in love with his girlfriend Jen. On the night he planned to propose to her, she wants to go to a large mansion to visit an infamous doctor to try and conduct an interview that she and the doctor had set up. As you can guess, things don’t go so well. She gets captured and Rick gets knocked into a bloody mess. But as Rick is about to die, he spots a mask that tells him to put it on, he does as he’s told, and you now have your friendly (and I use that term very loosely) companion throughout the rest of the game. The story is a bit generic at spots but the relationship between Jen and Rick is handled very well and Splatterhouse does a great job at making you interested to find out just what in the world happened on that night, who is the doctor, and who is the mask. There’s not a perfectly satisfying conclusion to the Jen/Rick story but the doctor has a few engaging story moments that happen toward the end of the game that I really enjoyed. The mask’s story is disappointingly not related in any way to Jim Carrey’s The Mask but is still decent.
The masked character seems like he was supposed to be comic relief in the game, constantly delivering one liners that revolve around him cursing or yelling about something, but he’s mostly just an annoying character that rides around with you everywhere. He has a few lines that may make you laugh but they also repeat multiple times throughout the game and end up making you want to shut the mask up rather than have him keep up with being the jokester that he so thinks he is.
Splatterhouse’s obvious gimmick is the copious amounts of blood strewn throughout the game. While at first the gimmick is a tad distracting, as the game progresses, it gets more enjoyable. You’re never yelling “fuck yea, blood!” like the game may expect you to but it’s still hilarious to see all the strings of blood go everywhere, and the look only adds to the experience. It’s clear Namco (the developers/publishers) didn’t intend on making a “realistic” blood experience. They simply said “make it red and make it spread” and they succeeded. It isn’t that the blood necessarily looks good; it’s just that the slight ugliness makes the blood flowing everywhere funnier. Though after eight or so hours, you just want to bury through the game and the amount of blood that sprays out of your enemy is the last thing on your mind.
While the blood may not look “good,” the rest of the game does. The environments are rarely varied but what you get are some decent looking corridors just waiting to be covered with blood. Your main character also looks fairly well done. He’s a huge, brooding guy that has muscles popping out of muscles, similar to The Hulk (or Hulk Hogan for that matter). The downfall to the looks is the fact that once you get around five enemies on screen (which happens a lot), there are serious frame-rate drops. Luckily, due to the primitiveness of the combat, you can hammer A and get by the part as long as you’re not fighting one of the tougher enemies.
Enemy design is one of the games many flaws. The enemies all look damn near identical (not including boss fights), apart from the occasional hedgehog looking enemy. They’re all comprised of mutations around their body and have a certain distinct color to them, such as brown, red, or, blue. The blue and red enemy types are ones they introduce later on in the game and they’re viciously horrid. They kill you in around two shots (three if you’re lucky), take a ton of damage, and rip your arm off. The ripping your arm off part wouldn’t be so annoying if it wasn’t for the fact that to damage these enemies, you have to do heavy attacks, and doing heavy attacks is impossible when you have only one arm. So if you don’t have enough blood to let out a “splatter” kill, you have to run around in circles until you re-grow your arm back. Granted it does grow back fairly quickly, you’ll more than likely lose your arm again once the enemy hits you and have to repeat the process all over again. In the later levels, it seems Namco gave up on designing new enemies and instead decided to just throw tons of the standard enemies at you repeatedly.
The combat itself is nothing short of atrocious. The combos aren’t especially varied but can occasionally look flashy and exciting, but executing them is incredibly inconsistent. You never really feel like you have control over what combo you’re doing. In the end, I quit trying to perform combos and only used the simple light attack + heavy attack combination. After a few minutes, that gets incredibly tiring. The difficulty is also inconsistent; sometimes you’ll be tearing up enemies left and right, sometimes you’ll die within seconds. You will more than likely spend more time watching your health bar than you will actually watching the things on screen.
Something you wouldn’t really expect in Splatterhouse is platforming, but sadly, it has it. There’s literally not an inch of fun to be had in the platforming in Splatterhouse. It feels very tacked on as your character seems to just stick to everything and even when the game does decide to use platforming, it normally ends in a few minutes. Which is more of a positive than it is a negative.
To make it seem like more of a “throwback” game, Splatterhouse will occasionally go into a 2D view. These sections will normally last about 10-15 minutes and feature mindless, easy combat and frustrating obstacle avoiding, such as a swinging blade, or swinging chain. The obstacle dodging relies heavily on your jumping ability, and if you’re like me, your ability isn’t very good. Rick (the main character) has to be running to actually jump well enough to make it across most gaps and when you’re stuck on what seems to be a four inch platform, that can be a bit of a hassle. This frustrating problem could be easily marred if the checkpoints were good. In these sidescrolling 2D sections, they start you back at the beginning of the level when you die, which is fine. But the issue is that the load screens are around thirty seconds long, and that’s when it’s installed onto your Xbox 360. When it’s not installed, it can take up to around forty to fifty seconds. When you’re not in the sidescrolling sections, the checkpoints can make you want to fire your controller through a window. Most of the phases are around an hour or so long and there are checkpoints every twenty minutes it seems. It completely blows my mind at the fact that it’s 2010 and some games still cannot get checkpoints correct.
Splatterhouse is a fun idea, a ridiculous game filled with blood and a story that is actually interesting. Namco just fails in almost every single way at achieving its potential. The saddest thing is there’s an interesting story lying under this pitiful game. But not even the story can warrant my recommendation of Splatterhouse.