Splatterhouse (2010)

So in 2010, there was a huge hype for remakes and retro-goodness. Megaman 10 came out, Super Meat Boy showed how far indie developers could go, and even A boy and his Blob got a remake a year prior, so why not some even more obscure titles too? The Splatterhouse reboot was one I was definitely intrigued by, but also worried about. It started out being developed by  Bottlerocket (who is also known for Rise of the Kasai), however, one year before its release, Namco developed the rest of the game in-house with only a couple of the original developers helping out.

The team at Namco were not pleased with the project due to “performance issues”, but it is hard to figure out what they exactly meant by this. Though with the writer Gordon Rennie and plenty of metal bands on board, I was still looking forward to seeing how well this installment would fare. Just as a quick note: for the sake of not confusing anybody, I will refer to this installment as Splatterhouse 2010. I will never understand why certain games just can’t have subtitles or better yet: be numbered.

“You once told her you loved her until the end of the world”

Set as a retelling of the original game, Rick is lying in a pool of his own blood and his girlfriend Jenny has been kidnapped by Dr. West. Seconds from death, the Terror mask appears in front of him, teasing him that only he can help Rick. All he asks is a little faith, and without any other options, Rick puts on the mask and transforms into a hulking beast. Desperate and frightened, he runs after the screams of Jenny, uncertain of the mask’s intentions.

story bit

While it follows the original plot pretty closely, a lot has been added to make this story and the symbiosis between Rick and the Mask much more interesting. Having a companion like this is no easy task for creating engagement as a part of storytelling, but by having Rick trade his humanity for powers to save his girlfriend, he is always at unease because of the person literally being a part of his head. The Terror mask is vulgar, smart-talking and knows about Rick’s secrets, making him a very uncomfortable companion and it never turns into a positive relationship, keeping me always on the edge, wondering how far Rick is willing to go, or even how far I would myself. This is not a companion that will become your friend, but one you need regardless, and I love how strong this concept stands.

The conversations between these characters are also very intriguing, with fun smack-talking and discussions on philosophies. One of my favorite lines is, “You once told her you’d love her until the end of the World. It’s time to prove it Rick; the end of the World is coming“. This is only one of the few dialogues that stays strong and effective and those that don’t, are fun B-movie dialogue that is meant to be silly and are never misplaced.

Eyeseeyou.jpg

Though the plot with Rick saving his girlfriend is simple and strong, the one about Dr. West’s plans is a mixed bag. There are some interesting and fun optional recordings of his diary you can find throughout the game, but they never make him into a clear character as it is hard to tell if they wanted him to be relatable or insane and humorous. The end parts of the story especially make this inconsistent, but it is not to the point of being below average, just unfocused. Speaking of which, there is a pretty cool twist towards the end, but the game itself ends on a cliffhanger that brings up more questions than answers, making the ending unsatisfying.

Still, I loved the simple parts of Rick using the mask to save Jenny, and it was always the main part of the story. The other parts are clearly lesser and the ending is awful, but it is great that the relationship between the man and the mask are so strong, they can actually lift the story alone.

Story Score: 6.5/10

3D upgrade of the third installment

Splatterhouse 2010 follows the third installment and basically upgrades it into 3D. With his bare hands, Rick can quick-punch, charge attacks, make heavy punches, running-charge, dodge roll, block, and grab enemies for more beatdowns and throws. All can be extended into combos and by collecting blood from fallen enemies, you can upgrade Rick to gain more health, combos, and special-powers for example. These make Rick into more than just One-punch man and focuses on more approaches to deal with the hordes of enemies. Some can be as simple as extending combos, while others will give you neat moves, such as the ability to swing a monster around to get some space, giving you a lot to work with.

Alloutofgum

The enemies can be relentless and attack you constantly, so you rarely have a moment to rest. They can be overwhelming, but never unfair due to your combos, as well as three other abilities Rick possesses: weapon-handling, blood-kills, and a special meter. Let’s start with the weapons, as they are the easiest to get through. They range from board-weapons to splat enemies around with like bats and a nailed 2×4, cleavers to cut their limbs off such as hatchets, and two special weapons with unique abilities: the chainsaw for continues damage and a devastating shotgun that has few shots, but deals huge amounts of carnage. Even your own severed arm or heads from fallen enemies can be used for some good smackdowns! All can be found throughout the levels, but will be broken after some use, so you can’t depend on them.

