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Splatterhouse

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Released: 1990

Genre: Beat-’em-up

Format reviewed: PC Eng/Turbografx-16

Publisher: NEC Technologies Inc.

Developer: Namco Ltd.

Submitted by: Lee Tatlock

With a reboot of the series just around the corner it seems quite timely that a review of the granddaddy of gore appears here in the hallowed halls of Retro Gamer, that game is of course Splatterhouse. With this remake of the original game on the way, various fan sites here and there and even a bone shaking death metal band of the same name Splatterhouse obviously has its avid followers, and deservedly so.  From its dark atmosphere and sick and twisted visuals Splatterhouse came as a total shot in the arm for more grown up gamers of the time who had nothing but wave after wave of cutesy gaming icon wannabe’s to contend with. Then along comes Rick Taylor, our protagonist, his lover, Jennifer, torn from his arms by unknown forces and his only chance at getting her back coming in the form of an ancient artefact known as the Terror Mask that turns him into the absolute antithesis of tosh like Bubsy the Bobcat: a blood thirsty, skull smashing, gut wrenching, brute with the muscle to tear his way through West Mansion to find his soulmate. It’s compelling and heady stuff indeed but back in ‘89 it was like a solid kick in the excitement glands and I for one was lining up for another shock!

The gameplay fits snugly into the scrolling beater cannon sans lube, you walk, you punch, you kick, you dodge so on and so forth, but everything feels a little different here so instead of the above you trudge with hulking muscular purpose, you smash bodies to maggot infested sludge, you obliterate bodies against walls with metal pipes, you jump puddles of corpse vomit and slithering boreworms. It’s twisted like you read about and you can see clear inspiration from the cream of the horror movie crop with Evil Dead II, Re-Animator, C.H.U.D. and every top class zombie film of the time all rolled up into one pulsing ball of skinless fan service.

Moving Rick around the house and its grounds is a smooth operation once you adjust to his speed and moves you’ll be jumping spikes and thumping strangulated mutant babies in no time. As well as jump, kick and punch rick can also slide kick with a well timed press of your attack button and diagonal down on your pad. This move may take a few times to get used to but you’ll need this move if you’re going to defeat your doppelganger in the mirror room with as little damage as possible later down the line. Also you can modify your manoeuvres with the aforementioned weapons, these come in the form of metal pipes, fishing harpoons, meat cleavers and even shotguns! YAY! Like I said it all becomes second nature after you’ve broke a few skulls.

Graphics are obviously better in the arcade version but the old TG16 does its best and emulates the whole affair pretty well, sure it doesn’t feel as dark, gruesome or visceral but it’s intact for most part. However there are a few differences between the US and Japanese version of the game and although it’s nearly note for note it I still miss those little additions on my US version of the game on Wii’s Virtual Console. For starters in the western version Rick is wearing a rather fruity looking maroon Kabuki style mask that just sets the whole feel of the game off to a bad start. The Japanese Voorhees style mask was always going to draw the crowds (although I firmly believe that the mask looks at its most threatening and evil in part 3 with its grimace of slits – thank goodness they stuck with this design for the current gen remake! Still not too sure about them ripped up jean-shorts though…). Next up the boss with the swirling heads, in the chapel level, are usually spinning around an inverted cross but here that is replaced with a blue mutant head. Also after said boss fight Rick looks at an altar with a cross on and hears some heavenly music but that is also amiss leaving Rick staring into space like a bit of a gorm. There are probably other differences but these are the main ones and sure they are just niggles but for a game built on atmosphere and overall aesthetic it does sting a little.

Sound is well emulated, suitably creepy and builds tension nicely – there are a good few tunes in here I hope make it over to the new game though it’s mostly sounding like a death metal affair so far, but we’ll see.

Bosses are impressive and inventively gruesome and all have their learnable patterns but some are still a tad unforgiving, and believe it or not this version is a bit tougher than the arcade original – and that one wants you monies!

Overall it’s still a mould breaking classic and requires thumbs of steel to shred your way through. I may be a little biased being a hardcore fan from back in the day (sad as it may seem I even bought those new Splatterhouse design skater shoes, very comfy too!) and this may seem like any other scrolling brawler to today’s gore-numb audiences, but for me the twists in story and the strictly adult atmos’ make this the definitive first step in the evolution of brutal beat ‘em ups. So all I can say is don your terror mask and prepare to feel the bloodlust!