Review by Heretic9
Rick and the Terror Mask return!
Splatterhouse was a series I was a little late to discover. I saw my first Splatterhouse game inside of a video store, sitting in the Sega Genesis section. Splatterhouse 3, with it's blood splattered box art and intimidating characters jumped out to me. On the box was Rick, in his monster form, holding an Axe and preparing to butcher a large demon. I was enthralled with the box alone, and went to the counter to rent it and ran home as fast as I could. Upon turning on the console, I was greeted with an amazing intro sequence (for the genesis it was pretty impressive) and found myself immersed in the world of Splatterhouse. Not long after that, I discovered the remaining games in the series, and even saw a Splatterhouse arcade machine at my old laundry mat. Sadly, it would soon be replaced by Xmen Vs. Streetfighter, and my interest in the series would be replaced as well.
Warp ahead to the year 2002, I rediscovered the series again and never let go. I collected all of the games (aside from the arcade machine) and beat all of them, which is quite a feat considering how difficult those games were. I always found myself thinking the series was too short lived however, and always wanted more out of it. Splatterhouse 3 ended on a good enough note, but I still wanted more.
You can imagine my excitement when I find out later in my life that a new Splatterhouse game was being developed for xbox 360 by a small team called Bottlerocket. However what I saw was far from what I expected. What little information there was available at the time was not promising. The game as a whole didn't really seem very Splatterhouse, and the screenshots for the game weren't very good. It was hard to feel any excitement for the project, but regardless I kept watch over it like a protective parent.
Sometime in 2008 however, more information on the game was revealed, and later I would find out that Namco wrenched the game from Bottlerockets hands, laid off most of the company, kept a few designers, and began working on the game anew. What I saw was looking much more promising, though still far from my expectations. As time went on, trailers began coming out and the game really took on a Splatterhouse look. I recall the first time I felt any hype at all being when I saw the "Make a Wish" trailer. Suddenly I realized that this game was indeed a true Splatterhouse title and began waiting for the release. Release was delayed several times, but I continued to wait. The day finally arrived when the game was released in stores, and I held the box in my hands. Greeted by a blood soaked box art, I eagerly tore the plastic off the box (which took me a good 10 minutes by the way, I hate that damn plastic) and slapped the disc into my 360 with all haste.
I wasn't disappointed.
Taking an interesting spin on the classic "Save the princess" plot, Ricks girlfriend Jennifer has been kidnapped by Dr. West, and Rick is laying down in his own blood with a mask peering into his eyes.
"She doesn't have to die."
The mask, taunting Rick, insists that if Rick wears the mask, he can save Jennifer. What Rick doesn't realize however, is that much more than just Jennifer is at stake. Putting on the mask, Rick transforms into a hulking giant, and the game begins. But many mysteries remain unsolved. What is the mask? Why is it helping Rick? What happened to Rick in the mansion? These questions are answered as the game progresses, and there were many moments in the game where I found myself thinking "Ahhh so THAT'S what happened!".
Splatterhouse doesn't rely too much on story. While the story that's there is good in my opinion, this ain't Metal Gear Solid or Final Fantasy. There are no deep lines, no philosophical discussions, no thin moral grey areas. It's just Rick, chasing Dr. West, with a psychotic voice raging in his head and that's all this game needs. There are times when the interaction between the mask and Rick are interesting however, and other times when it's just downright funny to listen to the mask insult Rick or mock him.
During early development of this game, the graphics never looked terribly appealing. However as time went on, the graphics became more and more polished and it looked like an entirely different game. In the final product, the graphics look quite good. The models in the game are very detailed and the overall mood of the game is kept alive with shadows being cast on the walls, blood splattering onto Rick, and fluid animations. There are some snags however. The actual stages aren't quite as attractive. Many of the stages, especially the first few phases, don't look nearly as appealing as the models, and this takes away a bit from the graphics. The stages are quite varied though. You're not limited to just the mansion this time around. Upon taking a portal, Rick travels to various locations in different times and different places. While the graphics in the stages may not be quite as impressive as the models, they make up for it by casting a certain amount of atmosphere. Post-Apocalyptic New York actually feels like Post-Apocalyptic New York and the Slaughterhouse actually feels like a Slaughterhouse. My favorite would have to be the Slaughterhouse. That place is just downright scary. The whole time I was in that stage I found myself admiring all the small details they had put into it. I never felt like I was just walking down a hall of corridors and rooms, I felt like I was inside one of the most twisted places on Earth. Yet, I enjoyed every moment of it! There's also a carnival stage full of evil clowns and a hall of mirrors, and a level where the mansion has become alive, complete with a living beating heart!
