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Rob's Splatterhouse (2010) Review

Xbox 360 version reviewed, as installed on the internal HDD

This is a very difficult review for me to write, mostly because it's been a few years since the last time I wrote a review and frankly, I'm a little rusty. But seriously, everyone that's been following the site knows that I've been in direct contact with Namco Bandai since the game was initially announced by EGM in April 2008. I'm sure a lot of people are wondering if I will treat it fairly, try to give it as unbiased a review as possible - or would I go ahead and rave about it like some blinded fanboy because Namco Bandai has given me all sorts of perks?

Let me put your mind at ease on that score. I've been saying all along that I will give the game a fair a review as I can. If it sucks, I'll say so. If it's good, I'll say so, and so forth. I have no desire to compromise my integrity because of a few perks, and I hope everyone out there - including those at Namco Bandai - understands this. Writing a glowing review when it's not warranted wouldn't do any of us any good.

It's also hard for me to write this review because this is a game that I'd hoped would materialize for fifteen years, then spent the past two and a half years anxiously awaiting once it was confirmed to be coming. Would it live up to my expectations? Would it ultimately become the next-gen updating of Splatterhouse that I've always wanted?

Read on...

Overview

I know I don't need to explain this to the vets, but for any new players out there, a little background: Splatterhouse is a 3D brawler with 2d sidescrolling stages mixed in, a reimagining of the original arcade game, originally released in 1988, with a few plot elements thrown in from the Sega Genesis sequels Splatterhouse 2 and Splatterhouse 3. The story follows Rick Taylor, college student, who has gone to the foreboding West Mansion with his girlfriend Jennifer Willis. Upon arriving, Rick was attacked and left for dead by creatures under the command of one Dr. Henry West. West wants Jennifer for something - but for what? That, you'll find out as you play the game.

As Rick lies dying, his blood soaks into an ancient relic, the Terror Mask. This wakes the Mask up, which reaches out to the dying student, telling him it will give him the ability to save Jennifer from whatever West has planned for her. All he has to do is trust the Mask, to put it on...

Story

Gordon Rennie did a pretty good job of taking the story from the original game and adding a few unique flares to it. Certainly it's still the same basic "Rick has to put on the Terror Mask and rescue Jennifer" story that we're all used to, but with several new twists - namely the addition of Dr. Henry West to the story. West has been a near-mythical figure in the Splatterhouse mythos for twenty years now, and for the first time he's actually seen, heard and given an extensive (and I do mean extensive) backstory. It's not the most original backstory that there could be, but it does make for quite a few surprises as you go through the game.

It's nice to see the characters of Rick, Jen and the Mask fleshed out as well. There are a couple surprises along the way - such as a revelation made by the Mask about Rick about halfway through the game - and the fleshing out provided by Rennie does give a more human quality to the characters, something that was really only touched on in Splatterhouse 3 before (and to a lesser degree, Splatterhouse 2).

However, the story does fall a little flat when it comes to the ending. The plot twist in the story this time around is quite unexpected, I'll admit. But the ending itself... it's obviously set up for a sequel, but it was a bit too abrupt. I won't say any more, so as not to spoil anything for anyone, but I'll say that if I was disappointed by any part of the story, it was the ending.

Controls

Splatterhouse really shines here. Not once did I ever have a problem making Rick do what I wanted him to. I've sunk about 12+ hours into it, and not once did I ever want to slam the controller down in frustration due to poor controls. I didn't even want to set the controller down in mild disgust due to poor controls. But I expected that it would control smoothly due to my experience with the demo taken on tour by Dan Tovar, which I got to play back in April.

The combat is extremely satisfying. It's a natural evolution from the combat system first used in Splatterhouse 3, bringing the classic 2D style of brawling into 3D. I could feel every hit as my punches or other weapons landed. Not once did it get repetitive to the point where I had to say "enough is enough," although there were a few enemies that I dreaded seeing whenever they showed up, because their appearance was usually the prelude to a severe ass kicking. And there's nothing like the feeling you get when wading into a pack of monstrosities, your cleaver flashing as it slices through their ranks. It's visceral and again, extremely satisfying.

On the subject of controls, though, I do have to talk a little about the QTEs. I admit, I am slightly disappointed that there are any in the game at all, especially since an earlier interview had claimed they were being removed. But to Namco's credit, they go by quickly and don't intrude as much as they could. Still, it's a bit of a pain in the ass to accidentally press the wrong button, then watch Rick get the crap kicked out of him.

The Splatterkills fall into the QTE category, and those are handled a little better than the rest of the QTEs. You seem to have a bit more time to hit the right buttons - only a second or two, but it's enough to make a difference - and as a result, the Splatterkills are easy to pull off. This is good, of course, since you need as much blood as you can get to press onward.

As you might expect, there are a few camera issues. That seems to be par for the course with any game that has a controllable camera, and Splatterhouse is no exception. But they weren't as jarring as some have made them out to be, and they're far from gamebreaking.

