Splatterhouse is not a good game. It’s glitchy, poorly written, derivative, repetitive, and offers nothing in the form of stimulation other than cheap thrills. It’s the very definition of a terrible video game and anyone with half a modicum of self-respect would avoid it completely. However, pop it in your system and there’s no doubt you’ll be smiling within minutes.
We’ve all watched a movie that’s so bad it’s good; Plan 9 From Outer Space or Troll 2 quickly come to mind. Splatterhouse introduces us to the B-game, full of so much juvenilia that it’s impossible not to enjoy despite its horrendous quality.
In Splatterhouse players take control of Rick, a muscle-bound freak with arms the size of blue fin tuna and a demonic mask that gives him the ability to regenerate. As you punch and smash your way through stage after stage of fist-fodder minions you’ll earn blood points which can be spent on upgrades that make it easier to punch and smash.
Of course, Rick wasn’t always like this; as the story goes he was a normal gawky sort of guy who was in love with his girlfriend Jenny. It wasn’t until after Dr.West kidnapped his girl and left him dying in a pool of blood that he found the mask that gave him the power to save his life and rescue her.
Apart from that premise, which sounds like it was ripped out of an early 90’s Todd McFarlane comic, there isn’t much meat to the narrative. Through some banter between Rick and the mask we gather some scant details about Aztecs or another dimension, but it never really pieces together anything meaningful. There is a bit of legitimate melancholy at the end, but Splatterhouse is a long way away from being a legitimate tragedy.
Most that play this game likely aren’t coming for the story anyway though. As the game touts, it’s full of blood and guts and carnage. Rick’s meaty hands pop heads and tear spines with ease, spewing more blood than The Crazy 88 in Kill Bill. Every enemy is a grotesque deformation of semi-humanoid flesh and the environments are plastered with gore. Splatterhouse is definitely a game that enjoys the privileges that come with being an M-rated game.
In addition to gratuitous violence those M-rated privileges include some softcore pornography. In his pursuit to rescue Jennifer, Rick will come across torn photographs of her in various states of dress ranging from skanky Halloween costume to a fully-nude shower scene. It’s cheeky and sensational at best, but lacks any sense of class.
The gratuitous nature will offend many, the violence is as extravagant as it gets and the sexual objectification of your damsel is as chauvinistic as it comes. Still, there’s something charming in its unapologetically uncouth nature. Like letting a stranger buy you ice cream, you’ll enjoy it even if you wouldn’t want to tell your parents.
Splatterhouse’ charm is not infinite though, the game suffers from some crippling bugs that just can’t be overlooked. Multiple times during the review period poor clipping detection would cause monsters to get stuck in walls, or Rick would fall through some geometry bringing the game to a disappointing halt.
These sorts of issues should not exist, especially in the incredibly linear environments the game presents. One time during one of the game’s few platforming sequences it autosaved just as Rick was falling off a ledge causing the game to reload his untimely demise over and over again. Players should not have to endure this sort of frustration when trying to enjoy their game.
In addition to the obvious technical issues, Splatterhouse has a hard time keeping the combat enthralling. Almost every confrontation is handled by rabid button-mashing with a few breaks to pick up weapons or grapple an opponent for a finisher move. There is a little strategy included with the ability to regenerate health once enough blood has been collected, but it doesn’t add enough to require an active brain while playing.
To make matters worse Rick’s ability to turn in to an unstoppable superbeast is easily abused with the right upgrades. This means that most of the more difficult enemies can be quickly eliminated leaving only the fodder to take care of afterwards. This reduces the game’s challenge significantly and makes the battles feel even more hollow.
For those few who come to the game because of the original Splatterhouse games, all three classic titles are available as unlockables within the campaign mode. Offering the classic Japanese arcade version these are authentic to the 16-bit gore you (might) remember from your childhood. It’s a small inclusion, but it’s appreciated in an age where this could have easily been a stand-alone XBLA release.
Splatterhouse doesn’t offer any multiplayer options, but it does have a ‘Survival Room’ mode that challenges players to defeat 20 waves of enemies as quickly as possible. This would do something to extend the gameplay if the combat were well designed, but without quality fight mechanics it’s just another way to earn a nudie photo. Unfortunately, once the 6-8 hour campaign is done there’s very little reason to keep it around.
Splatterhouse is a game that’s plagued with a long list of problems, but an identity crisis is not among that list. It’s one of those games that feel self-aware in its awkwardness, letting players enjoy it for the horrorshow it is. Splatterhouse is not going to be on the top of anyone’s must-have lists, nor will it ever win a game of the year award but it’s impossible to deny that it has charm.
Through its shameless display of blood, sex, and violence Splatterhouse will carve a place out in the hearts of gaming’s most depraved enthusiasts. It’s sick and you have to be sick to enjoy it, but that’s just part of the fun. For those who can stomach technical flaws and really want a meaningless game full of tits and gore, Splatterhouse will be your haven. This is a game designed for the perverts and monsters we all pretend we aren’t.