On Saturday, April 24, 2010 at the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival XII in Worcester, Massachusetts, I was given an exclusive sneak preview of the new Splatterhouse by the game's producer, Dan Tovar of Namco Bandai Games America.
Before I launch into my review of the demo I played, let me give you a little background: I traveled to the festival that morning from Southeastern Connecticut with a friend from work, Brenton. The doors opened at noon, we made it inside to the ticket counter and got our VIP bracelets. Then we headed inside to find Dan. However, no one seemed to know where he was - or where the VIP room with the demo was set up - so we started hunting for him.
About an hour later, we finally found him handing out stuff near the staircase to the merchandise level. I introduced myself and Brenton, and we headed outside to start talking business, because it was impossible to hear in there.
Dan's a pretty cool guy to hang out with. We talked Splatterhouse past and future and touched base on a lot of things. Given the somewhat negative reaction I've seen to the new trailer (the one released on 4/16, referred to hereafter as the "new" trailer), I made it a point to ask him what the deal was with it. According to him, they were unable to release a trailer that really showcases the amount of carnage in the game, which is why they went the route they took. It also helped that they owned the rights to "Sento nel Core" and could use it without a problem, and they didn't have to wait to get clearance from the bands they've signed to use any of their music.
There was someone else with Dan, someone taking pictures. He had both a digital camera and a videocamera. Very interesting. He snapped a pic of Dan and I, and as it turns out, he also designed the new logo for the game and has done the ads starting to show up in mags like Spin. His name is Jake, from the company Rocking Creative, and he too was a very cool guy to hang out with.
Dan told me that they were sharing the upstairs VIP room with Metal Blade Records and we had to wait for them to clear out before we went up. So we talked some more, and I thanked him for everything he's done so far, like being so willing to work with the fan community on this, and giving me unprecedented access to promotional materials. As I said to him, I don't think a fansite webmaster has ever received this kind of treatment before.
Finally, it was time. So Dan, Brenton, Jake and I all headed up to the VIP room. We went up several flights of stairs, opened a door and were greeted by a life-size poster. Already this was looking sweet. They also had the Dave Wilkins Splatterhouse Part 2 redesign poster hanging up.
And there it was, in a corner of the room. The reason I had come. There was an Xbox 360 hooked up to an HD TV, and on the screen was a suitably rotten and decaying Deadman (aka zombie), growling and writhing.
The demo was on.
So we all sat down. It's when I saw Jake setting up his video camera that it hit me: they were going to film this.
Dan started it up. The demo itself was very much a work in progress, and as such there were a few minor pre-alpha bugs that hadn't been ironed out yet. But that didn't matter. The first stage he walked us through was the catacombs beneath West Mansion, as shown in many of the recently released screenshots. There were Deadmen and "lizard monsters" infesting the stage. We got to see the chainsaw, 2x4 and a couple of Splatterkills in action. Blood was flying everywhere, and continued to do so throughout the rest of the demo. For those concerned about the character models after seeing the new trailer, nothing looked plasticky.
Dan demonstrated some of the different ways to open doors, showcasing one of Rick's special moves for one of them, a shoulder thrust. A couple of other doors, living doors, were handled very brutally. At one point he entered a room that contained a very big tribute to a certain boss fight from Splatterhouse 2. In this room he demonstrated a couple of Rick's super moves, including the return of the special move from Splatterhouse 3 as glimpsed at the end of the new trailer.
Then he reached a point where the demo crashed and he had to reset. When it came time to start going through it again, he handed the controller off to me and it was on. I laid into those Deadmen with gusto... and a roaring chainsaw. Then I started pounding them with both my fists and the 2x4.
What impressed me the most, besides the amount of carnage I was seeing, was the tightness of the controls. It seems to me that in the wave of concern over how the game looks, very few have remembered to ask how it plays. Lay your fears to rest there, because Rick responded perfectly to every command I made. It took me a few tries to get used to pulling off a Splatterkill simply because I had to learn how to do one, but once I had the hang of it I was surprised how easy it became.
The other stage I saw was a 2D stage, as mentioned in the October '09 issue of Play Magazine. Even though it's a bit more platform-y than the earlier games (more than just spike traps here, believe me), it still screamed Splatmosphere and it had plenty of nods to the original trilogy in it. The lead pipe made its first appearance here, as did flying creatures similar to the bats from Splatterhouse.
As far as the audio was concerned, due to the fact it was being filmed, the volume was kept fairly low. It was even worse when the bands were playing downstairs and we had to raise our voices just to be heard on tape. So sadly, the audio portion of the game was mostly lost on me. I did, however, hear a little bit of a Rick/Mask conversation, but not enough to get a real feel for the voice work. At one point during the 2D stage Dan did point out part of the score, which was '80s horror/synth inspired, and he turned up the volume so we could hear it for a moment. What little I heard of that sounded good.
Finally we were done, and I was asked to do an introduction for the video, which should be shown on the official Splatterhouse YouTube channel. I introduced myself, plugged West Mansion and did my best to describe what I had just seen. I haven't seen this video yet, because it has yet to be edited and released as of this writing, but I hope they got my good side (not sure if I really have one, but oh well) and that I didn't come off like too much of a gibbering fanboy. Afterwards, Dan took the opportunity to give both Brenton and myself armloads of swag: shirts, posters, stickers and the like.
At that point, we finally parted ways. Brenton and I went to check out some of the bands playing. We saw Holy Grail, Cattle Decapitation and Skeletonwitch (who I really liked) before we left. An aside: Brenton went in not knowing what Splatterhouse was (aside from what I'd told him), but walked out a fan after seeing the demo. Splatterhouse has moved up right to the top of his "must buy" list.
I wholeheartedly approve of what I saw that day. To sum it up, we have Splatmosphere, the gameplay is there, and the controls are easy to figure out; intuitive, even. And oh man, does the blood fly. There are still many months left to go until the game is released, but based on what I saw I have every reason to believe that Dan and his team will deliver a title worthy of the Splatterhouse name.
This fall, prepare yourselves.
That's me up there in the first pic, hanging out backstage in the VIP room at the New England Metal & Hardcore Festival. The second pic, from left to right: myself, Brenton and Dan Tovar, the producer of Splatterhouse.
Namco Bandai Games America: http://www.namcobandaigames.com/
Official Splatterhouse website: http://www.splatterhousegame.com/