Archive for November, 2010

Splatterhouse (2010) review

A Gory Abode

Before I get into the venom, the new Splatterhouse does a few things right. The story, while a pretty by-the-numbers Hollywood take on HP Lovecrafts’s works, is well written, entertaining and well acted. It begins much the same as the original Splatterhouse game, with Rick Taylor being killed and his girlfriend Jennifer kidnapped by the nefarious Dr. West. The Terror Mask finds Rick and makes a deal to help him get Jennifer back, although the Mask doesn’t make it clear what he gets out of it. From there it descends into pretty typical the-stars-are-right-and-the-old-ones-are-a-coming mumbo jumbo, but the repartee between the Mask and Rick is pretty funny, with the Mask voiced by Jim Cummings (whom, much to my surprise, I recognized from Darkwing Duck). The voice-overs in general are of high quality and are often pretty funny. But the trash factor is pretty far over the top. Not that the original Splatterhouse was a classy affair, but I liken this remake to Rob Zombie’s Halloween reboot- it’s ugly, disgusting, and it doesn’t care how lowbrow it gets.

Splatterhouse PS3The music fits very well – fast, thrashy heavy metal during battles and berserk mode, a more subdued, classic horror score during exploration, and remixes of tunes from the original Splatterhouse during the side-scrolling segments (with John Carpenter-esque synthesizer).

The game starts out reasonably well, with hordes of enemies and some clever uses for them in puzzles, but it soon descends into tedium. There are several reasons for this. For one, let’s not split hairs: gameplay-wise, it’s a God of War clone. Now, that in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. It’s just that it’s not a very good God of War clone! The gameplay gets tedious fast – the enemies are pretty run-of-the-mill, and most of them take a considerable amount of punishment. This leads to one thing: lots of button mashing. These days, that’s not the mark of a good action game. The funny thing is, when you enter berserk mode (where Rick sprouts blades from his fists), the game begins to feel like a very good God of War clone. Unfortunately, you can rarely afford to use this, because it takes forever to fill up your berserk gauge.

Aesthetically Nasty

The game’s chief selling factor seems to be its gore, and in that case it does deliver, with the spotlight being on the game’s “Splatter Kills”, or, in the common tongue, quick-time events. Initially, these are pretty cool, until you figure out that there are only two for each of the regular mooks and only one for the bigger enemies. Each one is merely a pre-rendered cutscene that prompts you for control input. There are never any variations in camera angle or content. Every one plays out exactly the same throughout the whole game. You do get more blood (which powers you up) from a Splatter Kill, but they take so long and disrupt the flow of the game’s action so much that I went right back to button mashing.

The game has a depressingly small variety of enemies. Those enemies in the first level? You’re going to be seeing them in every stage. And the number of punches taken to kill them never changes. You can upgrade your skills, and buy a few combos, but you can’t upgrade the power of your attacks. This can be frustrating in later levels where you get more and more enemies thrown at you. This is one of those games where even when you’re superpowered, enemies seem to take way too many hits to kill.

Conversely, the bosses are about the most fun you’re gonna have – particularly the chainsaw-armed Biggy Man. This is easily the most exciting and enjoyable moment in the game. But the bosses are almost a breather compared to the monotony of the main levels. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t the boss be the final exam at the end of the class?

Gory scene from SplatterhouseThere are also a few platforming segments in the game. And quite frankly, they don’t work. These come in two forms – there are Prince Of Persia-like moments where you jump from one flashing ledge to another (this appears maybe five times in the whole game). The other form is in the side-scrolling segments which are supposed to recall the original game. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work very well because the controls aren’t any different from the rest of the game except for the fact that you can move on only one plane. These segments are full of mashy things, spikes, bottomless pits- all instant death. Now, these would be bad enough on their own. But Rick’s jumps suck. The controls are worse than the arcade original. How hard is it to implement decent jumping controls? Even Castlevania: Lament of Innocence nailed jumping, and it was a terrible game! Which brings me to my next issue.

With Death Comes Loading

Loading times. Everytime you die, you get to sit through a twenty-five second loading screen! Presumably because the game installs nothing to your system’s hard drive; I hope you like that loading screen, because if you buy Splatterhouse, you’re going to be seeing it a lot. I don’t know if the 360 has the same problem, but twenty-five second load times for this? These levels don’t have any side paths or areas to explore. They’re as linear as all-get out. You pretty much go from point A to point B. Once in a while there’s a side room or two, but they never stray far from the main path. You’re on rails. In the original arcade game, this was not the case…

And no review of this game would be complete without a mention of the lovely timed mission towards the end of the game. Where you fail the stage if you run out of time. And they throw difficult enemies at you, and when you fail you get to watch that twenty-five second loading screen again. I sure LOVE those loading times, Namco!

The graphics range from very good to very bad. Some of the environments would barely pass muster on the PS2, while others look fantastic. Some areas are sharply rendered, while others use low resolution textures that are almost as unappealing

Along your travels, you can collect pictures of Jennifer. In various states of undress. Now, I realize Splatterhouse is pretty much 80s Horror Flick the Video Game’, and 80s horror flicks are well known for delivering on gore and nudity. But seriously? It’s more than a little tasteless. Although the images are pretty well rendered. So it’s good to know the team spent time on SOMETHING, because they sure as hell didn’t spend it fine-tuning the gameplay. Who needs even difficulty, interesting enemies or more variety in heavily advertised Splatter Kills when you’re good at rendering digital nudity. Again, I refer back to the Rob Zombie reboot of Halloween, because that’s what it feels like. Something familiar with a heavy layer of grime that wasn’t there with the original. I would have been perfectly fine with this- if the game played well.

