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Splatterhouse 360 is an enjoyable schlocky, button-masher beat-em-up that sticks close to its 1980s horror film roots, and is all the better for such lowbrow influences.
Back in 1988 the original Splatterhouse arcade game was a revelation to your then-teenage Story Gamer. While other side-scrolling fighters were influenced by martial arts movies, with a cast of ninjas and street punks, Splatterhouse looked elsewhere on the video shop shelves for influence, to the 1980s glut of low-budget horror films.
Transformed by a demonic hockey mask and clad in tattered overalls, hero Rick resembled Friday the 13th serial killer Jason Vorhees, and had to fight his way through various Evil Dead-type zombie horrors. There was even a boss with two chainsaws for hands, putting Texas' Leatherface rather to shame.
It was, in short, a transgressive delight, albeit one I mostly enjoyed watching other people play, not because I was scared but because I was rubbish at that kind of game.
(I still am - the original Splatter House is available as an unlock in this new version, and I still can't get past all those floating mines in the second level.)
Two decades on, the new Splatterhouse is a more manageable proposition, partially because this reviewer has more experience of 3D brawlers than 2D ones, but mainly because I rapidly cranked the difficulty down to 'Coward' level.
A bleak slapstick to the violence broadens the adventure beyond West's already implausibly large mansion and out into other worlds.
The action may now reach into the third dimension, and Rick now has a vast array of combos, power upgrades and finishing moves available to him, but this is still the same old Splatterhouse, a world where enemies never just die when they can burst into a spray of gore.
This is not a game for subtlety and strategy. The game is largely linear, albeit with the odd branching option where two doors are available, and essentially breaks down into a very long string of contained arenas where Rick faces off against wave after wave of rancid baddies, the player button-mashing frantically until all enemies are dead and the next door opens.
Splatterhouse's idea of a puzzle is that Rick occasionally has to unlock the next area himself, usually by grabbing an enemy and throwing it on to a spike, the impaled meanie dragging down the spike and opening the door. Professor Layton this is not.
Crucially, Splatter House stays close to its B-movie horror roots. The story is the same as the original, with Rick's girlfriend Jen kidnapped by mad scientist Professor Henry West. If there was ever any doubt that the monster-making West was related to HP Lovecraft's Herbert West, Reanimator (Film), then that doubt is safely put to rest here, with constant references to Arkham and Miskatonic University.
The influence of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead films (which also have a certain Lovecraftian element to them) has been significantly upped, with a similarly bleak slapstick to the violence and dimension-warping holes to broaden the adventure beyond West's already implausibly large mansion and out into other worlds.
I'm in two minds about the way that the modern capacity for huge amounts of spoken dialogue track and colourful, vivid graphics have updated Splatterhouse. On the one hand, there's the aforementioned ways in which the horror influences on the story are expanded, with the house itself a much greater and varied location, and West's journals allowing a lot more background to his story.
On the other hand, there was something nicely oppressive about the wordless trudge through endless groaning enemies in the original arcade game, the tinny background music the only relief from the crunch of weapon into monster. Rick and the Terror Mask were a silent team, bent on a bleak and violent struggle.
A game as broad and silly as Splatterhouse was never going to compete with Silent Hill 2 for atmosphere
In this version Rick and the mask just won't shut up. There's an almost constant internal dialogue between the shouty, sweary demon in the mask and whiny, lovelorn Rick. While some of the dialogue does develop the story and build character, the old spooky house isn't all that spooky with this level of background babble. Even when the mask is simply chastising the player for not fighting better, the chat breaks any sense of gloom the game had.
A game as broad and silly as Splatterhouse was never going to compete with Silent Hill 2 for atmosphere, but it's a bit of a shame that, with its black comedy dialogue and brightly coloured environments, it never really tries. It's more gory funhouse than actual horror.
For this reviewer at least, the two most horrific things in the game were presumably not intended to inspire such feelings. Horror one is the Quick Time Event finishers for certain boss battles, which require either fast reactions or rote learning to avoid being kicked to the last checkpoint. Horror two is the loading times, which are long. Neither of these are game-breakers, but they are annoying.
For the most part Splatterhouse is a lot of fun though, turning the VHS nightmares of the 1980s into a shallow but spectacular videogame romp. While the gameplay is straightforward, there are some extras that enhance the video nasty feel: collectable nudey photos of Rick's kidnapped girlfriend are a suitably exploitative touch.
Splatterhouse turns the VHS nightmares of the 1980s into a shallow but spectacular videogame romp.
Similarly, for anyone wanting flashbacks to the arcade thrills of old, not only does the main game occasionally switch to side-scrolling mode for a hectic chase sequence, but you unlock the original Splatterhouse games as you progress through story mode. It's retro indulgence, for sure, but welcome.
I'm not sure I can wholeheartedly recommend Splatterhouse, certainly to gamers who have no history with the property, or who are sufficienty young that late 1980s horror flicks and arcade games hold no retro buzz. While the horror genre tropes are well observed, there's no depth to the story and the dialogue is largely forgettable.
Like a good, dumb slasher flick it's highly enjoyable hokum, but also a very shallow experience perhaps more suitable for a weekend's rental rather than a full-price purchase.
Splatterhouse is fun though. Adjust expectations accordingly, prepare yourself for low-brow schlock, and you'll find Splatterhouse a guilty pleasure, but a pleasure nonetheless.
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