Next is possibly my favorite support: the Blood-kills. When an enemy starts shining red, they can be grabbed for a satisfying instant-kill by doing a short QTE. These don’t just kill the enemy instantly, but also refills the special-meter with a lot of gauge and provides the max amount of blood from the enemy, making it easier to purchase new abilities and upgrades for Rick. These are a godsend when a strong enemy gives you a hard time, making these segments more satisfying. Impressive how the game makes you do quick on-screen button-presses and can still be enjoyable.

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Then we have the special-meter under your health bar. This fills up as you beat down, kill, and perform Blood-kills on enemies, and are separated into different segments, making it easy to see how much you will need to perform a special attack. These range in many different forms, such as huge scissor-hands, earth-crushing punches, and bloodsucking from enemies to regain your health to name a couple. These are very important, as aside from collectible items and weapons, there is nothing else to pick up, like health-regenerating food. This special-meter will then be especially important, but never overpowered as you must perform normal beatdowns in order to use it. When three bars are filled, you can turn into a hulk-version of yourself who gains full health, invincibility, and strong attacks for a short time. Though the stronger attacks won’t be unlocked until later in the game, which is a nice touch to keep the game balanced.

You are going to need all abilities and constantly be varied in their uses, as enemies can be devastating and never give you a breather. With the exception of the smallest enemies, most will give you a hard time and can easily drain your health, making it important to always be on guard. Sadly, the variety in enemies isn’t very good. Some have stronger attacks or won’t stagger as easily as others, but their changes are rather minor. The only exceptions is one you can’t touch so you must use weapons or charged arena-attacks, and the creatures that die in one throw, but can quickly drain your health in under 2 seconds. Though the beat-down is always enjoyable and intense, the lack of distinct enemies makes it repetitive. What helps to change up the formula, are the areas that make you aware of your surroundings, such as requiring you to impale enemies on spikes or that you change planes of fighting, so you don’t fall down a meat-grinder.

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Though the variety is grander with the bosses, they are unfortunately not too much to talk about either. A couple are very standard and have clear patterns for when to dodge and when to attack, and one is recycled a couple of times. Though these are only about 2 specific bosses and the rest are devastating one-on-one fights against other hulking beasts, such as the chainsaw man. These are more intense since they are about as strong and unique as Rick himself, making them more interesting fights. Besides the beat-down in these 3D-environments, there are some automatic platforming-segments where you must jump towards platforms that blink white. These are few and only serve as a way to showcase how Rick got from one area to the next, so they are rather forgettable.

The platforming parts that are actually memorable and a clear part of the game, are the neat 2D-sections that are throwbacks to the original title. These work very similarly to the original title, thanks to Rick’s heavy jumps and more focus on quick beatdowns and weapons dealing the carnage. The traps and obstacle-courses here are also more entertaining as you will roll under and jump over at precise moments, making timing very important. There are some instant-death pits here, but the checkpoints are forgiving enough to make them not annoying.

Hearts

However, what will make these and other deaths annoying isn’t how you died. It is the long load times that can exceed what feels like an eternity. They can last upwards to half a minute, are constant, and appear after every death and when you start the game. This, alongside the reused boss fights and lack of enemy-variety, are the biggest issue as Splatterhouse 2010 might become repetitive due to this. Though the game shines with its character- and level-design, with cool retro-stages and satisfying beat-downs. Solid and satisfying, but more creativity could have gone a long way.

Gameplay Score: 7/10

Blood everywhere

Going for a more cartoony and cel-shaded style was a smart choice, as it makes the beautiful blood and gore pop up that much more. Every kill is satisfying with the color red filling up the entire area, from either satisfying punches and bat-swings, or the hatchet slicing off limbs like butter. The blood kills especially can be disturbing, vulgar, and creative, such as ripping the entire torso from a body, popping a head like a zit, or dragging out a spine through where the sun don’t shine.

Gore

The character models are also impressive, with Rick losing parts of his body on taking heavy damage, and the bosses are grotesque and intimidating. The cartoon approach helps the character be more expressive with clear movements and facial-animations, which is a good way to make the game age well. While the general enemies are neatly made and represent experimental bodies gone wrong, more variety than humanoid-creatures would have been welcome. They aren’t bad, far from it, with many fitting Silent Hill’s aesthetic thanks to some lacking skin, or being a mishmash of leech and bodies, but more animalistic and creative creatures could have gone a long way, especially due to you visiting different locations.