However the blood may be what really catch your attention. Blood splatters everywhere, and the "Splatterkills" are especially pleasing. Even the screen isn't safe from the blood splatterings. Despite what people have been saying, the blood on the screen DOES NOT OBSCURE ANYTHING! The blood is transparent, and Rick (as well as his enemies) all stand out very easily, even when the screen is getting totally soaked. As a very cool nod to the classics however, the side scrolling stages let you smack the enemy INTO THE SCREEN! I've always wanted to do that in the original Splatterhouse.
The ravings of the mask are voiced by voice actor legend Jim Cummings, most well known in my mind as the voice of Robotnick in the Sonic cartoons that aired on ABC. He lends his voice very well to the Terror Mask, helping to give it a very sarcastic and evil tone. He contributes greatly to many of the more amusing moments in the game, taking lines that would otherwise be plain and making them into something special. Though I have to admit I can't help but feel his role as the Terror Mask is raping many of the characters from my childhood! Other voice actors in the game do a reasonably good job, but I have to say I felt they were completely overshadowed by Jim. His voice definitely steals the show.
The music (which has become somewhat of a big topic of discussion) is played by bands such as Lamb of God and Mastodon. Should the screaming lyrics not be to your taste, do not fret! The majority of the story mode plays instrumental music, so it shouldn't be a concern. While many have admitted they detest songs used in the game, I actually enjoyed some of them They took awhile to grow on me, but as time went on I found myself liking songs such as "Must Kill". Even if you don't like the songs, you have to admit the music does fit in very well with the overall atmosphere of the game.
The remaining sounds in the game are creepy and lend an overall twisted feel to the game. Sound effects during battle are great as well.The sound of skulls being crushed, limbs being torn off, and the screams of my enemies all sounded wonderful, and really added to the experience. Some of the stages really creeped me out playing the game with headphones on. The Slaughterhouse in particular seems to really stand out in the sound department, with the sound of low moans and groans being heard nearby, most likely coming from the tortured creatures that are on the receiving end of the facilities horrors. A certain iconic Splatterhouse foe commands the factory as well, and you'll know who he is when you hear him coming! I also enjoy the sound cues the mask gives you. They've saved my hide many times. The mask will warn you of incoming attacks, give you advice, and in the Slaughterhouse (Did I mention that I love this level?) the mask will help you cross dangerous rooms by letting you know when it's time to cross over. The mask is indeed mans best friend.
Splatterhouse just wouldn't be Splatterhouse without endless beat-em-up action though now would it? This is where the game really shines in my opinion. While you can explore the mansion to find hidden goodies such as pictures of Jennifer (I'll let you find out for yourself what kind of pictures they are) or spot various horror movie easter eggs, the bulk of the game consists of Rick smashing his foes into a pile of red goo. In this regard Splatterhouse definitely excels. Rick is a giant, and as a result he really has the power to obliterate his foes in a way players may not be used to. While many other games of this type rely on dodging, this game relies more on the player overpowering even large numbers of his/her foes using an arsenal of attacks. At the start, Rick can only use light and heavy attacks, as well as a grapple attack. However as you spill more blood, you can buy more moves, and this is when the gameplay really gets interesting. Many of the moves in this game make Rick much more menacing than any of the demons he's fighting! One move allows Rick to grab his adversary and spin them around (damaging anything in the path) and then brutally slamming the enemy into the ground, most likely killing it. Another move allows Rick to rip his enemies head or arm off (WITHOUT being a splatterkill no less) and then use the body part to clobber everything. My personal favorite attack is an upgrade to the quick (light) attacks which allows Rick to lay into the enemy with a barrage of fast punches. The upgrades you can buy consist of health upgrades, combo extensions, entirely new moves, and even weapon upgrades.
