If the current economy is affecting the way we buy games, it's certainly affecting the way publishers are making them. For a while now it seems game publishers have been digging through their archives, looking for ways to repackage their existing franchises and Namco Bandai's no exception. Splatterhouse, Namco's new horror beat-em-up, represents a full-on 21st century reboot of the classic side-scrolling arcade game we played back in the '80s. With a few minor issues, it succeeds in re-creating an entertaining Splatterhouse experience in terms that gamers of today can relate to.
Splatterhouse follows the original arcade game's storyline, featuring Rick and Jenny, two college sweethearts. Against all logic, the kids go to a spooky Victorian mansion, home of the eccentric Dr. West. They think they're there to do a story on the good doctor for the school newspaper but once inside the house, well...bad things happen. In short, Jenny's kidnapped, Rick's mortally wounded and the house is teeming with monsters seemingly straight from the pit of Hell. You play as Rick, a hapless youth who's turned into a hulking mass murderer by an evil mask found in the mad doctor's mansion. Your job, in your new thick-necked form, is to get Jenny back and the only way to do it is to spend the next eight or so hours of gameplay beating the living crap out of everything in sight.
So what do you think the point of a game called Splatterhouse might be? Growing flowers? Nope. Collecting fairy dust? Wrong again! Eviscerating everything within a twenty foot radius? Bingo! This game is not rocket science, folks. Basically, the whole game consists of running ten feet, killing stuff, running another ten feet and killing more stuff. The controls are simple; pressing X and Y beats enemies to a pulp while B grabs them and slams them into the floor until they turn to jelly. You can jump, dodge-roll and heal yourself by sucking blood out of monsters and if you find weapons (like machetes, shotguns and two-by-fours) lying around, you can use them to cause even more carnage. As you fight, you collect blood which is tracked on your onscreen Necrometer. When you have enough blood, you can hit LB to turn into an even scarier version of yourself—complete with scythe hands and spiky bones growing out of your back—and really go to town. Collecting blood doesn't just let you turn into the Hulk times two; it also can be used to purchase additional health and useful skill upgrades.
And that's really it. Splatterhouse isn't a tremendously varied game; like its arcade-y ancestor, it sticks to a fairly basic formula. Of course, there's some variation in terms of enemy types. These come in the typical weak zombie fodder kind to the more powerful and highly disturbing baboon-butt variety (Be warned: the finisher for the baboon-butt monster is just...wrong.) and demand specific attacks in order to be efficiently dispatched. The game also mixes it up here and there with the occasional 2D side-scrolling sequences—obvious nods to the original arcade game. Aside from limited variation, the game's main problem is load times. Every time you die, you sit through a 30 second load screen. No, it doesn't sound like much, but it gets to be aggravating once you've done it more than a few times. And loading during gameplay is also a problem. Too often you'll find you've cleared an area and then end up standing in front of a door waiting for it to open while an onscreen “loading” icon spins in the corner.
On the plus side, Splatterhouse has a sense of humor and offers up some good campy fun. The relationship between Rick and the sarcastic Terror Mask is definitely worth a few laughs, especially since the mask is expertly voiced by veteran voice actor Jim Cummings (who unbelievably, has done multiple voices for Winnie the Pooh cartoons). Cummings is perfect in the role, sounding near exactly like the gravelly-voiced actor Michael Wincott in his role as the villainous crime boss in cult movie, The Crow. Aside from amusing writing and solid voiceover, if you're one of those people who spends your quiet time listening to bands like Lamb of God and Goat Whore (no, I'm not making those names up) then busting heads will be even more fun for you, because the the game is set to some seriously eardrum-bursting metal.
Sound in Splatterhouse is overall pretty solid and the graphics are more or less on par with the audio. While the human characters have a little of the 'scary mannequin' look about them, the effects and the environments are professionally done. You get to travel via magic portal through a number of locations, from Dr. West's haunted Victorian mansion to a creepy theme park (my favorite) to what looks like the inside of a giant lizard's lower intestine. In addition to kicking in teeth and visiting parallel universes, you'll spend your time collecting snippets of Dr. West's journal which explains his mad obsession, and fragments of torn photographs featuring your girlfriend Jenny in various states of undress. Once you complete the story mode you can check these journal entries and photos out in the Extras menu or if you'd rather, you can try on the special Xbox exclusive mask or give the unlockable Survival Mode arenas a go. Coolest of all, (at least for those of us nostalgic about our misspent arcade-centric youth) once you've played through the story mode, you unlock the three original Splatterhouse games and can play them in all their pixelated glory. As far as purchaseable extras, DLC for the game is limited now to a handful of alternate masks, an extra Survival arena and a Splatterhouse Xbox dashboard theme, priced from 80 to 240 Xbox points.
Splatterhouse isn't a game that can stand up to rigorous scrutiny but then again, why should it? Like slasher movies and horror films, it's meant to be nothing more than mindless, gory fun. In its simplicity, Splatterhouse remains faithful to its arcade roots, offering modern gamers a fresh take on a classic franchise minus the time limits and limited lives of arcade play. If you're looking for the video game equivalent of War and Peace, look elsewhere; if you're looking for a few hours of unapologetically over the top, gross-out-heavy escapism, Splatterhouse is just the ticket.