Return to the West Mansion: A Splatterhouse Retrospective

Posted: October 21, 2010 in PS3
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By Guest Writer Chad Morelock

The Splatterhouse series is about as old as I am. I first played Splatterhouse 2 on the Genesis, knowing absolutely nothing about it, only knowing that the cover at the video store looked awesome. And getting it home and finding it was a creepy beat-em-up and the first game I had played with any kind of gore, I was sold on the series. Horror themes had always appealed to me, and at that time they were few and far between in games (and even more rare in good games) – Castlevania offering an old-school Universal or Hammer gothic horror style, Alone in the Dark offering a Lovecraftian experience, and Splatterhouse nicely filling the 80s slasher/body horror category. This was at a time before games like Doom and Resident Evil had made gore and horror commonplace in games, and even in the toned-down console versions it was pretty shocking for its day.

Looking back, with a knowledge of the films that inspired it, I can more clearly see how the games were influenced by films. The game’s hero, Rick, is something of a combination of the beleaguered average Joe Ash from the Evil Dead series and Jason Voorhees, combining the former’s average-Joe backstory with the latter’s brutality and signature hockey mask (which evolved as the series went on to resemble a skull more but really – we all knew it was modeled after Jason). The mask is called the ‘Terror Mask’ and grants Rick the power to fight the demonic hordes of the Splatterhouse. His girlfriend is kidnapped by Dr. West (a callback to Re-Animator) and possessed by demons, another Evil Dead reference. In addition, there are poltergeists, bats, and mutant horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a David Cronenberg or Clive Barker flick. In a nutshell, it was 80s horror compressed into 16-bit glory (or should I say gory?).

The original game was an arcade release, which released in Japan in 1988 and North America the following year. As all 3 of the series’ 16-bit installments are, it was a side-scrolling beat-em up where you had to guide Rick through the West Mansion, fighting with weapons you found lying around – 2x4s, meat cleavers and shotguns- or more often, beating them with your bare knuckles. Rick must be one of the toughest game protagonists around, because the guy manages to punch poltergeist knives, acid-blooded parasites, and a mutant hulk with chainsaws for hands without so much as breaking a sweat. The game was ported to a number of systems in Japan, while its North American console debut was in 1990 on the ill-fated TurboGrafx 16. The American version was expurgated and toned down, but still managed to shock. And even though it’s pretty tame by the standards of God of War and the like, it might still manage to surprise you with its creepy atmosphere and impressive difficulty.

The first version of the game to make it to a console, shortly before the TurboGrafx port, was the Japan-only release Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti (“naughty grafitti”). It was a departure from the gritty original and is a super-deformed parody along the lines of Konami’s Kid Dracula or Capcom’s Puzzle Fighter. The game is also a platformer rather than a beat-em up, and released on the Nintendo Famicom. The parody elements give it a different feel than the somewhat more serious central games in the franchise.

Splatterhouse 2 was released in 1992 and found Rick returning to the West Mansion to bring his girlfriend Jennifer back from the dead. It largely follows the format of the original, but its American release was largely more splatter-ific than the TurboGrafx release. The graphics are improved, similar to the arcade original and superior to the first game’s port. The game features several new weapons, as well, including a chainsaw of his own. Groovy! The game even contained some story scenes between levels, with Rick typically saying a short bit about where he was going next. There are more pop culture references to be had, with a giant head resembling Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger, a transforming boss reminiscent of The Fly, and more general Evil Dead-ness. The game also introduces some more backstory concerning the powers of the Terror Mask, allowing it to open portals to the Netherworld. So far, this is the only installment of the Splatterhouse series to make it to Europe.

The third game once again finds Rick taking up the Terror Mask. A few years after the events of Splatterhouse 2, he’s married to Jennifer and has a young son named David. Jennifer and David have been taken and possessed by demonic forces, this time in Rick’s own mansion. This game changes up the rules of the series a bit – Rick can now move up and down the screen a’la Double Dragon or Streets of Rage, and he can also pick up power orbs which he can use to enter Super Mode, where he hulks out and thrashes enemies like a pro wrestler. Weapons are also few and far between and don’t seem to deal the devastating blows they once did. In addition, there are several sections where you have a limited amount of time to save Jennifer and David. You have to actually navigate the house (you have a map to help), and if you take too long you’ll get ever more dire cutscenes- however, whether you save them or not, the game continues as you slug your way through the hordes of the villainous Evil One (hence the name). Based on whether you save your wife and child (or one or the other), you’ll get one of four different endings.

The Splatterhouse series lay dormant for many years, a cult classic like the horror flicks that inspired it, until Namco finally dug up the first two installments for the Wii’s Virtual Console (stateside at least, I don’t know why most of the series never made it to Europe). Namco is finally revisiting the series, with a new game set to release in the States this November and in Europe this December. The game will include the original 3 Splatterhouse games, so those without the original carts (or regional releases) will be able to check the series out. I don’t believe in judging a new game until I’ve played it, but it looks to be like the originals, but in 3D and cranked to 11. However, we’ll have to wait until November to see if it lives up to its storied name.

Chad Morelock is a student and occasionally creative American who finds it odd describing himself in the third person. He has been gaming since he could push a quarter into a Spy Hunter machine. He also loves film, tabletop games and sharp cheddar cheese.

Check out Chad’s twitter by clicking here.

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