Yes, you read that caption correctly. Forget Gears of War, Ninja Gaiden II, or any other current-gen title with an ounce of blood on its hands. Namco’s more-gore franchise Splatterhouse is and always has been the nastiest of the nasty. Considering the fact that, in the hopefully not so distant future, we’ll be firing up the 3D franchise reboot, there’s never been a better Halloween season to revisit Rick and his neverending struggle with a mask that was not so subtly torn from the slasher big screen.
Released in Japanese arcades in 1988, Splatterhouse gave birth to Rick Taylor, who heads to the creepy West Mansion with his girlfriend for a school project. As one would guess, West Mansion is the titular house of splatter, and their quest for knowledge quickly becomes one of survival as Jennifer is kidnapped and Rick wakes up from being knocked out with the menacing Terror Mask inexplicably stuck to his face. Now, praying that it’s not too late, Rick must traverse the mansion and defeat the nasty hellspawn creations brought to life by Dr. West’s horrifying experiments.
After typing all of that out, I feel like it’s ready to be slapped on the back of a shady VHS box and shipped straight to the cavernous depths of video rental hell. If anyone reading this has a shred of nostalgia for this series, then that’s exactly where the game will bring them back to, as well. Splatterhouse is one of the ultimate gross-out products of the ’80s, from the Jason Voorhees mask (toned down in the US to curb the similarities a bit, but we can all see how well that worked) to every exploding baby and vomiting prisoner that danced along with the jarring soundtrack.
While I can’t say I ever played the arcade game, every kid with cajones on the block had a pocket-sized HuCard of indecency in the form of the TurboGrafx-16 port. Like the demonic hordes in the game itself, I leeched off of these people frequently, taking any opportunity to enter West Mansion and fail miserably after a few screens of plank swinging and spike hopping. Though its single-plane side-scrolling would quickly become outdated in the shadow of more involved beat ’em ups and the looming ARE U TUFF ENUFF ’90s, there’s a soothing simplicity to the game that goes hand in hand with the outrageous gore and legitimately braindead enemies.
Even with the changes made in the transition from Japan to America, Namco still had a hell of a bloody game on their hands. The dark and depraved style of the series’ first entry was injected with a massive dose of levity in 1989, however, when Wanpaku Graffiti Splatterhouse was released on Nintendo’s Famicom. Somewhat similar in super-deformed parody style to Konami’s wee Castlevania spin-off, Kid Dracula, Wanpaku Graffiti puts some big doe-eyed anime flair behind Rick’s mask. Pus-oozing beasties were replaced with cartoonier counterparts, pumpkins became a prime concern, and mini-boss encounters ranged from sewer rats to a very spirited Dracula doing an impromptu “Thriller” dance on stage with some zombie backups.
Everything returned to normal in 1992—at least, as normal as this series could possibly be—and us Americans were never the wiser when Splatterhouse 2 was released for the system with the rowdiest sound chip ever: Sega Genesis. Here Rick was again, running through the ruins of West Mansion on the way to the “Hidden House,” clinging to the demonic hope of bringing his lost love back to life. Splatterhouse 2 is likely more memorable to those denied access to NEC’s TG-16, and it’s a much more difficult affair, guaranteeing that unseasoned players would be hearing Rick’s guttural groan as he loses life after life. Full proof of this sequel’s gnarlier qualities can be seen by scrolling through Wii’s Virtual Console lineup, noting it as the only M-rated game available.
The Splatterhouse series came about when videogame marketing was at its apex. Print ads either challenged the potential consumer to MAN UP and grow a pair powerful enough to play whatever atomic punk brawler they were selling, or wooed them with technological promises like “16 megs of gruesome graphics!” That specific quote actually comes from the ad for 1993’s Splatterhouse 3, which went on to boast that “Splatterhouse 3 for the Sega Genesis is the kind of game rating systems were invented for. Check out the screen shots and see for yourself.”
Those screenshots were indeed good selling points, showing yet another entry in the series that looked like it might just have enough barfing bellwethers and corpulent corpses to fuel the nightmares of a million children. Yet, as much as I enjoyed the in-your-face ads, Splatterhouse 3 evaded me at the time of its release. Giving it a spin now, I can see why no one bothered to set me straight. The style is closer to a traditional beat ’em up, giving Rick full movement around the mansion as he races the clock to save Jennifer (again!) and punches every ghost and goblin in the face with a series of combos straight out of Double Dragon. It’s a shame that it’s not nearly as captivating as the first two, which, while impossible to classify as “amazing games,” still hold up in the same campy way that a lot of great horror movies do. Besides, there’s no way to splatter enemies against the walls in 3. That was the whole point!
Even if today’s players won’t be able to appreciate the archaic Kung Fu left-to-right action that most of the Splatterhouse series offers, anyone can get down with the pulsating sprites and the crimson color palette. With both 1 and 2 available for download on Virtual Console for under 10 bucks a piece, now is a killer time for new players and former fans alike to savor the shrieks within. If Bottlerocket Entertainment—the studio behind The Mark of Kri on Playstation 2—can deliver and properly revive the franchise, then we might just be wailing away in Dr. West’s mansion for the rest of our lives.