One of the things that made me a Sega player, rather than Nintendo, were the wild games the systems offered. While Nintendo seemed to have higher quality and a trustworthy brand, Sega was not afraid to publish some particularly weird stuff. No game ever caught my eye quite as much as Splatterhouse. What is it? Well, I guess you could say it is a haunted house where you sort of play as Jason Voorhees going from left to right hacking up monsters; but it’s not necessarily what the game is about. Say it to yourself: Splatterhouse; it might be the greatest video game title ever conceived. I’d be surprised if movie studios haven’t been clamoring for the rights to the property, just for the title. That is about as far as they could go with it though once they realize there is no way to make a faithful adaptation without getting sued by one of the many properties that influenced the game.
The story of Splatterhouse is as follows: you are Rick, apparently a parapsychology student; though I’m not sure why it matters or how that information is dispersed. Rick, and his girlfriend, Jennifer, seek sanctuary in Splatterhouse Mansion to avoid a storm. Of course, something happens, and Jennifer is taken by the evil spirits in the mansion. Rick is killed, but not for long. He is resurrected by the Terror Mask, which is a Jason Voorhees hockey mask that floats and attaches itself to his face. Rick then must traverse through Splatterhouse Mansion, punching and chopping everything in sight. I believe this was controversial when it was released, and it’s easy to see why. Splatterhouse has some of the most putrid imagery I’ve seen in a game, and the sheer spookiness and all-out gorefest it presents is rare, even by today’s standards. As I’ll mention several times in this review; this is Splatterhouse’s greatest asset.
Perhaps the most interesting element of Splatterhouse is its carefree cribbing of American horror movie imagery. Bare in mind, it was originally developed in Japan. The outcome is reminiscent of how Kojima and Konami used to pluck aspects of American action and science fiction movies to put in their own game stories, like Metal Gear and Snatcher. It is a unique canvas, but the paint feels familiar. While not everything is taken from these movies, it is interesting to analyze. One has to wonder if the reason was a creative or financial, or perhaps both. Splatterhouse first debuted in Japan in 1988 as an arcade game, and later in 1990 for the TurboGrafx-16, so it is safe to assume that this game was conceived during the heyday of mainstream horror and slasher movies. Particularly Friday the 13th, Evil Dead, and Nightmare on Elm Street. I would even wager the obscure Japanese horror film Hausu might have been an influence in some levels where the environment acts as an enemy.
This was my first time playing Splatterhouse on the TurboGrafx-16 all the way through, but I always knew of its existence as a kid. It’s hard to forget walking through the video store and seeing the glorious phantasmagoric covers. I was always into horror and slasher movies, or at least the VHS covers of them, so I had this intrigue to play the Splatterhouse games even though I have no idea what they really were. I remember when the virtual console was launched, Splatterhouse was one of the first games on the TurboGrafx-16. I immediately bought it and played it through the first level. It was then that I realized this game is incredibly hard, I began playing Splatterhouse on my iPhone for this review and realized this would be an impossible task, so I finished it out on an emulator. Honestly, I found the game to be pretty boring, all things considered. If it weren’t for the admittedly incredible imagery and grotesque nature, I probably wouldn’t have been interested, and I think that’s what got a lot of people into it who are fans of this game. The gameplay is not necessarily revolutionary, but it coasts along on its tone and atmosphere. It’s easy to think that this is a side scrolling platformer upon first glance, but it’s truly an arcade title through and through. It contains all the familiar symptoms of an arcade from the quick and merciless deaths, to the rather short total gameplay time; there are only seven different stages in this, each with its own boss battle.
Unfortunately I didn’t enjoy Splatterhouse. It is incredibly unforgiving and frustrating, even from the first level. I really really wanted to love this game. I mean, it’s Splatterhouse, how could it be bad!? Well, I guess it has a great title; great enough to sustain a franchise for another 3 or 4 entries at least, but it is, sadly, not a fun or enjoyable gaming experience. It is not all bad though. I loved the imagery and the music, I just wish the game play complimented it, rather than worked against it. It is just too difficult for its own good at times, but please remember this was my first experience with this game. I’m sure I could keep replaying it and build up a muscle memory until I could play blindfolded, but I didn’t find it enjoyable enough to pick it up again. Maybe I’ll give it another go sometime, as it is still haunting my mind for everything it does well. Admittedly I’m curious to see where this franchise goes, but I’ll just watch other people play it.