As I have mentioned before, my friends and I were obsessed with horror movies back in high school. Rental stores and VHS tapes were still readily available, so we took advantage by consuming several scary and schlocky films on a weekly basis. Many of our adolescent nights were spent watching gallons of fake blood splash across the screen, and our video game habits were not too different. Survival horror was rapidly carving out a niche in the gaming market. Series like Silent Hill and Resident Evil were making their debut in stores, but this was not the first time that I had encountered the genre.
There was a series that I had only read about in magazines as a kid. These games were filled with so many monsters and mutants, so much guts and gore that they were never released on the squeaky clean Nintendo consoles I owned. It wasn’t until I had access to a Sega Genesis emulator that I was able to experience… Splatterhouse.
The Namco classic opens on Rick and Jennifer, two college sweethearts who take shelter from a particularly nasty storm in local landmark, the West Mansion. Once inside, the pair are attacked by the horrible abominations that inhabit the home of Dr. Henry West, a once great man of medicine who went mad and conducted gruesome experiments. These demonic creatures mortally wound Rick, and steal Jennifer away, presumably for some sort of sacrifice. As Rick is bleeding out, he discovers an ancient Mayan mask, which begins to speak to him. This “Terror Mask” fuses to Rick, healing his wounds and transforming the demure hero into a hulking beast of a man. With this very familiar mask’s encouragement, Rick tears his way through the mansion to save Jennifer, leaving piles of monster corpses in his wake.
This game and its sequels hit all the right marks for my high-school self: a setting heavily influenced by horror movies, with an eerie soundtrack full of gothic riffs, all wrapped up in side-scrolling beat ‘em up fun. At the time, the violence and gore within Splatterhouse was a bit of a shock to the general public. This was before the days of the ESRB and its ratings system, but many critics called for the game to be censored or outright banned from home distribution. This sort of outcry only fueled my desire to play this grisly game. For teenagers, what could be cooler than stuff adults want to keep from you?
As I grew older, my love for shocking and schlocky horror films began to wane. I still had a special place in my heart for specific titles, but on a whole, I just wasn’t interested in modern scary movies. There was too much blatant violence and torture that only seemed present for shock value. My taste for horror gaming changed as well. I became more interested in engrossing environments and psychological stories instead of just buckets of blood and sharp objects. But when I came across the latest Splatterhouse on a massive sale at my local gaming retailer, I just couldn’t resist taking a trip back to West Mansion.
On the surface, the 2010 release of Splatterhouse is rather similar to its predecessors. The plot is mostly unchanged, save for cramming in more details and a Lovecraft-inspired reason for all of Dr. West’s experiments (to make a deal with the Great Old Ones to resurrect his dead wife). The violence is still turned up to 11, with plenty of blood and viscera to go around. There are even side-scrolling sections of the game which are a total throwback to the original trilogy. But just as horror movies adapted to new audiences, so did Splatterhouse. The combat in the game is reminiscent of most modern action games: spam light combos, use heavy hits on bigger enemies, perform gory QTE fatalities. The soundtrack is a combination of campy horror tunes and heavy metal hits from several big-name bands like Mastodon and Five Finger Death Punch. The mask is now voiced by Jim Cummings, and provides plenty of swear-filled one-liners as the game progresses. All of these new features fit with the game and its themes, but there is still something lacking in the execution.
To start, Splatterhouse has its fair share of bugs, particularly during auto-saves. Loading times are frequent and the obnoxious repeating screen of twitching enemies gets old very quickly. The boss fights are quite repetitive and uninspired, often degrading to wearing down some monster until it has time to regain ALL of its health and start the next phase of the battle (which is the same as the first). The game features plenty of nods to classic horror movies, but most of these are ham-fisted and serve no purpose outside of window dressing. To top it all off, the original trio of games is available as unlockable bonus material, but the sound for these games is emulated poorly, making the music and effects practically silent.
I think the real reason behind my lack of engagement with the new Splatterhouse is because that sort of mindless gore just isn’t my thing anymore. Minor annoyances aside, the game is a gorgeous third-person action game that will appeal to horror fans. The combat is solid, the music is great, and all of the details that have become synonymous with modern schlock are in full force throughout the game (blood, nudity, and lots of pointy things). But I know it’s not for me. Other folks may flock to the theaters during October to watch whatever scary movies are currently playing, but I am content to stay home and watch the classic horror films I have seen a dozen times before. The same goes for video games.