Dumb but awesome fun
Developer and Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Splatterhouse - the mere mentioning of such a name would make you think of some B-grade horror movie. That's what this game feels like, as a matter of fact. Oh no, it's not actually terrible, but it's just so over the top, that it's ridiculous. But at the same time, this is what salvages what would amount to a slightly above average beat em up.
Jennifer has been called to West Manor by Dr West, a necrobiologist. She brings Rick, her boyfriend, along as protection, just in case something goes awry and she gets herself kidnapped... So yeah, she gets kidnapped and Rick is left for dead, until he picks up and wears a nearby mask, which takes over his body. They'll be travelling through time and space together to catch up with Dr West in order to rescue Jennifer, but what is West's motivation for kidnapping her in the first place? Maybe a ritual to basically end the world? Why does he want to destroy the world? That, I won't tell, because I want to keep this review spoiler free, despite my temptations to simply tell you [insert spoilers here]... oh, god dammit! Either way, after every second chapter, you get a bit more of the event that unfolded before the game began... now, I'm not a big fan of having such a scene reveal itself bit by bit; it seems like the sort of scene that you'd want to view at the beginning of the game to set you up for what's to come. At the same time, the snippets of Dr West's exposition (which are found in gramophones and throughout the game from the mask) is at least interesting to listen to the first time to understand just what's going on and why he's interested in Jennifer... Not much is said about the mask, but that little amount should be enough to satisfy you when it's clearly about Dr West wanting to end the world..
So what we have here is a standard beat em up. Rick Taylor, under the influence of the mask, is able to smash the living hell out of various monsters and evil spirits with his giant, hulking fists, and when the monster you're beating up is glowing red, you can grab them and initiate a quick time event where you hold the analogue sticks in the directions shown on screen to rip monsters in half, or tear off their arms, or whatever. Now, if you're somebody who wants variety in their games (however tacked on variety ends up being), you're going to find yourself very annoyed very quickly, because that's ALL you do in this game basically – just go through halls, enter big rooms, kill off a group of monsters, and rinse lather and repeat, often with monsters in the halls. It's also pretty simplistic in which you just hammer the square and triangle buttons to try and form cohesive combos.
At times, you'll find yourself fighting against bigger monsters – as in, monsters that have visible health bars and can take many, many hits. They initially start off as bosses or, at the very least, mini-bosses, but towards the end of the game, they become regular enemies alongside the smaller monsters. The quick time events you partake in to kill them are a bit more complex, as there's more than one action – press the button on the screen. But this is much easier than continuing the brutal onslaught, because if you keep to your fists, it'll take a fair amount of seconds, not to mention if its not the only monster, you'll leave yourself vulnerable.. just a fair strategical tip, is all.
Oh, don't worry, there are big bosses, but the problem is that they're pretty few in numbers, and aside from the final boss, they're in the first half of the game, which leads me to believe that they were getting lazy with the second half. These bosses usually require a beating, a lot of dodging, and some memorisation so that you know when to attack and when to dodge. Of course, like just about every other game this generation, beating a boss requires that you perform some quick time events, so instead of just watching a potentially epic scene where Rick tears apart some big, bad monster, you have to press buttons and pull the analogue sticks in the same direction as shown on screen! Yay! Don't you just love quick time events? Because I sure do... not!
The mask doesn't just hulk Rick out – it also gives him demonic powers. Eventually, you'll be able to slice enemies in half with blade arms, or impale them with a ground pound that summons groups of little stalagmites, as well as learn more combos. It's nice knowing that the game doesn't try to shove a hundred billion combos each with fourteen buttons down your throat – the most you have you do is hold triangle for a stronger attack, or press square and then triangle. Nothing tricky here, folks. On top of that, when the Necro meter has at least three bars filled, you can activate Berserk mode, which powers up your attacks considerably, and pretty much just tear everything up.
As a homage to the older games, you'll sometimes be placed into some two dimensional gameplay segments. It's a lot like the three dimensional segments, but you can only move left and right... and the stiff platforming controls really show their true colors here. In these segments, you'll need to make a few jumps here and there (which is a lot more often than in the three dimensional segments), but since the length of your jump is determined by your running speed, it may be a bit tricky to get it right unless you realize “oh yeah, I can go for a running start on these small platforms – duh!” So it's basically an exercise in getting used to the mechanics, especially if you've just come from the older games expecting some horizontal distance in your jumps even when you jump after standing still.