Fight scene in Splatterhouse for Xbox 360A few bugs of note, too – sometimes the camera gets stuck and won’t move ( I had to restart my console). The game also sometimes has noticable pop-up during a cutscene. At the start of one, Dr West didn’t appear until a split second after he began talking. Sometimes sounds just don’t happen, or they’ll pause and then begin a few seconds later (speech, mostly).

The only remaining appeal the game has for me are the unlockable original Splatterhouse games- you can unlock the arcade original and the two Sega Genesis/Megadrive sequels (although the Turbografx and Famicom games are missing, so a proper “Splatterhouse Collection” this is not). The ports are decent. However, they’re pretty bare bones. You don’t even get instructions or artwork- not that you need them, but most compilations I own (take the Sonic Mega Collection or SNK Arcade Classics) at least offer a control layout, and usually a bit more.

The Final Verdict

I can’t recommend Splatterhouse to anyone. Not to hardcore fans of the series, not to gamers in general. The game is monotonous, disappointing, and tedious. Maybe if you really like lousy God of War clones…well even then there are better clones of it out there. If you’re looking for a bloody action adventure, this year has seen God of War III, Dante’s Inferno and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. Any of those would be a superior choice. If you desperately want the three original games, then please wait until the game’s price drops. There are so many good games out right now that there’s no reason you should suffer through this monstrosity.

I’ll summarize by paraphrasing Edgar Wright’s fake Grindhouse trailer:

“If you are thinking of buying Splatterhouse, DON’T. “

Leave this house locked and throw away the key.

Haunted House Review

Spooky Dwellings

Atari has created a shiny new take on their original Haunted House for the Atari 2600 that retains strong ties to the gameplay of the original with a few new twists. The game begins as you choose one of the two Silverspring siblings as they enter the Graves mansion to search for their grandfather. They have to navigate it with various light sources – everything from matches, cell phones, and candles to magic lanterns. You can carry two light sources at any time, and each one has advantages and disadvantages. Torches and candles burn bright, but don’t last long. Cell phones last a long time, but don’t give off a lot of light. And lanterns offer the best bang for your buck, as they’re long-lasting, bright, and can burn enemies. There are also several magic items that may give light indefinitely, as well as provide powerful attacks against the residents of the mansion. You have to ration your lights carefully, as they’re in limited supply.

One of the goals is to collect journal entries of your grandfather, as well as the house’s inhabitants. This reveals a compelling little tale, which is surprisingly dark for an E rated game. The core of the gameplay involves collecting usable items (as in lights and weapons) as well as finding keys and flipping switches to move to the next area. Every few levels you’ll also run into a boss.

You can also collect various items for the sake of collecting, most of which are shout-outs to various macabre movies – you’ll find things like a Scissor Hand, Hockey Mask, and some of the weapons from Clue. You can also collect coins, but I haven’t found a use for these – this house doesn’t seem to be crawling with merchants or vending machines! You can view all of these things in the trophy room, where the items are accompanied by an often humorous description.

Fear Effect

Haunted House for WiiThe camera view never changes (although it zooms in and out in two-player), and usually this is for the best – although I have run into at least one occasion where I lost myself behind a wall. The graphics are fine – nothing special, but they represent what they should, and they look clean and run smoothly. If you run out of lights, the blacks and blues of the environments can be a little hard on the eyes. The presentation of the game is great, with nice-looking menus and painted stills as cutscenes. It doesn’t feel as cheap as a lot of budget titles do. The atmosphere of the game is nice and spooky in a Scooby Doo sense, although I doubt it would be scary for anyone over the age of 6. As such it’s not Silent Hill, but you might enjoy the ambience anyway. I’d most closely relate it to the old PlayStation game, MediEvil.

The graphics are functional, if nothing special. You can pretty easily identify what you’re looking at, and the game does have some nice lighting effects.

The two-player co-op mode is well implemented, although it doesn’t seem to be very different from the single player, aside from allowing a friend to tag along (and consequently allowing you to carry four items between the two of you).

In spite of the fact that I enjoyed the game, I do have a few gripes with it. First and foremost, the lack of a map is a bit of a double-edged sword. There are times when it can be frustrating, however I think the game might be extremely easy if it had a map. Oh well, it would have been a nice feature. A bigger problem that players will inevitably run into is the limited number of sounds. Monsters have one sound each, and the characters don’t have a lot of variation in their speech. You’ll hear “Grandpa?” and “What was that?” repeated a lot. The game also lacks an option to save on the fly, and it doesn’t explain saving very well. When you light a fireplace it saves at a checkpoint.

Also, during co-op, my friend and I managed to render the game unwinnable by leaving a necessary key item (a red lantern) in a room, and had to re-load. It also happened to me in the last level, of all places, in single player.

Another problem is that the game is often very dark, and tends to strain on your eyes after a while. While this is to be expected from a game where finding a light source is a core game mechanic, just remember to take a break every once in a while or turn up the brightness a bit.

There are also two other matters that should be factored in. The game is very easy. Even on the highest difficulty you have infinite lives and can restart from your last checkpoint. Death is pretty much a slap on the wrist. On top of this, the game doesn’t offer a huge amount of variety in gameplay. You will pretty much be doing the same thing for the entire game. If you’re looking for a deep, minigame-heavy quest, look elsewhere. The game ran me about 6 hours on the medium difficulty.

The Final Verdict

Haunted House is a budget title, and for its modest aspirations – to recreate and improve a game concept from over thirty years ago – it’s not bad. Frankly speaking, I enjoyed it more than the A-list title Metroid: Other M. It has some flaws, but considering that it’s a budget game, it’s pretty solid. It’s nothing groundbreaking or mindblowing, but you should have some fun with Haunted House.