Yes, the West mansion won’t be your only place to venture through. At first, I thought that would be a shame, as the house again takes inspiration from other horror movies, such as with the laughing trophy-heads, and it is colorful and imaginative with each room being dedicated to something specific, such as experiments or a library. Though the only one that was a bore, was the apocalyptic apartment-buildings, and I am all okay with that when we got disgusting meat-factories, creepy carnivals, and areas that are literally made out of flesh and bones. All fit the grindhouse B-movie vibe fantastically, being so artistically gory and bizarre. It can be revolting, so you are warned.

Throwing

Sadly, it is in the visuals that we see how rushed and unpolished this product is. The framerate never disturbed my gameplay, but is definitely apparent and inconsistent, making it noticeable they had trouble with the engine the game is running on. The lack of polish to textures can also be seen in the smaller details, such as specific piles of entrails, which is a shame when everything else is so creative and bizarre. Most cutscenes look good, with some using in-game presentation, but the lack of polish and clear clipping-issues can be seen easier in the environment when these show up. The couple that are in CG look great and while the frame-rate and lack of polish can’t be ignored, they can be forgiven when you go from spooky horror-house to a pathway made of teeth and flesh.

The pummelings are definitely the visual highlights, but just as important to an action-focused game, are the sound effects and they got them here for sure. Every punch feels like you are hitting flesh, beating them down with a weapon packs some intense punch, and the chainsaw sends chills down my spine each time it is fired up. The sense of power is clearly there and the constant sound of flesh being ripped apart or bones crushed never gets dull. Adding to the wonderful carnage is the soundtrack consisting for 90% of different types of metal. These are amazing and over-the-top, giving the action a huge pump with plenty of different musicians a metal-head will be pleased to hear from, both with and without lyrics. The exceptions to this, are the 2D-sections that have more unsettling tracks, being instead reminiscent of the original game, which is a nice change of pace as these are obstacle-courses rather than action-based. It is quite amazing when the details even go so far to include different sounds of footsteps depending on what Rick is walking on.

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This is the first time the series has had some actual dialogue instead of samples of sentences the characters speak, and I am so happy to hear Jim Cummings playing the Terror Mask. He has such an unsettling yet charismatic voice fitting this unsettling character. You probably know him as Winnie the Pooh and plenty of other cartoon-characters from your childhood, and it is amazing what he can do with such a vulgar character. The other ones also do a fantastic job with their characters, and Rick, another character we will hear talking a lot, is portrayed greatly by Josh Keaton, who has also done voice-work for Disney, such as playing Young Hercules. I bring up mainly these two characters, as they are in the forefront with a lot of banter between them, and it is fantastic how both the script and the voice actors go hand in hand with each other. There are some audio-glitches here as well, but thankfully they are rare. All in all, the presentation is great artistically, but sadly lacks polish it severely needs on a technical aspect.

Presentation Score: 7/10

Relive the past

Once you are done with the game, you have the opportunity to play through it again with the unlocked skills you had from the previous playthrough. This is a nice option to spread some more carnage, and while the mask you can unlock does not do much to differentiate the second playthrough, it is a fun unlockable (also, there is one mask exclusive for PS3 and one for the 360). Throughout the game, you can also collect records of Dr.West’s diary for more info on his life and some intimate photos Rick has. The recordings are interesting listens, but more due to the doctor being whimsical than necessarily interesting, and the photos do tell a backstory, but are silly fanservices.

These photos can also be obtained in the survival-arenas, which are fun and put you up against plenty of enemies in different stages that change up the formula slightly with weapons or the level-designs themselves taken from the game. This is an engaging mode and makes collecting pictures more entertaining, but besides looking at something you can find on the internet, they don’t serve for unlocking anything worthwhile. What is fantastic, however, is that as you play the game, you will unlock the three original Splatterhouse-games, with the original being the arcade-version. They have higher pitched sounds and some altered pictures, but only those who have played the games to death will notice this and they are far from a negative.

Extra Score: 8/10

Verdict

Maybe it is obvious by this point, but Splatterhouse 2010’s biggest problem is the simple lack of technical polish. It is a solid entry with a lot of creativity, and while the enemy-variety could have been better, what you are provided with gives a great diversity in fights and the 2D-sections are entertaining. With just a bit more time dedicated to enemies, the story about Dr.West, and the presentation, it could have gone a long way. Despite these, the focus is on the symbiotic relationship between Rick and the mask for saving his girlfriend and cause some violent carnage along the way. Definitely worthy of its title, but with other bizarre rereleases being present, I hope Splatterhouse 2010 will get a second chance. Also, this has all the main-entries on one disc. Not many franchises can say that proudly.

70/100

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