TW: Violence and… oh fuck it, I’ll let the cover of the Turbo-Grafx 16 version speak for you.
This last October, I bit off a bit more than I can chew with the planned Halloween themed content. My initial plan was to review both Euphoria and Sweet Home within the month of October, but I kinda botched that when I tried to simultaneously juggle those two reviews with two major political articles, a two part countdown, revisions of multiple older reviews, including one that triggered a mental break down, and a weekly “Amazing VGM” entry. Yeah, I’m gonna have to try and tone it down a little next year.
However, one should note that, in more recent days, the day that I have completed my review of a game is NOT proportionate to the day that I complete the game in question. It was at one point, but I’ve kinda gotten lazy on that, and it is something I hope to work on. The point is that despite the fact that I finished Euphoria mid September, the review was not up until mid October, and my review of Sweet Home was not put up until a few days ago despite me completing the game sometime in mid October. So exactly what have I been playing since then, surely it’s one of those games requested by my patrons, right? Unfortunately not, but I haz ans excuse though; it was still October, and I wanted to get in one more Halloween themed game, but I couldn’t decide. So I listed every horror based game in my backlog and used a random number generator to pick one, and I got Splatterhouse.
One would think that the shenanigans would end there, but the Splatterhouse on the list was not even referring to the one I’m reviewing, and it is actually the 2010 reboot. I originally had no interest in the original 2D trilogy given that the videos I have seen by a certain reviewer have emphasized its atmosphere, and for a while I was in a phase where I didn’t care about games that didn’t have a good sense of story or atmosphere, and I got the impression that the story in the original games was merely wasted potential, unlike in the 2010 reboot where it is emphasized.
However, I decided to give the original Splatterhouse a go since it was included with the reboot. I put in various attempts at it as I progressed through the reboot (which I haven’t finished yet but will clarify that I am thoroughly enjoying) until I got up the fifth stage boss. I was simultaneously impressed by the level of emotion and storytelling involved, but was also frustrated by the design and temporarily rage quit when I saw how a guide described later levels in ways that made them sound awful. However, it was upon rewatching a video about the game by a certain reviewer that I was inspired to give the game one more shot after I had watched a long play of the game and knew the strategies, which made the game much easier. After that, I beat the game towards the end of October, and I was impressed enough that I made the game’s final boss theme my final Amazing VGM piece of the month, and decided I wanted to play the rest of the series.
So yeah, I got distracted from my schedule and neglected my patrons request because I like Splatterhouse more, and you boys think us feminists hate games? (Note: If this isn’t obvious, this is for the sake of humor, and the only reason I haven’t completed my requests for Cosmic Star Heroine and Contraption Maker yet is because both of them told me they don’t mind how long I take. If any of you two have changed your mind btw and would prefer that I get them done ASAP, I can drop the Splatterhouse series and get to that. Otherwise, they are still what I have planned immediately after the Splatterhouse series). At this time, I have currently completed the original Splatterhouse and the Japan only chibi spin off Wanpaku Grafitti, the latter of which will be reviewed soon.
The question is what is so great about Splatterhouse? What makes this game stand out from most other beat-em ups at the time? For once, the answer is in the presentation, but I will talk about the gameplay first since I feel it’s more appropriate. Splatterhouse is a 2D beat-em up, but it is not in the same style as something like Double Dragon, River City Ransom, or Streets of Rage. Instead, Splatterhouse’s combat is done in a single lane similar to that of Kung-fu. There is no complex combo system in place, and the only attacks are your standard punch, standard kick, and a sliding kick that the game really should have told you it had, but you can’t expect too much since it’s from 1988 I suppose. The main strategy involved in Splatterhouse is based around pattern recognition and timing.
At first, I was going to say that this game was cheaply designed with monsters popping up out of nowhere that will always take off one hit. Initially, I planned to criticize the game by saying that any properly balanced game should be possible to beat on the player’s first try, albeit not easy, and that this type of cheap design discouraged that. However, I just recently came to the conclusion while playing Splatterhouse 2 of all things, that this stuff is only a problem when you have limited continues. Otherwise, one should view these types of levels as puzzles, and develop strategies on how to efficiently deal with enemies. IE knowing where to stand and when to strike as opposing to running and jumping around like a maniac with no plan. If one were to beat a game like this on their first try, it would end up rather unmemorable then wouldn’t it?
Unfortunately, that only clears Splatterhouse 2 of all charges. There are a few issues with the original that I take in comparison. The first of these is the difficulty curve. The first level of Splatterhouse is pretty easy, with the exception of those fucking worms! You need to not only stand in JUST the right location to hit these little fuckers, but Namco did not think it was enough for them to drain one hit. Instead, they attach themselves to your leg and slowly drain your HP, which means just ONE of these fuck heads can kill you in a matter of seconds. You can get them off by kicking them off your leg, but they will keep switching which leg they are attached to, and you need to randomly kick downward in both directions to get them off. While you are trying to shake them off, you will get hit by another worm that will attach itself and you will then die. In short, most attacks in Splatterhouses’s FIRST boss fight are basically one hit kills. By comparison, the second boss is tough, but far more manageable.
