The Game: Splatterhouse (2010)
Developer: BottleRocket/Namco Bandai Games
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
System: Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Buy it on Amazon: RIGHT HERE
The Premise: 98 lb. weakling Rick uses the power of the Terror Mask to rescue his girlfriend from the evil Dr. West. Much decapitation, dismemberment and bludgeoning ensues.
Is It Any Good?: Preparing to write this Random Select, I couldn’t help but feel a little bad for Anita Sarkeesian. All those hours of research and production that went into her multi-part video series, and it turns out all she really would have needed was a five-minute montage of Splatterhouse and an end title card reading “Really video games? REALLY?” Born out of a series whose main selling point was shlock shock, Splatterhouse may be one of the most faithful rebootquels I’ve ever encountered. It’s a game predicated entirely on a teenage boy’s idea of awesome. Limbs are torn off (including your own), heads are severed and blood is spilled by the gallons. Your character looks like the roided up lovechild of John Cena and Jason Vorhees and your girlfriend is nice enough to leave topless photos of herself lying around the levels. As the potential for video games as a real dramatic and artistic medium continues to expand, Splatterhouse is a throwback to all the juvenile tropes that kept games in the “kids stuff” ghetto for so long.
And if I’m being honest, I kind of dig it. Admittedly as a child of Heavy Metal I’ve always had a soft spot for this particularly brand of low-brow escapism, but in an age where developer’s claims of maturity and growth are often undercut by the actual games, it’s kind of refreshing to see a game so unabashed and unreserved in its stupidity. It also helps that Splatterhouse, like much of the exploitation genre from which it draws cues, feels largely like a quaint novelty. When I said that this is a teenage boy’s fantasy, what I really meant was a teenage boy from the 90’s. While this certainly packs more bite than Thrill Kill, anyone with an internet connection has probably seen worse than this before breakfast. While there are a few genuine gross-out moments (beating someone with your own arm got a wince, as did the rectum-based disemboweling) for me at least it was less about titillation, and more of a nostalgic reminder of the halcyon Duke Nukem 3D days when this stuff actually would have been shocking. I mean boobs? In a video game? Excuse me a moment while I recover my monocle from the floor.
Thankfully the game has a bit more than nostalgia working for it (though to be fair, not much more). Gameplay wise it’s a fairly bog standard 3D brawler with melee weapons thrown into the mix for some murder variety. The combat feels responsive and satisfying, and the moment to moment action is enjoyable. There’s also an upgrade system (I know, groundbreaking stuff here) that at least keeps things somewhat varied as you progress. I also dug the pre-rendered “Splatter Kills” that you can execute on weakened enemies, though having to sit through the animation repeatedly did begin to grate by the end of the game.
Really, repetition is Splatterhouse’s greatest sin, as there simply isn’t much variety to the enemies or the gameplay, leading to fights that tend to blur into one another. Which again, is faithful to the originals, but while throwback aesthetics and attitude can be charming, throwback game design typically isn’t, especially in a genre originally designed to sustain at most a 20-30 minute gameplay experience. Splatterhouse does try to break things up with side-scrolling brawler/platform sections that mimic the original series, but these tend to range from forgettable interludes to incredibly frustrating roadblocks. I’ve also seen a lot of reports of people being plagued by bugs, though thankfully I didn’t encounter any in my playthrough. While the combat is repetitive, there’s at least some variety to the levels, and I personally enjoyed the copious (and cartoonish) gore. The game also employs a visual-based damage system similar to X-Men Origins: Wolverine (and yes, that’s a good thing) in which Rick will regrow cuts, tears, limbs and various missing chunks, a nice touch I wish more games employed. As a final point in the game’s favor, veteran voice actor Jim Cummings is great as the mask, even if he’s mainly saddled with generic wacky/sinister sidekick material.
In the end, Splatterhouse is the kind of game tailor-made for Random Select. In a traditional review setting at full price and based on a couple of extended sessions, I’d be hard pressed to offer more than a tepid recommendation. Yet as a forgettable bit of B-grade nonsense taken in 30-45 minute chunks, I can’t deny that I enjoyed my time with the game. If it’s a fine line between stupid and clever, it’s an even finer one between stupid and amusingly stupid, but I think a few minutes on Youtube will tell you whether this game is up your alley. Without getting too much into design politics, it makes you continue to hope for more growth in the medium if only so we can enjoy this type of game as the goofy, marginally embarrassing outlier it should be.
Bonus Points: For the retro-inclined, in addition to a series of challenge rooms beating the game gets you access to the original Splatterhouse and its two sequels. If you want to find out how those hold up, I recommend you look elsewhere, because that shit was way too hard for this PC gamer.
MOAR LIKE THIS PLZ: Splatterhouse (You know, the first one), God of War, Mortal Kombat, MadWorld
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