Ah the innocent gaming years of the 80s. While everyone was busy pumping out bright and cheery platformers Namco said screw that and took inspiration from the horror movies of the time and created Splatterhouse. It’s kind of funny to look back on Splatterhouse as controversial but in 1988 it was shocking. Friday the 13th was pretty scary and a game in which you play what is essentially Jason probably made conservatives uncomfortable. A game with this much blood and gore was unheard of but all things considered it is pretty tame. Dig deeper and you’ll see that is all it had going for it. All the blood and gore in the world can’t hide the fact that Splatterhouse is average overall.
I never saw Splatterhouse in the arcade. I’m sure like many my introduction to the series came from the advertisement in comic books of the time. This two-page comic book style spread introduced the game’s story and premise perfectly and really made me want it. When Turbo Grafx systems were going for $50 not long after launch this was one of the first games I bought. I wish I could say the anticipation was worth it but even back then it was obvious Splatterhouse was a shallow game.
Rick is a beefy protagonist, with enough strength to knock the brains out of most enemies with a single punch. Your move set is extremely limited even by brawler standards. Aside from a basic punch, kick, and jump kick the only other attack is a slide kick. This isn’t a problem unique to Splatterhouse but is more pronounced here. Aside from the occasional weapon such as a hatchet, shotgun, and spear you’ll simply have to make do.
Unlike most beat em ups all action takes place on a single plane. While simple the trick comes in judging the distance of an enemy attack and responding in kind. Rick isn’t the most nimble sprite so every action has to be carefully considered. There is some minor platforming occasionally but nothing to write home about. The game certainly lives up to its name; enemies explode and in a shower of blood. Ghouls collapse and leave a trail of guts and green blood. Picking up a cleaver or 2×4 and you’ll even splatter them against the background.
Sadly that is about all the game has going for it. Even more than its limited gameplay what ultimately damns the game is its boring level design. Most levels are a simple straight path with predictable enemy spawns and little to vary it up. The few times it does you run into the Double Dragon 2 situation where you are platforming and the controls and movement weren’t designed for it. I will give the game credit; there is a long list of well-designed creatures to smash. Each of the game’s seven levels has at least one new enemy giving you something to look forward to. But it doesn’t make up for the rest of the game. Interestingly stage five offers multiple paths; I would have loved more of that (the later Splatterhouse 3 would go in that direction).
You’ll have an easy time of it as the home version is toned down from the arcade. You have a five heart life bar instead of four and clearing a level restores two rather than one. Although you can’t restore health during a level it isn’t much of a factor. Most enemies walk right into your punches and if you use the turbo function it’s even easier. Most of your deaths will come from the boss battles and lame platforming segments but even that isn’t much of a deterrent. I was shocked that I finished the game in less than an hour after purchasing it. I….was not happy about it either.
The Turbo Grafx version compares favorably to the arcade in most respects. The sprites are very large and detailed which was typical of the platform. Much of the arcade game’s background detail and animation have been removed or scaled back. This version has undergone a hefty amount of censorship. All crosses and religious symbols have been removed or redesigned. Most importantly the Terror Mask has been changed, from the white hockey mask to a red one. I don’t blame them for wanting to avoid a lawsuit as the original mask was blatant as hell.
The Turbo Grafx-16 version of Splatterhouse is what put the series on the map. Sadly I wish it were a better game. What is here is competent at best and only worth revisiting just to see the series origin.