Rick isn't entirely unstoppable though. In fact he can be considered downright fragile. Despite having such a large frame, Rick takes a lot of damage and can die quickly if overwhelmed. While he does learn attacks later in the game to handle mobs of enemies, his best defense is his ability to heal. If one of his limbs is torn off, he can force it to regrow or let it regrow naturally. If he takes too much damage, Rick can cause his bones to explode out of his body (he looks kind of like a sea urchin when he does this!) and blood from his enemies is drained into his body, allowing him to heal completely. And if Rick is REALLY pissed, he can transform into his new monster form (berserker mode) and reduce everything around him to bloody particles. There's nothing more satisfying than being on the verge of death, cornered by your enemy, only to completely turn the tables on them by transforming into a hulking vehicle of death and destruction. The overall combat experience in this game can be summed up as "satisfying". I love smashing the bad guys! RICK SMASH!! AEERGGHH!!!!
Classic weapons like the 2X4 return (with a bit of a buff up) and can be used as well, though they will break after being used for awhile. Strangely enough, I found body parts to be the most effective weapons because they don't break as easily and give you more blood. The shotgun and chainsaw are the best for harvesting blood though, as you can imagine.
Why does blood matter you ask? Good question. Powerful attacks, upgrades, and healing is done with blood. Spill blood, and the mask harvests it automatically, filling it into a Necro Meter underneath your life bar. Keeping this bar full is the key to survival in Splatterhouse. In this way, the game encourages you to be as violent as possible. Splatterkills and weapons spill the most blood. Because of this, I find Splatterhouse to be the perfect game for venting your anger. In a bad mood? Pop in Splatterhouse and vent all that anger on the monsters.
When your enemy is surrounded by a glowing red aura, this is when the enemy is primed for a splatterkill. And that's when things get messy! Splatterkills are done with movements of the analog sticks or presses of buttons. They may take a few tries to learn, but that's what video games are about. Many may be irked by the fact they can't instantly do the splatterkills and lose their patience, but just keep practicing. In about 20 minutes I was pulling splatterkills left and right, laughing like a menace. Some of the splatterkills while very violent, obviously weren't very imaginative, but there is one particular kill however that is my favorite, and it's performed on a monster known on the Internet as "the butt monster". Trust me, the name will make sense when you do a splatterkill on this thing. That looks uncomfortable!
Fighting isn't mindless however. You'll need to dodge attacks, learn enemy patterns, and really adjust to your current situation. Rick is strong, but don't forget he's outnumbered 10 to 1 for most of the game. The camera makes it easy to keep an eye on them all as well. Simply rolling the right analog stick around swivels the camera around Rick, allowing you to keep the action in front of you. The camera makes it tough to keep an eye on anything behind you however, which some may consider a flaw. Personally I don't have a problem with it. Lots of games are like this including Resident Evil 4. This doesn't mean it's not annoying when a demon jumps you from behind and cuts your arm off, but it's also not a big problem. In this type of game you're going to have to deal with getting hit from behind once in awhile, there are A LOT of enemies on the screen coming after you. Maybe not nearly as many as something like Dead Rising, but it's not unusual for Rick to be facing 10 or more enemies at once. During berserker mode, the camera is at its worst unfortunately. Rick grows about twice his size, yet the camera doesn't zoom out any. This is annoying, but somewhat made up for with the fact Rick is invincible during this time, and his attacks will have a wide berth. But it still would have been nice if the camera would zoom out just a bit when you transform.
Aside from exploration and fighting, there are also platforming and side scrolling segments and for the most part, these are fine. However these areas are where the game starts to fall apart. The side scrolling portions are excellent as far as I'm concerned, and serve as a great throwback to the classics. My beef however is with the 3D platforming segments. They're cheap, to put it bluntly. Platforming in 3D is done mostly by using the analog stick to highlight a glowing foothold and jumping to it. Most of the time this works fine but some parts are cheap, such as a section where the platform you're standing on is falling and the mask tells you to jump. Your first instinct is going to be to jump as soon as the platform is falling, but that's not where you're supposed to do. You're supposed to press the jump button while in mid air. Rick will then do a strange floating motion and make it to the other side. What the hell????
Boss fights make a return to Splatterhouse but sadly there aren't many. Only about 3 "real" boss fights, with the other boss fights being glorified gauntlets of enemies. The bosses that we do get are satisfying, but late in the game the bosses stop appearing, which is a let down. My favorite boss fight however is in, you guessed it, THE SLAUGHTERHOUSE! I think it's actually called the Meat Factory but who cares? This boss was epic, and was one of my favorite moments in the game. It also happens to be the only boss that you get to fight in a side scrolling manner, which is far too short lived. I'd have loved to have seen more side scrolling boss fights.
