Splatterhouse Retrospective Part I: Welcome to West Mansion



The unthinkable has happened: after seventeen years, Splatterhouse is finally returning from the grave. The upcoming Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 title, due to hit stores on 11/23, is a reboot of the series, extra heavy on the gore and metal. It was originally slated for an October release, but was pushed back for further polishing.

It's been a long, strange road for the game. Originally being created for Namco Bandai by BottleRocket Entertainment, it was announced in 2008 with an anticipated 2009 release date. But things didn't go as planned (when do they ever in Splatterhouse?), and a number of things happened, namely the removal of BottleRocket from the project and the decision to make the game entirely in-house at Namco Bandai - ably assisted by several former BottleRocket artists and programmers.

While we die-hard old-school fans remember the Splatterhouse games from the arcades, Turbografx-16 and Sega Genesis, members of the "PlayStation Generation" usually give you a blank look at the very mention of Splatterhouse. That's okay, though - soon they'll know all about the series. You see, Namco Bandai graciously consented to producer Dan Tovar's wish to have the classic Splatterhouse games included as bonus unlockables in the new game, as a gift for the fans. They're not paid DLC, they're genuine meet the criteria unlockables. This means that anyone that picks up the new game and plays through it will unlock the original arcade game Splatterhouse and the Sega Genesis games Splatterhouse 2 and Splatterhouse 3. That's practically the whole Splatterhouse experience on one disc.

That alone is cause for celebration; that we're getting a brand new game with them is nearly more than any Splat-fan could ask for. So in anticipation of the upcoming release, Strange Kids Club has teamed up with me, the webmaster of West Mansion: The Splatterhouse Homepage, for a look back at the original games. A White Zombie song once included the sample "Perhaps you'd better start at the beginning." That's some good advice, so that's exactly what we're gonna do.


Splatterhouse (Namco: Arcade, 1988)

A scenario familiar to many horror fans plays out on the flickering screen: as a creepy organ dirge plays, a couple races through the woods, seeking shelter from an oncoming thunderstorm. They find it in a large, ominous old mansion. But no sooner do they enter than you hear the girl screaming in terror. Lightning flashes and thunder rumbles. Certainly some horrible fate has befallen our fleeing couple.

You drop a quarter in the slot, and witness a strange sequence: what appears to be a goalie mask floats through the air and eventually lands on the man from the intro, who's lying on the ground as if dead. The girl is nowhere to be seen. It attaches itself to his face... and the man, who we find out later is named Rick Taylor, is plunged headlong into seven levels of hell, all in an attempt to save his girlfriend Jennifer Wills from whatever fate the creatures of the mansion have in store for her.

Splatterhouse is at its heart a side-scrolling, one-plane brawler, similar to Irem's Kung Fu Master (1984). Enemies proceed from right to left, and it's up to you to dismember them by any means possible: punching, kicking or using one of the many implements of destruction you find scattered throughout the stages to eviscerate them. And there's quite a few of those: meat cleavers, 2x4s, shotguns, harpoons, wrenches, stones and axes.


In 1988, the kind of horror imagery and gore seen in Splatterhouse was almost unheard of when it came to videogames. Only the 1986 arcade game Chiller, a light gun game that had the player taking potshots at people in torture chambers, approached the gore factor seen in Splatterhouse. Writhing corpses litter the first stage, some puking on you, others just flailing about in the background. Zombies called Deadmen shamble around: they can be beheaded with the cleaver, splattered against the wall with the 2x4 or just plain punched and kicked into nothing. Later enemies explode, disintegrate and vanish in a variety of ways.

A unique aspect of the game is that unlike most other horror games coming out of Japan, which drew heavily from Eastern horror and mythology, Splatterhouse was one of the first to be heavily inspired by Western horror, namely '80s slasher flicks. The game takes inspiration from both mainstream and obscure horror movies: the Friday the 13th films, Evil Dead 2, Zombi 3, Deadly Spawn and Reanimator, to name a few. The soundtrack also draws a lot from those B-movie scores, most of it slightly out of tune, creepy synth stuff. The sound effects are exactly what you'd expect to hear from one of those same films as well: screams, moans, thuds and the sound of splattering fluids.


