Splatterhouse's development has been a horror movie in and of itself. Originally given to Mark of Kri developers Bottlerocket Entertainment back in 2007, Namco snatched the title away early last year and gave it to the team that handled 2008's Afro Samurai game. Now, almost four years after work began, Splatterhouse is here, but like so many horror movie villains, its childhood trauma has left it broken and twisted in the journey to bloody adulthood. Between poor level design, boring combat, and hamfisted attempts at over-the-top explicit content, Splatterhouse is a mess.
The remake of an 80s arcade title (that went on to appear on most home consoles of the 8 and 16 bit era), Splatterhouse starts out more or less the same way the original did – protagonist Rick is lying in a pool of his own blood (and, on closer examination, intestines) as Dr. West drags his girlfriend Jen away. An ancient mask offers Rick a deal: it'll help Rick save Jen if he puts on the mask and destroys West and his creations. From there it's a flashback to the gonzo horror sensibilities of the '80s VHS horror boom and movies like Return of the Living Dead, Night of the Demons, and Brain Dead – it's stupid and crass and it revels in it. There's even the obligatory frontal nudity as Rick finds fragments of pictures from Jen's purse, some intimate in nature.
While Splatterhouse rolls around in Lovecraftian themes that feel pretty tired in 2010, the slightly goofy sensibility takes the edge off of that somewhat. And it feels cutting edge compared to the game's mechanics, whose third-person brawling is lifted straight from the Character Action Game Handbook TM. Heavy and light attacks? Check. Upgraded attacks and better combos? Check. Quicktime kill moves? Check. Hordes of small fodder enemies with slightly more powerful enemies in rooms that are locked until everyone is dead? CHECK.
And all of that is fine too, theoretically, until Splatterhouse hits you with a wildly inconsistent framerate that often hovers around the single digits, bad default camera angles and a recalcitrant player controlled camera. Horrible framerate problems hurt controls that already felt a moment or two behind my inputs on the stick, and the camera exacerbates Splatterhouse's tendency to pull cheap hits while I was waiting for the game to catch up to me.
The control problems also extend to Splatterhouse's side-scrolling moments. Slamming a 2x4 into enemies works just fine, but the timing-based hazard puzzles are a chore with laggy analog stick response, and jumping feels like heaving a bag of rocks. Later in the game, the platforming element is brought over into the third-person sections and fares just as badly, adding infuriating instant death moments to the rest of the game.
Splatterhouse desperately attempts to pander to a particular audience, and in that, it has slightly more success, at least visually. If you want gore, you've come to the right place: Splatterhouse has the most graphic violence I've seen in a game. It's all shock and exploitation from beginning to the end. Enemies are disemboweled, decapitated, beaten with their own severed limbs (or yours), ripped in half, impaled, and sodomized with spikes and other objects including Rick's own fist. That last one isn't a joke, and, in fact, you'll do an additional disservice to the enemy in question by pulling his spine out through his exit-only door.
I don't want to elaborate too much on the different level themes, since most of the fun to be had here is seeing new enemies and environments. That is, until about halfway through the game, when Splatterhouse runs out of tricks, and starts recycling enemy types and throws tentacles and piles of flesh and gallons of blood all over early-game stages. Meanwhile, the soundtrack and metal references feel overly self-conscious, like they were crammed in late to appeal to the metal crowd. I like Mastodon and Lamb of God, but they're squandered here.
Sadly, that's sort of Splatterhouse in a nutshell - an old school property crammed into a charnel house of modern game elements without much thought or care.