Then there are the 2D sidescrolling stages, an homage to the sidescrolling action of Splatterhouse and Splatterhouse 2. As a big fan of those two games, I found these to be some of the more enjoyable parts of the game. Once I got the hang of how Rick moved in a limited environment, I had no problems. Every so often I'd miss a jump, but that was due to my own error rather than a fault in the controls.

Graphics

I have seen people rag on Splatterhouse's graphics for years now. I don't know what they're complaining about, I really don't. Aside from a few rough patches here and there, Splatterhouse looks fantastic. Everything looks either dark and foreboding or dirty and disgusting, exactly the way it should. And each area has its own unique look to it, from the dark beauty of West Mansion to the run-down carnival atmosphere of Dandyland, from the disgusting confines of the Meat Factory to the organic junk that shows up later on.

The little details scattered throughout each stage really helped the game shine. I've lost track of how many easter eggs, those referring to the original games and those referring to horror flicks, are in the game. There are a couple I suggested (anyone see "Be Garbage of Cesspool" written anywhere?) in there as well.

The character models are all nicely detailed, as are the weapons. The bosses were extremely impressive. You can tell a lot of work was put into them just by looking at them. Biggy Man, despite his continued obesity problem, was nicely skinned (after several months of urging by yours truly). I noticed few graphic glitches at all. However, I will say that a few of the color choices present in the Splatterkills had me scratching my head in puzzlement. Again, though, nothing that's gamebreaking or made me want to shake my head in disgust.

Then there's the blood. It's everywhere. As such a major part of the game, special attention was devoted to how the blood sprayed everywhere. It never looked hokey or glitched... but there are times I think they may have been more on screen than what you might get from killing a horde of the undead. But it doesn't matter. Bring on more blood, I say. It's so over the top that it fits the game perfectly.

I've read that people have experienced a massive framerate drop during combat. I haven't noticed anything like that at all. There were a couple of hiccups while playing through the game, but nothing like the type of framerate drop that some of these people have gone on about. There were a couple of attacks that go in slow motion, but that's to be expected, because it gives you a couple of extra seconds to target the enemy/enemies that you want to do the most damage to.

Weapons

There is quite the varied assortment of weapons in Splatterhouse. Old favorites like the 2x4, lead pipe, shotgun and baseball bat have made their return. Other weapons seen briefly in the original games, namely the chainsaw, are given new life here. You can even dismember enemies and use their body parts as weapons - and if they cut your arm off, you can pick it up and use it club enemies to death.

They're all fun to use, but unfortunately don't last very long. They will eventually shatter, leaving Rick to fall back on his fists and special moves, of which there are over 90 (!). Rick does have one other major weapon at his disposal, though: Berzerker mode, an evolution of the "Mutant Rick" ability from Splatterhouse 3. This is activated once you have enough blood - aka Necro - to fill up three slots on the Necro meter. It doesn't last very long once activated, but it will enable you to slaughter a whole room full of enemies during the time you have it on.

Music & Audio

The music of Splatterhouse has been one of those hot button issues amongst the fans for quite some time now. I've been listening to the soundtrack for a couple of months now, and I like it quite a bit. It would have gotten a bit tiresome if nothing but licensed songs had been used during the game, though. Thankfully, the original score by Howard Drossin makes up the majority of the soundtrack, with the licensed tracks only coming in for major events, like boss battles and the like. The retro score Drossin composed for the sidescrolling stages sound like it could have fit in perfectly with the original games, so hats off to him for that.

The sound effects when you hit something are all meaty and squishy, the way they should be. You can also tell that special attention was paid to the weapon sound effects, particularly the chainsaw. I did notice a few audio dropoffs during the game, usually in dialogue whenever they did happen, but they didn't happen that often.

The voice actors, especially Jim Cummings, sounded like they were really enjoying their parts. All of them knocked their respective characters out of the park. The dialogue itself was extremely well written - most likely Gordon Rennie's work again - and certainly drove the story forward the way it was intended. I especially loved the interplay between Rick and the Mask. It got even better toward the end of the game, when Rick started getting fed up with the Mask.

However, I do have two issues with how the dialogue was used. First, it wasn't necessary to have the Mask repeat the same couple of phrases every time Rick picked up a weapon. I did grow a bit weary of hearing "A 2x4! Handy. Let's do some fucking carpentry!" and "Paint the walls red!" constantly. If the weapon dialogue had been scaled back a bit - for example, if the Mask said "Paint the walls red!" every tenth time you picked up a lead pipe instead of every time - it would have been a lot less annoying.

Second... okay, I have no problem with profanity. I mean, I use enough of it in any given day. But the overuse of profanity in the dialogue - especially with the repeated phrases - really began to grate after a while, to the point where I was turning down the voice volume during the stages and only turning it back up for the cutscenes. It really could have been toned down a bit, and the easiest way to accomplish that would have been to have the Mask shut up for longer stretches of time than it did.