There is no reason to have a difficult curve this inconsistent, unless of course you were trying to get your players to burn through extra quarters. Granted, this means nothing now if you are playing the Arcade version via emulation or its inclusion in another game, but in Turbografx 16 version that has limited continues, this can get annoying, but you shouldn’t play that version anyway. Additionally, one is going to have to beat the game in one sitting unless they have access to emulator save states, no password saves until the second game.
Aside from the wonky difficulty curve, the levels were very engaging both visually and mechanically. Not only do you have enemies attacking you from the left and the right, but you will also have stuff dropping down own you from the ceiling, you will need to avoid pits or enemies that walk along the floor, and you will even need to watch the backgrounds for traps such as rotary blades. You are also given a variety of weapons that not only do extra damage to enemies, but also have very cool looking effects when you use them, such as being cut in half or being knocked against the screen or background. It is actually surprising how they put effort into programming unique weapons that only appear in one stage and at fixed locations. It really helps make each of the game’s seven stages feel unique and fully fleshed out… no pun intended.
The graphics in Splatterhouse are fantastic all around. Everything from animation, scenery, and enemy design is AMAZING. If there is one complaint that I have NEVER understood from critics of this game, it is the claim that the gore is “tame” compared to games nowadays. As someone who was born in 1995 and has played a fair amount of M rated games before she was 13 like a naughty child (I stayed offline though, so you can’t fault me too much), allow me to politely inquire the following; ARE YOU HIGH???
Context matters A LOT when it comes to whether or not gore is truly disturbing, and there is a huge difference between games that mindlessly throw strawberry jam at the screen, and those that really make you feel uncomfortable. I suppose it is accurate to say that games like God of War, Madworld, and Grand Theft Auto are more violent than Splatterhouse, but the problem is that they are so over the top in said violence that it has no effect. Comparatively, games like Corpse Party and Euphoria are actually fairly light on the blood, at least in terms of what is shown, yet they are horrifying. I do suppose that what they could be referring to are scenes such as Grand Theft Auto 5’s torture sequence that have notably pushed the envelope, but even then it’s just apparent that these critics need everything spelled out for them. Literally the first level of Splatterhouse has people kept in cells mutilated and being tortured, and many of the bosses’ designs are so grotesque and freakish that one can only assume their very existence is painful. The bosses of stage 3 and 7 both invoke this, but stage 5’s boss is one that handle’s this the best with open, gaping wounds and exposed muscle tissue. What works so well in Splatterhouse, is that there is a nice enough balance between horrifying violence and stylized violence to be appropriate for an action game.
The music is just a good. Every track has just the right balance between melody and atmosphere. Of special note are the themes for stage three, the stage 5 boss, the final boss, and the ending theme. The sheer variety provided is notable in how every boss battle has its own unique theme, there are unique music tracks for nearly every cutscenes that enhance the emotional mood greatly (again, stage 5 comes to mind but I won’t spoil). Additionally, sound effects are a amazing and make each hit especially satisfying, although I don’t know why cutting a zombie in half with a meat cleaver makes a *bonk* sound. There are also voice clips that are very muffled and tough to understand, but they do their job nicely nonetheless.
But yeah, what about that story, what makes it worth saving until the very end of this review? Simple, it is how this is all told with so little dialogue or drawn out cutscenes. There is enough to get a feel for what is going on and to put yourself in Rick’s shoes. There is such a strong atmosphere set in a way that games rarely do. Part of why I have grown to detest the “games as art” debate is because a vast majority of “art games” tend to be vapid and pretentious. Other feminists and game journalists seem to love games that are trying their hardest to NOT be games.
I was anti-feminist for so long because it felt as if everyone putting forth games like Gone Home and Dear Esther as the future of gaming have never touched a game until at least two or three years ago. My reviews of those titles were undoubtedly biased, but I did sincerely want to like them. I have continued to give these walking simulator type games a chance time after time, but did not find one that I thought was actually good until I played The Beginner’s Guide. Supposedly, the appeal of Gone Home is that you wander around and find recordings that tell a lesbian love story. Aside from the lesbian part, all of this has been done in games before. You have been looking through diary entries in creepy old mansion since Resident Evil or Sweet Home if you want to go back even further, and both of those games had gameplay to!
Splatterhouse was from 1988, and it did a much better job at atmosphere than most of this hipster bullshit can even dream of, and it does so specifically because it WASN’T trying to! No dialogue was needed to convey what was one of the darkest twists I have ever seen in gaming. If I haven’t really said much about what the story is, that’s because “plot” of the game is an excuse plot. It’s basically, you need to rescue your girlfriend from a haunted mansion in the middle of nowhere with the help of Jason Voorhees’ mask. It’s about HOW it happens that it matters, and Splatterhouse is one of the few games I have played where plot AND gameplay are one and the same.
This game seriously does knock my socks off. No fuck that, it knocks my entire leg off and proceeds to beat me to death with it! No wait, that’s the reboot. Regardless, this game does NOT get the recognition it deserves, and it deserves a lot more. If I had known it would be this good, I would have been willing to pay up to $40 or maybe even $60 for the chance to play it, and for a game that can be beaten in 30 minutes, that is saying something. Of course, arcade cabinets cost a lot more than that, but not a copy of the reboot, and it is apparently in some Namco arcade compilation on the Switch. Oh and you could get the Turbo-Grafx version on the Wii Virtual console before it shuts down, or you could just emulate. Hell, play it on your motherfucking toaster for all I care, as long as you get the chance to experience this brilliant game.
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