Being one of the earliest horror-themed arcade games, Splatterhouse is a beat ’em up classic forgotten by time and even its own developer.
|Developer||Namco Splatter Team|
|Console||Arcade, TurboGrafx-16, FM Towns|
|Genre||Beat ’em up, horror|
|Purchase (TurboGrafx-16)||Purchase from eBay.|
Back in the ’80s and ’90s, arcade games were the shit. Video game arcades were nice places to hang out with friends as well as nice places to deposit a ton of quarters into hard-as-balls video games.
And for one reason or another, we love subjecting ourselves to playing these sadomasochistic, challenging games and watch our savings drain as we see our high scores break records and we progress as far into the game as possible.
But there were also very few horror-themed games out in the arcades. And among these rare gems is a classic beat ’em up known as Splatterhouse.
Based on the name of the game alone, you can pretty much tell what you’re in for. You’re in a haunted house and your job is to pound the living fuck out of these hideous monsters into bloody mush.
AND IT’S SO FUCKING KICKASS.
The game begins with two college students, named Rick Taylor and Jennifer Willis, taking shelter at West Mansion during a thunderstorm. However, they find out that this isn’t such a hot idea seeing as how the mansion was a an awful place swarming with mutants and vile experiments. Jennifer gets kidnapped by the monsters and Rick passes out.
When Rick comes to his senses, he finds a mask lying on his face that he can’t take off. A mask that suspiciously looks like Jason Voorhees’s mask from Friday the 13th…
Well, might as well get this little joke out of the way.
However, the mask seems to have given him a much more powerful body. With this power, Rick journeys through the West Mansion to rescue his girlfriend from the monsters.
Even back then, this is a pretty epic premise. With some clear influences from Friday the 13th and The Evil Dead movies, you were in for a bloodbath you wouldn’t soon forget.
The gameplay is quite simple. It’s a sidescroller where you’re punching monsters. And of course, slicing them with meat cleavers and bludgeoning them with wooden planks. Mindless and violent, but satisfying as hell.
Aside from the punches and kicks, you can also perform this tricky sliding kick move by jumping and then using the attack button right before you land on the ground. You rarely need to use this move as most enemies move pretty fast, but it does deal some pretty good damage against tougher enemies.
The graphics are pretty good for their era, all in their glorious 32-bit pixels. The death animations of the monsters are pretty graphic and the level backgrounds are filled with gore, scattered body parts, and pulsating flesh. Just looking at it might make you feel sick to your stomach.
I just got through helping a haunted house having an abortion. See what tests my sanity on a daily basis, people?
Splatterhouse is a very fast-paced game where quick reflexes are everything, because the game itself is unforgiving. If you’re moving through the level too slowly, an electrical field will approach you from the back of the level to damage you.
But you also have to worry about monsters constantly respawning on specific levels.
Your health bar is very precious, because you only get healed after you complete a stage. But even then, you only gain one hitpoint back.
2 HP. That is pretty damn stingy, guys. Seriously?
So as you can probably tell, you’ll be losing your lives pretty quick if you never touched this game before.
Some levels have branching paths, adding in some interesting variety. As far as I know, there is no real benefit in choosing one path over the other so it really comes to your preferences and which paths are easier for you to complete.
Some of the boss fights are more unusual, playing out more like timed sequences where you survive as long as possible rather than defeating bosses. Mainly, this is just for the first and second levels where you fight mutant leeches and haunted house appliances.
But then, there are assholes like these. The Biggy Man—no really, that is what he’s called—is a difficult boss who can easily read your button inputs to counter your normal attacks. Fortunately, the level he’s featured in contained shotguns that you can use against him. But if you have no choice but to use melee attacks, I would recommend the sliding kick move. For some reason, he has a tough time countering that.
There is also a particularly shocking twist boss with a very tragic ending, all done in a matter of minutes. It really helps that the game actually has voices and some well-composed music. It’s a nice touch, especially for a video game that is older than me.
And the music has a nice mixture of both the psychotic and the tragic.
There’s also a funny little in-joke about the game’s final boss.
It’s Captain Mozzarella!
Actually, the real name of this boss is Hell Chaos. But doesn’t it look like the Colossal Titan with a pizza face? And his theme music sounds like some sort of anthem.
