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Welcome to Together Retropiece Theatre. For this month’s installment we look to a classic tale of love in the speculative dramatic feature “Splatterhouse”, a treatise on the lengths an academic beleaguered by paranormal antagonistic forces will go to in order to reunite with his lady fair. It is a classic story of love, and loss, and love again along with the pools of blood, drippings of gore, and gobs of ichor that make romance all the more sweet.
Splatterhouse is one of the original horror based video games, a distinction it shares with the Castlevania franchise. But where Castlevania took a note from European literature and folklore, Splatterhouse lifted its concepts straight from classic 80’s era fright movies such as Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Evil Dead. Though it was a path finder in the genre of horror video games, Splatterhouse (Like the early Castlevania series) is no longer held up as an example of terrifying entertainment. Modern video game consoles are capable of delivering nearly photo realistic terror have made early horror games like Splatterhouse into quaint, Halloween themed novelties. Still, the game retains a slightly disturbing and decidedly surreal visual quality that makes it stand out and the game play is solid across nearly of the numerous ports and sequels that were released.
Rick, a brilliant parapsychology student, is enjoying a wonderful afternoon of not fighting for his life with his beloved classmate Jennifer when a storm breaks out. The two flee for the safety of the nearest spooky looking mansion and reach the doors just as the storm begins to break out. Just as you breathe a sigh of relief now that Rick and his lady friend are safe from the dangers of rain, you hear a blood curdling scream. Something terrible has happened. When you next see Rick he is lying on the ground, apparently quite dead. A fearsome looking mask that was not at all lifted from a popular horror franchise merges with Rick, bringing him back to life. Resurrected and spoiling for a fight, Rick proceeds through the mansion and the surrounding area, intent on killing as much as he needs to save Jennifer. Before Rick stands an army of monsters ready to be cut down by meat cleavers, stabbed by knives, and blown in half by shotgun shells.
The arcade original featured the same big, bold graphics that made miniature golf courses and movie theaters the go-to for serious gamers in the late 80’s. The game also featured early digitized sound, generally in the form of screaming.
While the gameplay was generally no different than any number of late 80’s beat-em-ups, the game did have a few innovations in the form of branching pathways in some levels, and end-of-level boss fights that often had some objective or requirement that wasn’t obvious right away.
- Left and Right to move
- Down to crouch and grab weapons
- Up to look up
- A dedicated Attack Button
- A dedicated Jump Button
- Down + Attack executes a low kick
- Jump, hold Right or Left, Down + Attack makes Rick do a damaging special move
Where Castlevania went on to become a mammoth franchise that has nimbly adapted to the demands of a constantly growing and changing audience. Splatterhouse got two sequels and then vanished.
Splatterhouse 2 was exclusive to the Sega Genesis / Megadrive and was not received terribly well. Critics applauded the game’s unapologetic continuation of the gore and horror from the first title but felt the game did not do much to grow beyond the original.
Splatterhouse 3, also a Sega exclusive, changed the gameplay radically. Players were able to scroll up and down as well as left and right, multiple endings were added, and a timer was utilized to keep players moving. While none of these were new concepts, each of these features did a great deal to add to the overall play experience.
A 1989 “Cute” version of the original Splatterhouse appeared on the Nintendo Famicom. Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti is essentially Splatterhouse meets a night of Trick-or-Treating. The characters are drawn super deformed, the villain is a pumpkin, and the gameplay focuses more on platforming than dealing out violence. Predictably, this game was exclusive to Japan.
More recently, the series was revived for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 to a lukewarm reception. The consensus was that although the game was good at generating terrifying images and sound, there was no compelling gameplay behind it.
Although Splatterhouse never became a huge franchise, it did see life on various consoles. The arcade original is easily emulated on Mame. The Turbografx-16 port is easily found but prices for the HuCard might be bothersome even if you are among the lucky few with a Turbografx-16 system. The North American version Tubrografx-16 version also suffered from censoring, enough so that purists may have trouble enjoying themselves. Those dedicated to trying it on the Turbografx-16 might want to look at the Wii Virtual Console release.
Japanese console collectors have many more options; Splatterhouse saw a release on the PC Engine, FM Towns, and on Windows. The Japanese releases were less censored overall and should be a great option for those who are not bothered by a few lines of Japanese written amongst all the blood.
Sequels to Splatterhouse were released exclusively on the Sega Genesis / Megadrive platform. Splatterhouse 2 is also available for download on the Wii Virtual Console.
Together Retro Discussion
Instead of posting in the comments section of the blog, we will be using the forum for all of our discussion in order to keep things more organized. So play the Splatterhouse port of your choice and talk to us about your thoughts and play experiences in the forums. We want to know your favorite weapons, your brutal victories over evil and all those times you let Jennifer down. Poor Jennifer. She just didn’t want to get wet!
Join in the the Splatterhouse Discussion in the Forum