But where the jumping is never a problem in the three dimensional segments, the camera will be. It's okay most of the time, but then there are moments where it goes all over the place, like when a lot of enemies spawn – it just doesn't know what to focus on. Oh, and the rare instances of platforming are made harder by the fact that the camera doesn't usually let you see where the edge is, so you're bound to fall and, eventually, be grateful for the rare instances of platforming.
One thing that sucks hardcore is how, as the game draws to a close, it just seems like they were putting together some half assed crap to justify difficult levels. One thing that gave me the shits was the fact that the second half had no bosses, except for the final one – instead, it becomes a 1 VS 300 battle royale of sorts. It doesn't end there, because individual levels suffer quite a lot, too - There's one level that puts you under strict time limits and it requires a lot of trial and error to figure out what encounters to avoid and what encounters to fight in, and when to hulk out and when not to hulk out. It's not horrible, but your first time through will frustrate the hell out of you. The next level is okay, but just feels like it takes FOREVER as you trudge through bridges and the halls inside a temple. The last boss fight was just a protection mission, followed by a lame quick time event. I wouldn't exactly put any specific moments from the rest of the game up too highly on my list of favorite moments in video gaming history, but they're certainly more enjoyable than the last few levels of the game.
In fact, what gives Splatterhouse some wings is the fact that it's just dumb fun. It bathes in ultraviolence with a side ordering of over the top gestures and cheesy dialogue that always finds a way to force a smile out of you as you tear monsters apart. There aren't any deep messages in the dialogue, nor do you really ever have to memorize a good number of combos – you just hammer buttons while the mask makes some smartass comment. On top of that, the bosses (for the most part) are epic in scope, and it's even more dumb fun because you're still beating them to a bloody pulp. Yes, there is memorisation and a lame ass quick time event, but it's still fun as hell beating up big monsters until they die, despite their lack in numbers. This is what gaming is about... fun. No doubt, if Splatterhouse didn't have this going for it, it'd be a flop. The grade you see down on the bottom of this review would go down to about a C-. Not kidding.
If you persevere, there are some rewards beyond progression. You get to unlock levels in survival mode after completing every second story level. Survival mode is essentially an endurance test where you must kill twenty waves of enemies as quickly as possible without dying. Another thing that'll keep you playing is what you collect throughout the game – pieces of photos of Jennifer, usually hidden in boxes, but usually on the way to the end of the level. Let's just say that they're, umm... sexy for a video game character... yeah, I'd rather not discuss this any further. What? I prefer my women to be real, thank you very much!
The graphics are fairly good. Not great, but certainly not crap. There are some... weird looking textures around the different environments you explore, especially the darker ones. The best way to explain is that they have that they look splotchy, as if you're not meant to have much brightness on the screen. Beyond those mishaps, the environments themselves at least look convincing. From a creepy mansion, to a slaughterhouse, and then the outdoors when we're closing in on the apocalypse, the colors are very appropriate and the textures (except those splotches) helps make everything stand out. However, it downright pisses me off that this takes some time to load up. Over thirty *bleep*ing seconds... Oh my god... Games with better graphics didn't need to take as long! Oh well, let's see if we can be positive... You know, what amazes me are the scenes at the beginning and end of the game, as well as after completing every second level; they're actually quite nice to look at. Sure, anything that the scene isn't focusing on has more blur than you'd expect, but what the scene does focus on and maybe the environment around it (if the graphics engine is nice enough) has a decent amount of detail and is usually animated fluidly... yeah, as opposed to some questionably choppy or abrupt in game animations. I understand that this had a bit of a hard time in development with Namco getting impatient with Bottlerocket and basically telling them to *bleep* off during the fourth year, so I won't be too harsh in this regard.
The audio is excellent. The voice acting, especially for the mask (Jim Cummings, ladies and gentlemen), is surprisingly well done, conveying just the right amounts of emotion, like the crazy Dr West with some hints of subtlety in his voice, or our hero, Rick, having a bit of fear in his voice as everything seems to scare him (but hey, mutants would scare the hell out of me, and don't get me started on my reactions to a mask taking over my head and morphing me into a hulk-like figure). The mask is just fantastic - each line he delivers just seems to feel pitch perfect for the situation at hand, and that voice just seems so evil, that you wonder if HE is the bad guy, and West is just his puppet... oh, so many questions, so little time that'll be filled in a sequel.
Splatterhouse isn't a masterpiece by any means, but it's a game that you should give a chance, despite what the pros say. It's a very fun game that's so over the top, that it's in space. Yes, the loading times will become VERY annoying VERY quickly, and a couple of other issues here and there, but ultimately, this is something you should NOT pass up unless you don't have a 360 or PS3. That is your only excuse..
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