[23 December 2010]
Splatterhouse was made for me. Not the gameplay of course. Not even the aesthetic. I’m fine with blood and gore in games, but I can take it or leave it, and Splatterhouse takes it and shoots it at your eyeballs through a fire hose. And the heavy metal soundtrack, while entirely appropriate for this boy’s club of a game, doesn’t do anything for me either. Speaking of the boys’ clubhouse, the fact that the collectibles that you’re hunting down in each level are topless photos of your girlfriend is . . . well . . . okay, maybe I sort of liked that in a puerile kind of way. But even that’s not the reason this game is for me. The truth is that Splatterhouse is about me.
My name’s Rick. Hi. Not an uncommon name at all, but when I first played the original Splatterhouse back around 1990, it was the first time that I’d ever played a character with my name. My girlfriend at the time—my first girlfriend ever in fact, and later, my prom date—was named Jennifer. The plot of Splatterhouse, both old and this new one, involves Rick being transformed into this hulking killer in a mask, rushing around trying to save the love of his life, Jennifer. In the old game, this was more background than in your face, but the 2010 Splatterhouse features a magic mask with a voice—an annoying, constantly badgering voice—that calls Rick by our name all the time. And of course Rick and the Mask (and the game’s antagonist, the evil Dr. West) are talking about Jennifer all the time. Weirdest of all, I had a nickname growing up and throughout high school and college: Ricko (pronounced Rick-o). I’ve never heard it applied to anyone else before, until this game. Here the jerky mask refers to me/the hero as Ricko time and again. I have to tell you, it freaked me out.
That’s about the only thing that freaked me out about this game though. Well, I was sort of freaked (but mostly disturbed) by the quick time events in which you thrust Rick’s/my hand into a monster’s pulsing red anus and kill it by ripping out its sphincter and a chunk of intestine or colon or something, but even that became old hat after many repetitions. The Ricko thing made me feel weird every time that I heard it. Since the vast majority of you aren’t named Ricko, this game will probably do even less for you than it did for me.
The Real Ricko and Jennifer, Prom 1990
Splatterhouse is in the mode of third person action games these days—light, heavy, grab, jump, dodge, power up, perform quick-time event finishers, spend points to unlock new combos and more health. The geysers of blood are unmatched and seem outrageous at first, but it only takes a level or two to get used to them. Then it’s all about executing those combos and shepherding those health and power levels from one fight to the next against the same six or so enemy types featured throughout the game. I’m no fan of big boss fights, but even I was hoping for some by the end of this game after I’d slogged through yet another room full of identical beasties. The action seems a little jerky at times, but it all works well enough. I found it just enjoyable enough to try out some of the survival rooms, where you fight 20 waves of enemies. I did this of course because the power-ups transfer over to the single player game, not so I could unlock more topless photos of Jen.
There is another reason that this game is tailor made for me. It’s full of H.P. Lovecraft references. The main villain is a Dr. West, a professor at Miskatonic University, and it takes place in Arkham. Cthulhu gets referenced a number of times. All of these Lovecraft allusions are really just window dressing and ultimately made me more sad than excited. True fans like me will feel a little turned off to see Lovecraft’s names but not his themes exploited in this game. Most people won’t think twice about them of course, except maybe with some passing recognition. From that point of view, it probably wasn’t a bad decision on the developer’s part, but it niggled me, the Real Ricko.
The Virtual Jennifer
Of course the paper thin story that these references support isn’t called upon to do much more than string the gore-fest together, which is good because it couldn’t do more than that. The game jumps through dimensional portals from level to level, and it seems like some of them were shoved in because they thought that it would be cool rather than for any reason born of plot or story. There’s a long sequence in an amusement park for instance, which doesn’t make any sense but does have monster clowns. And it’s just as fun as, but no more fun than, the rest of the game.
Splatterhouse is exactly what you think it would be and not much more. It does include the original three Splatterhouse games as a bonus, and it’s fun to see how much—and more often—how little has changed. It has some utterly outre moments that you’re unlikely to have seen elsewhere, but the moment to moment, hour to hour playing of the thing is very pedestrian. Unless you’re name is Ricko or there’s no other way for you to see boobs, there’s probably not much here for you.