There are no shortage of grotesque abominations in Splatterhouse. From the very beginning Rick is stalked by legions of the undead: the aforementioned Deadmen, zombie dogs, hanging corpses, horrible giant worms that seem to be inspired by both Deadly Spawn and a Japanese delicacy called warasubo, bats, giant crawling slugs, Rick's mirror image... the list goes on. The bosses are equally nightmarish: a poltergeist-possessed room, an upside down cross surrounded by severed heads, a mini-boss called Master Dead that keeps reviving the dead and the dual chainsaw-armed, bag-headed golem Biggy Man are some of the bosses Rick fights.

And what of Jennifer? In one of the most shocking plot twists ever seen in a videogame at that point, when you find Jennifer, the game doesn't end - she's transformed into a horrible demon that attempts to skewer Rick with six foot long retractable claws. It's not only a horrible battle, but a heartwrenching one too. Every so often Jennifer changes back to herself and begs Rick to help her, only to transform back into the demon and renew her assault. And if Rick finally defeats her, she thanks him, says goodbye, and her spirit drifts away.


But the game's not over, there's still more to go. Should Rick defeat the horrors - and believe me, the last two stages are two of the most brutal stages in Splatterhouse history - he finally escapes the mansion, only to have the mask break away from his face and fall to the ground. Behind him, fire consumes the old mansion. It's a bittersweet ending, knowing that Rick survived but Jennifer didn't, but the tone quickly turns from bittersweet to ominous as the credits finish rolling and the mask reforms itself and cackles maniacally.

Splatterhouse received several home ports: the first, by Namco for the PC Engine/Turbografx-16 in 1990, is the one most remember. It's toned down from the arcade due to the limits of the console, but the core gameplay and a lot of the gore is still present. This port also expanded the story: it's here that players first found out that Rick and Jennifer had ended up in West Mansion, home of the late Dr. West (possibly Lovecraft's Herbert West) and that the mask that possessed Rick was called the Terror Mask. It was from this port that the basis for the storyline of the later games, as well as the new game, was derived. The Terror Mask was altered for the Turbografx release, due to its similarity to Jason Voorhees' mask: it was recolored red and given kabuki stripes. Splatterhouse was also ported in near-arcade perfect form to the Japanese computer FM Towns by Ving, as well as seeing a release for Windows in Japan, courtesy of MediaKite. There was also a handheld LCD game released by Varie that was loosely based on the arcade.


Like every good horror movie, Splatterhouse raised several questions that went unanswered. What happened to Jennifer? Did she really die? What about this Dr. West? What was his deal? And was the Terror Mask really alive? One would think a sequel would have been imminent, but it wasn't until the unexpected success of the PCE/TG16 versions that Namco began to seriously consider what happened next...

SPLATTERHOUSE: WANPAKU GRAFFITI FUN FACT!

Wanpaku Graffiti is the only 8-bit Splatterhouse ever made, released exclusively in Japan for the Nintendo Famicom in 1989. Not only that, but it serves as a prequel to the original game, as revealed in the hidden endings.

Rob Strangman, known by some as the one-man Splatterpedia, is the founder and webmaster of West Mansion: The Splatterhouse Homepage, as well as the import-focused retro gaming site The OPCFG. He also writes the "Matters of Import" column for the Digital Press fanzine, rules his discussion forum The Third Moon with an iron fist, is a Gradius enthusiast, a die-hard Indiana Jones fan, and a "genuine Rush scholar." He lives with his family in Connecticut.






5 comments:

  1. Swollen corpse said...:

    Found memories
    I was stoked when I found the original on the Nintendo store and down loaded it to my WII.

  1. Strange Kid said...:

    Good or bad, I can't help but get excited about the new game coming out this month and Rob's Retrospective series is getting me even more stoked. I'll be playing the Wii port for sure every weekend until the remake comes out! :)

  1. Andrew said...:

    man I really wish they left the design of the character alone for the new one. Rick looks so much more bad-ass with the ripped off sleeves no shoes look.

  1. therealdire51 said...:

    They had to show off the new damage system, hence the new look - but you never know, a classic outfit or two might (and I stress might) make an appearance as DLC.

  1. Strange Kid said...:

    @TheRealDire51: That's a good point about the damage system. Speaking of bonus content, be sure to check out the clubhouse tomorrow morning for some really cool news regarding unlockables. :)

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