Splatterhouse (TurboGrafx-16) Review

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Quick Review 

~Review by tankMage (January 2020)

Score: A-

Here’s a short breakdown of Splatterhouse’s strengths and weaknesses, scroll down if you wish to read the full review.

Pros 

-Interesting horror premise.

-Old-school beat ’em up/platforming action.

-Cool bosses and enemies.

-Eighties horror movie style music.

-A few stages have alternate paths.

Cons 

-Gameplay feels stiff.

-Much of the narrative present in the arcade game was not included in the port.

-Short.

Full Review

It was a dark and stormy night…

    Having not had the privilege of owning a TurboGrafx-16 back in the early nineties, Splatterhouse was something I associated with arcades rather than consoles. But, lo and behold, this title made it the TG16 and saw later incarnations on the Sega Genesis. In many ways, Splatterhouse is the quintessential edgy video game that started appearing in the late eighties and early nineties thanks to its gory violence. While much of the impact of this title will likely be lost on modern audiences, beating gooey zombies to death (who splatter against the background) with a two-by-four wasn’t something you could commonly do back in 1990, so Splatterhouse deserves some recognition as one of the pioneers of the horror genre just for existing. Like many arcade to console ports, this one is inferior to the arcade version, but it does a good job of preserving the original’s spirit and manages to be a decent beat ’em up on a console glutted with shooters.

    I had to refer to the manual to get the story, because the few cutscenes that are present tell you nothing. The manual states that an infamous parapsychologist named Dr. West performed gruesome experiments in his mansion. Over the years the mansion gained a reputation as being haunted and was dubbed “The Splatterhouse”, because of all the horrific events that took place within its walls. Rick and Jennifer, two parapsychology students, decided to study the mansion as a school project. Of course, everything goes horribly wrong when they get there and Jennifer is abducted. Rick, who was mortally wounded is somehow resurrected by an artifact called the Terror Mask, which even grants him special powers. With his new found strength, Rick sets out to do what any red-blooded parapsychology major would do: save Jennifer!

    Ok, so the story is a bit hokey, but there’s a certain charm to it as it borrows a lot from 1930s pulp horror and popular scary movies of the 80s. The devs also made an attempt to tell a bit of the story within the game, which was still somewhat novel in action titles. They also seem to have left a few aspects of the plot intentionally mysterious, which is something I appreciate, though this may bug some players. Despite being a bit silly, there’s a certain melancholy to Splatterhouse, especially as you reach the later parts of the game and things take a turn for the worse. The soundtrack really helps step in for the lack of narrative with its eerie and sometimes sorrowful instrumentals.

    As for the action, well it’s all pretty simple. Rick punches and kicks his way through zombies (and other grotesque monstrosities) to get to the boss at the end of each stage. After that, the player punches and kicks the boss. Some light platforming and special weapons were included to break up the monotony, so you’ll get to blast monsters with a shotgun or beat them with a big stick from time to time. I gotta say, using the weapons was entertaining thanks to the gory kill animations. At first I thought Splatterhouse was going to be mindless and boring, but it turned out to be a well thought out beat ’em up. Things get more difficult as the game progresses and it takes a combination of skill, strategy, and reflexes to defeat many of the bosses.

    I’m kind of on the fence about this game’s graphics. The TurboGrafx-16 couldn’t replicate the graphics of the arcade version and the artists seemed to have struggled to translate the visuals over to the TG16. At the same time, the monsters have a unique style to them that’s hard to forget and the rather drab color palette of the TG16 works beautifully for a brooding horror game. They also made changes to the American release, taking out some of the more violent and edgy imagery, but I did appreciate the fact that they redid Rick’s mask, which made him look like a Jason knockoff in the arcade game.

    I do have a few complaints about this game that are a bit more major than the few topical issues I mentioned earlier. Most players will find it very short and I was able to beat it in two sittings even though I was constantly replaying stages in order to test strategies for the walkthrough I wrote for it. Considering the fact that an original copy costs nearly $100, I’m not sure if it’s worth buying unless you really love collecting or you can get it on a digital release. The controls also felt a bit stiff, though this became less of an issue as I adjusted to them. Finally, it would have also been nice if they tried to include some of the cutscenes from the original, because the story feels disjointed without them as minimalistic as they were.

Final Thoughts

    Splatterhouse may be a lot of things, but it’s not forgettable. While its gooey zombies and cartoonish violence may not be as striking as they were decades ago, there’s an underlying quality to this game that gives it staying power. Even hours after completing this title, its events still stand out in my mind and I have a feeling that I’ll look back fondly on the few days I spent playing it. It’s easy to be cynical and assume that the devs tried to play off of the popularity of horror films in the eighties to get kids to dump quarters into a machine as well as sell TG16 cards, because it is a bit over the top at times and there are a lot of references to movies in it. But I think this game is actually an homage to the horror genre that was created by a passionate group of developers after playing through it and seeing the amount of imagination that went into this game even though it isn’t perfect.

Recommendations

Splatterhouse is an essential TurboGrafx-16 title and you should play it unless you really dislike horror or beat ’em ups.

This Splatterhouse Review is property of RetroMaggedon.com, ©2020

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