Splatterhouse is the bloodiest game ever. I’m willing to make that bold, sweeping statement because in all honesty, I can’t remember a game that tried to drown itself in blood, where the blood was so copious and so prominent, it could almost be classified as a living, breathing entity. This may be enough for the gore-fiends. And really, there are various “holy sh**” moments during your blood-soaked adventure, along with a few occurrences that are so downright outlandish, you just have to laugh. However, it’s all mired in a mediocre production that suffers from iffy and often unresponsive control, a camera that frequently blinds you, frustrating enemy habits, and a host of smaller technical problems. It’s really a rollercoaster ride of emotion; one minute, you’re wishing someone had seen what you just did on the screen and the next, you’re going, “okay, this is awful.” Even the rollercoaster was ultimately disappointing.
Okay, so there’s blood everywhere. Everywhere. It’s gushing from bodies, slopped all over the floor, and dripping from Rick. It’s clear the developers put a ton of effort into the blood and guts but while some of the design is fittingly nasty, and the effects are downright gut-wrenching, not much else is worth noting. The backdrops are bland and uninteresting, you often can’t even see what sort of attack you’re executing due to the deluge of blood, the bad camera frequently limits your view scope, and when up close and personal, the environmental textures suffer terribly. It’s as if they put all their time and resources into making every ounce of blood vivid and horrible, but forgot there were other parts to the game. Oh, and I’m not sure that softer, borderline cel-shaded presentation works for this type of game; it somehow mutes even the worst brutality.
The sound is plagued by technical hiccups and will force you to continually reach for the remote. I hate that. Sometimes, the voices will be directly in your face (usually during cut-scenes) and then, you’ll barely hear them speak (usually during gameplay). Furthermore, that vaunted soundtrack featuring all sorts of bad-ass heavy metal, which I had been looking forward to, falls into the background and is barely audible above the effects, which always dominate. On the good side, the voice performances aren’t bad and the guy who voices the mask (I know I’ve heard him before) is pretty damn good. Rick isn’t too bad, either, and Jennifer and Dr. West are decent. It’s not so much the quality of the voices, effects, or soundtrack that falls shy of expectations; it’s the implementation of the overall audio. The balance is way off, they don’t bring that great metal music to the forefront, and the voices would be soft enough during gameplay to almost disappear entirely.
I could’ve lived with the lackluster technical aspects had the gameplay been fun, entertaining, and in short, a very guilty pleasure. I often break down games into two categories: in one category, the game turned out well; it just didn’t do what I wanted it to do (see Final Fantasy XIII). Splatterhouse falls into the second category, in which we have games that do exactly what I want, but stumble and fall due to poor development and design decisions and a lack of polish. Yeah, I get to beat the hell out of endless hordes of horrid creatures, and I don’t care much about a boring story or puzzle-solving or anything like that. I just want to kill stuff. That’s what I believe the point of the game should be and in this way, BottleRocket and Namco don’t disappoint. I get exactly what I desired…too bad it’s a seriously gimped version of what I wanted.
The minute I started playing, I knew something was off. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at first, and that’s because later on, I realized it was a combination of about four or five little detractors that are always there, in one form or another and always manage to hamper my butt-kicking. Here, it’s a collision detection issue that seems to affect reeling enemies. There, it’s an unresponsive and awkward control issue during an annoying platforming sequence. Then we have the camera that tends to make my grip on the controller tighten to the point of breaking, and certain little enemy habits that make the controller start to crack. I had to put down the controller for a minute after I had to return to another poorly chosen checkpoint after dying for another stupid reason. I also came to the conclusion that Savage mode (which I assume to be Normal) is far too frustrating and you might have fun with the Cowardly setting.
The story isn’t quite a throwaway plot because something mysterious does lurk beneath the surface but at the start, all you know is that Dr. West has kidnapped your hot girlfriend, Jennifer, and left you, Rick, for dead. The mask with a hellish attitude brings you back, gives you crazy power, and asks you to kill everything in sight, all the while promising the return of your beloved. Fast attack is Square, strong attack is Triangle (and you can hold it down to charge and direct the attack), X is jump, Circle grabs the enemy, R2 blocks (press the left analog to dodge roll while holding R2), L1 engages a special blood-gathering mode that lets you restore health, and L2 allows Rick to transform into a Berserk form, where he deals more damage, is almost immune to normal attacks, and he basically goes ballistic for a short time. So the correct foundation is there. It’s just shaky as all hell.
Jumping can be erratic and unreliable and what’s the deal with Rick’s terrible recovery time? He’ll get hit by an enemy and if that foe is in the midst of a combination, Rick will just stand there and take it, regardless of the speed of the combination. I found that you can roll away from the problem, but it’s still an issue and speaking of the roll: I didn’t like that block and dodge were attached to the same button in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and I don’t like it here. The block also seems difficult to use effectively because the control is loose, and you’re rarely facing in the right direction, which means enemies can smack you from behind. Lastly, I have to mention the Splatterkills: when you’ve beaten on one of The Corrupted enough, his body will glow, which is when you press the Circle button to grab him and perform a crowd-pleasing finishing move with a separate, gut-wrenching animation. It’s totally sick and twisted.
The problem here is that the action happens so fast and an enemy needs to be very near death for the body to glow, that you usually kill him before you even see him glowing. So I started to press Circle about the time I thought he might start glowing, just so I wouldn’t have to stop. Stopping and waiting is a no-no; all you do is button-mash and if you don’t, you’ll probably die. On top of which, the context sensitive command involves the analog sticks (genius move, there; you know, we do still have face buttons), and the amount of time you’re given to process what’s shown is inconsistent. With some enemies, the command came up during a Splatterkill to pull the right analog stick right and the left analog stick left, and it stayed there for a few seconds. I saw it, did it, and Rick did something disgusting. Then, during a boss fight, I could’ve sworn a command came up for exactly one-half second. I saw it flash on screen and never even had a shot of doing it; I was tossed and died immediately.
And that’s the theme for Splatterhouse: inconsistent, erratic, unreliable and sometimes too unforgiving. The combos and skills you earn are pretty sick and some of those foes will give you nightmares, but the overall control and gameplay just isn’t refined and indeed, it feels like an incomplete production. It just needed more time behind closed doors. The issues plaguing the game could’ve been worked out with time, but maybe Namco just didn’t want to delay it again. As is, the concept is just about right – simplify, simplify! – but the execution leaves a ton to be desired. I’ve tried to force my way through area after area and while I always pine for those “good goddamn, that was ridiculous” moments, I always fear the annoying issues, which, sadly, are inevitable.
The Good: The blood is just…everywhere. Some solid enemy design and decent effects. Splatterkills are insane. Voices can be a plus, especially the mask.
The Bad: Mediocre backgrounds and environments. Poorly balanced sound. Soundtrack buried beneath effects. Camera is always an issue. Control is erratic and awkward, especially when platforming. Story is meh. General gameplay is often just plain annoying.
The Ugly: “Can’t see what I’m doing…oh I see, I’m getting nailed.”
11/24/2010 Ben Dutka