Behold, puny mortal. I am Captain Mozzarella, bringer of pizzas and wrecker of thine shit. Thou hath defied me for the last time. Soon, the world will be engulfed by a tidal wave of yeast, hot tomato sauce, and five different kinds of cheeses. But first, I shall use thou as the main ingredient for a meat lover’s pizza. And you will BEG me to join thine girlfriend in Hell. Bwa ha ha!
Apparently, this unofficial name came from a user named serjicus, who ripped the music from the games and gave the humorous name since the final boss didn’t originally have an official name. I guess so many people found it funny that it’s worth mentioning.
After the difficult battle, you’re treated to one of the earliest bittersweet endings in gaming history. It really ties the sullen nature of the game together pretty well and leaves you with an empty feeling. It helps that the credits play with this track, which sounds strangely like Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.”
For the hardcore expert, you can pretty much clear the game in less than 30 minutes. Still, Splatterhouse is worth playing if you love fast-paced action games and arcade difficulty. And the original arcade game is the definitive version.
…What, you’re unable to acquire an arcade cabinet for Splatterhouse? Well, you can always play it on the FM Towns or the FM Towns Marty!
Whaaaat, you have no idea what those are?
…Neither did I, until I did my research and found out that an arcade port for Splatterhouse is available for an obscure Japanese gaming computer. You can even play it on what is essentially a home console of this computer. Being a video game nerd does that to you sometimes: You find some really cool shit.
The FM Towns version of the game is nearly identical to the original arcade game, with virtually no major changes. Still, it’s extremely unlikely you can get your hands on a copy of this game, let alone the system to play it with.
Good luck getting these!
I’m just kidding, people. If you’re unable to play the original arcade game, then you can play Splatterhouse on a less obscure system: the TurboGrafx-16.
Does anyone remember that system? If not, here’s a brief history.
The TurboGrafx-16, also known as the PC Engine in Japan, is the first 16-bit game console to be released. The companies responsible for the console are Hudson Soft and NEC. While it did beat Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo to the punch in the 16-bit gaming market, the TurboGrafx-16 didn’t sell well in North America but did pretty well in Japan. Because of that, the successor called the PC-FX was only available in Japan.
Ultimately, the TurboGrafx-16 is a curious piece of history but it is still a great system filled with fun, but challenging, games.
If you REALLY want to save yourself the trouble, you can buy the TurboGrafx-16 port on the Nintendo Wii’s Virtual Console service. That would be the most cost-effective way.
In short, Splatterhouse for the TurboGrafx-16 is an arcade port with downgraded graphics and sound. However, it still keeps pretty true to the original game down to the level designs. If you can’t play the arcade game, then this version of the game is pretty good too.
Even the sound design is pretty good. It has that feeling of an early 16-bit game, but the higher-pitched sounds work to the game’s advantage.
A minor issue with the TurboGrafx-16 port is that it contains some censorship in the US release, such as slightly toned down violence and references to Christianity removed. An example is that the inverted cross boss was replaced with another monster’s face.
It’s annoying, but it doesn’t really take away from the experience. Splatterhouse is still pretty gruesome even after the censorship.
Rick’s mask is also red instead of white, most likely to avoid legal troubles for having made him resemble too closely to Jason Voorhees.
Oddly enough, the mask still looks pretty boss. Maybe even better as a red color.
In short, Splatterhouse is among the first horror games to hit the arcades and it’s still fun to play. It’s a shame that Namco-Bandai wasn’t really interested in the series, so there are only five games with the Splatterhouse name. There was even a 2010 reboot title, which didn’t do too well.
Still, the original game left its mark and there would be many more great horror titles to come…
- Gameplay is quite straightforward and challenging, requiring quick reflexes to complete.
- The imagery of the game is vile and twisted, being a perfect game to play during nighttime.
- The soundtrack has quite a few memorably deranged tracks.
- There is a particularly memorable boss battle that adds a more depressing tone to the game. The ending further helps set it in stone.
- In the case of the TurboGrafx-16 port, it's very faithful to the original arcade game save for some censorship issues.
- The game is not very accessible due to coming from obscure, outdated systems. However, it's easy to play this game over the Nintendo Wii's Virtual Console.
- The game can be brutally difficult at times, easily turning the arcade version into a quarter-eater.