Difficulty

Splatterhouse, even on its easiest setting, can be a challenge. There are some parts that I found frustrating due to repeated deaths, but it wasn't frustrating in a Ghosts 'N Goblins, I'm never going to finish this kind of way. Rather, I found myself wanting to keep playing, knowing that I could fend off the enemies that killed me this time - and usually, I was right. Other times it took a little longer, and every time I came out on top it felt like a hard-won victory.

I've seen several reviews call Splatterhouse a mindless button masher, and I couldn't disagree more. If you button mash, you are going to die. There's no two ways about it. Strategy and careful use of your special moves, plus your Splatter Siphon - the way you regenerate your life - will insure that you do triumph. The combat system is incredibly deep, with 90+ moves to unlock. The best part is that nearly every one of those moves comes in handy.

I will say this, though: that last stage is just evil. Those of you that have played through it know exactly what I'm talking about. Those that haven't... well, I don't want to spoil it for you. But I will say this: stage 6 of the original Splatterhouse has some serious competition for "hardest Splatterhouse stage ever" now.

There is something that I'm going to agree with the rest of the world on here: the load times. They are definitely way too long, and are extremely annoying to have to sit through every time after you die. In places where you die a lot - like the last stage I just mentioned - the long load times are especially glaring. If there's one major thing I wish they could have fixed, that's it.

The Classics

That the original trilogy was included is a godsend to the fans, and we all owe Dan Tovar some major thanks for fighting to have them included as freebies. They're here in all their glory, the arcade game in particular never having landed on a console outside of Japan before. They play in 4:3 - they aren't stretched, nor is there a border, just a blank screen on either side of a widescreen display. Splatterhouse is unlocked after Phase Two, Splatterhouse 2 after Phase Four, and Splatterhouse 3 after Phase Eight.

There are a few emulation issues with all three, plus some other stuff that's surprising. I haven't played all the way through any of them yet, but here are the big ones I noticed so far:

- In Splatterhouse the graphics on the upper and lower HUD displays flicker during the Poltergeist fight. Also, the spinning knife sound effect is missing.
- Splatterhouse 2 and Splatterhouse 3 have issues common to many attempts at emulating Genesis games on other hardware: sound. It's not totally fubared, but some of the voice effects in both games are either sped up or garbled in some parts. The music is slightly slowed down as well, but if you're not used to the originals you probably won't notice.
- Some of the cutscenes in Splatterhouse 3, namely the ones involving Jennifer and David, have been replaced by artwork that resembles the original digitized pics. Most likely this is because they no longer had the rights to use the image of the actors that played Jennifer and David. I've only seen one ending so far and a handful of the cutscenes from stages 1, 2 and 3, but I'm sure most of the others were altered as well.

None of this affects how the games play, which is damn near 100% accurate to the originals. If that had been screwed up somehow, all of Dan's fighting to have them included would have been for nothing.

I admit, I did want to see Wanpaku Graffiti included. I really did. It would have been the first time it had been made available outside of Japan, and that it was ultimately passed on due to it not having the same tone as the trilogy does disappoint me a little. But I'm certainly not going to complain about it, because of what we have been given. Besides, Namco Bandai could always release it as a downloadable title in the future.

Survival Arenas & DLC

You may find this surprising, but I really don't have much to say about the Survival Arenas. I've played around with a couple of them, and they seem to function the same as any other survival arena I've ever seen in a game: defeat wave after wave of increasingly powerful creatures until you either survive them all or you die. But what I have played of them has certainly been fun.

The currently available DLC is limited to a handful of new Terror Masks, a premium theme for the Xbox Dashboard and another survival arena, The Killing Floor. Having been a part in the creation of the Masks - I had received a request for reference pictures of all of the Masks from the original games a while back for this, even though I didn't know it at the time - I had to buy them, and it's fun giving Rick a different look depending on your mood. It's nice seeing the Masks from the Turbografx-16 port and the U.S. version of Splatterhouse 2 represented. The premium theme is a permanent fixture of my Xbox dashboard now, and you already know where I stand on the survival arenas. I did buy The Killing Floor, and I did play around with it a little, but that's all I've done so far.

Overall

The negatives I've listed here don't affect my overall appreciation for Splatterhouse in the slightest. I haven't had this much fun playing a next-gen game in quite some time. It had me riveted from start to finish, and even now I'm finding myself wanting to go back and replay it again. I can safely say that if this had been an all-new IP, I would feel exactly the same way. The best part is that it feels like a Splatterhouse game. It doesn't once reek of soulless cash-in for nostalgia's sake. The time and effort put into this to insure that it was going to live up to what the Splatterhouse fanbase expected shows. Dan Tovar, Dave Wilkins and the entire Splatterhouse team have crafted a game that ranks right up there with its predecessors, and they should feel very proud of what they've accomplished.

My rating: 8.5 out of 10. Despite a few issues, this has become one of my favorite next-gen games, and I hope that someday we'll get to see a sequel.

Namco Bandai Games America: http://www.namcobandaigames.com/
Official Splatterhouse website: http://www.splatterhousegame.com/