The game could have really used more bosses, and probably some more enemy variety. Too many enemies are grouped into "types" and a lot of them are just stronger variations of enemies you've already pummeled hundreds of times before, But to be fair, that kind of comes with the beat-em-up territory. Familiar enemies from the series make an appearance, but there really weren't enough of them for my liking. I would have liked to have seen more classic Splatterhouse foes like those water monsters from the water stages in the original Splatterhouse. I loved smashing those things into the background! Most of the enemies are new, such as the Aegis, and I can live with that I suppose My favorite enemy thus far are the fat fetus thing you run into in one of the side scrolling levels. Not only is that a classic nod to the fetus monsters from the original Splatterhouse games, but it's also a totally twisted enemy design that really works well with the game. Too bad you only run into them once! Boreworms are back as well, but they're no longer the menace they used to be. They've been reduced to blood fodder. You find them in breakable objects now and you stomp on them. Damn, I remember when the boreworms used to be big enough to damage Rick! There's also a snake enemy, and I have to admit that while I like the design of the snake, It's a pretty unoriginal enemy concept. "Oh yeah, let's have a GIANT SNAKE!!!!". I like to pretend it's supposed to be the new Giant Boreworm, but it's obviously a snake.
One complaint I have are the amount of "spike" areas. These areas require you to pick an enemy up and throw them (or slam them) into spikes. These areas are fine most of the time, but sometimes the spikes are high up and you have to throw the enemy into them from a certain distance. It distracts from the heart of the game which is the fighting, and it just slows the game down in my opinion. A few of these would have been fine, but it seems like you run into far too many of them, especially at the beginning of the game. Copying and pasting is also an issue, with many rooms you go into being obviously copied, and some of the mechanics (such as the spikes I mentioned) get copied too often as well. There is a certain amount of glee to be had in impaling an enemy ass-first into a spike, punching a switch, and watching them get blasted into more spikes/incinerated/butchered though. But surely the team could have came up with something better than "let's make another room where you kick something into a spike!!!!". There's also a "Door Guardian" which is actually a giant mouth. Once again you have to throw enemies into this. Seriously, as if the spikes weren't enough? Finally, there's a giant eyeball which makes a few appearances in the game. The giant eye is probably my favorite because it doesn't get appear that often and doesn't require throwing an enemy into it. Sweet relief!
Regardless of any flaws, Splatterhouse is a solid game and too many people just won't give it a chance. The game offers plenty of replay value with difficulties, a new game plus, a survival arena (S ranking those can be a challenge) collectibles, unlockable classic trilogy (which plays just fine for me despite people claiming emulation issues) etc. but people can't get off of their Halo high long enough to try this game. Combined with the fact Namco refuses to acknowledge this game exists along with the fact games these days cost way too much (60$ is a little much) and you've got a game that people are going to dismiss as crap and ignore it, or wait until the price drops. The people who made this game worked hard to mold it into what it is, and it's a shame that this game probably won't sell enough to warrant a sequel, so splatterhouse fans you better enjoy this gasp of air. The series probably won't make a comeback. It was nice to see one more game in the series, especially with all the nods and references this one made. But I have a feeling this is the end. The series didn't get the revival I was hoping for, and there are still many things I would have liked to have seen done with Splatterhouse. While I enjoyed this game, I can't help but feel that the experience will be incomplete without a sequel. The game ends on a cliffhanger, and it just makes me want to see what's going to happen next. And part of me knows I will probably never find out what happens next in the story. Rick, the Mask, and Jennifers fate will probably go unknown, though we can still speculate on what "could have" happened next.
It sucks to end this review on a sad note, but the fact is a sequel is nearly impossible. Namco is having hard times right now and the future of Splatterhouse looks pretty bleak. After finally getting all the achievements, getting 100%, beating the game three times, etc. I finally placed the game into my bookshelf and took a moment to reflect on the series. I'm happy that the series got one last hurrah before it sank, but with all the needless hate this game gets, the bad reviews from popular websites, and overall lack of public interest in the game, I feel like this wasn't the way I wanted the series to go out. I guess Splatterhouse is doomed to be a cult classic series that will never get the recognition I feel that it deserves.
With that note, I urge people to buy this game. Buy the DLC packs too. Do everything you can to help this series. I don't want to see it end again so soon. I want to see a sequel, I want to see what happens. More importantly, I want to see Splatterhouse (and the team behind it) become successful and become a mainstream product. It deserves better than this.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Splatterhouse (US, 11/23/10)
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