Blimey, this might be the most pointless article we've ever uploaded. I say this because the internet already has Splatterhouse covered in more detail than you'd ever need. I speak, of course, of the now archive-only Splatterhouse bible, The West Mansion which has absolutely everything you need to know about the series. Although he won't hear us, we'd like to thank Rob Strangeman both for maintaing such an excellent resource on the series until its closure in 2011, and, uh, for giving us the names of enemies and some story details. If we give an enemy a proper name, it's because we nicked it from The West Mansion. We're just giving full credit where it's due ('cause as God is my witness, we're NOT translating instruction manuals for this site, nope, not gonna happen). We'll probably mention them again at some point in this article, so look forward to that.
I just want to get two things out of the way before touching this game:
IMPORTANT POINT NUMBER ONE:
There is no evidence that this game had an official parental advisory warning on it in the arcades.
IMPORTANT POINT NUMBER TWO:
There is no 'uncensored Japanese' version of the arcade game. The World and Japan versions are exactly the same.
These are the two most common rumours I've seen presented as fact here and there (news snippets for the 2010 Splatterhouse reboot even refer to the unlockable arcade version as the 'uncensored Japanese' version, argh!). The first one is unproven (if you ask me, it's more likely that individual arcade operators might've put up warning signs, but no official warnings from Namco exist as far as I know) and the second is probably just confusion with the TurboGrafx-16 version, which was censored, albeit more subtly than you might think, for the US market. Here at Gaming Hell, though, we're God-damn pedants, so we like to make sure everything's crystal-clear, you know?
Now that's established, let's talk arcade violence.
It's not like arcade games weren't violent before Splatterhouse showed up. Well before the 1988 release of Namco's b-movie horror game, we had Death Race from 1976 (so primitive that the violence is minimal, but it still kicked up a fuss), Shark Attack from 1981 (which includes blood-curdling screeaaaams as you chomp on innocent sea divers) and Chiller from 1983 (which, in many ways, is worse than Splatterhouse, as it had you killing and torturing people with no context other than 'well, why not?'). The home consoles also had games like Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior from 1987 (decapitations ahoy!) and Commando Libya from 1986 (which had you murdering innocent hostages twenty three years before Modern Warfare 2!). In the arcades in particular, though, over-the-top gore was a bit of a rarity. If you ask me, blood-splattered arcade games didn't start to flourish until the early 90s because of the success of Mortal Kombat. Later in the 90s, you had games like House of the Dead, Area 51 and Bloodstorm, but because of its late-80s release, Splatterhouse is caught in the middle a bit- compared to the moral panic caused by Mortal Kombat, it's more a footnote in the history of video game violence. In fact, it took authority figures a long time to even consider the series a problem- an advert for the third game in the series was brought up at the 1993 Violence In Video Games senate hearing, but before that Namco were content to put a silly little 'this game is not for kids!' warning on the box cover of the home versions (and the UK release of Splatterhouse 2 didn't even bave one!)
There's a difference, though, between the use of violence in Splatterhouse and Mortal Kombat. Mortal Kombat borders on slapstick with its use of blood, with buckets of gore getting sloshed across the screen if the kombatants (I can't believe I just typed that) so much as break a fingernail, and then there's the over-the-top fatalities, the pit of spikes, and in later games, the acid bath... Looking back, I've got no idea how we could've possibly considered it as a threat to the youngsters, because it's like a really shitty kung-fu movie, and as such is hilarious, in a strange way. Splatterhouse, on the other hand, is different, and there wasn't anything quite like it at the time of release. To me, it's more subtle, less about shocking the player and more about actually scaring them, with its unsettling atmosphere and grotesque, horrible enemies. It's less a celebration of all-out gore, and far more downbeat- the dreary stage backgrounds, the practically mournful soundtrack, and above all the story and its ending all contribute to make Spaltterhouse a pretty depressing game... Quite unique, especially for its time.
The story of Splatterhouse is pretty simple, although later games in the series flesh things out a bit. Poor Rick (that's you) is having a bad day- he's been left for dead in the sinister West Mansion, with his girlfriend Jennifer kidnapped by the mansion's grotesque inhabitants. Fortunately, the Terror Mask, an ancient sentient relic, has given Rick another chance by attaching itself to his face, granting him immense power. Rick must now smash his way out of the Splatterhouse and save his girl! As brutality is the order of the day, it's no surprise that the game's brutally simple. Since Splatterhouse was developed in a cruel, horrible world where Final Fight didn't exist, and Namco apparently didn't pay attention to Renegade or Double Dragon, they decided to use the Kung-Fu Master/Vigilante template, i.e. just one plane of movement. You might even say it's simpler than that, because there's only one attack button (unlike the two in KFM) but the second button here is used to jump. Rick has three main attacks: a straight punch, a crouching kick (both of which can be used in the air) and a sliding kick performed by jumping and holding Down and Attack as you hit the floor- he'll slide for quite a distance, so be careful where you use it, but it does twice as much damage as his other attacks. Mastery of the sliding kick, especially the rarely-used-but-important reverse sliding kick (press the opposite direction just as you hit the floor to slide the opposite way) is critical for certain boss encounters!
Of course, if that was all you had at your disposal, things would get quite dry indeed, even quicker than in Kung-Fu Master, so Splatterhouse mixes things up in two ways. First, there's greater variety in terms of enemies, as each stage introduces at least one new type, and others have completely unique enemies (as we'll find, to our terror, on Stage 6). We'll deal with each type as we come to 'em. Next, there's weapons, an element that was half-heartedly implemented in Vigilante. There's three basic weapon types; one-time projectiles, melee weapons which you'll drop like an oaf when hurt, and the shotgun which has limited ammo. Basically, if it's lying around (whether it's on the ground or against a wall) and it's flashing, Rick can pick it up and use it for the rest of the scene he's in- just like in Double Dragon, he'll clumsily drop it once he leaves an area. Most of the weapons instantly kill any enemy you encounter, and you get to use two of them for boss battles, so it's in your best interest to abuse them while you have the chance. Again, as we get the weapons, I'll detail them- besides, most of them only appear in one scene, so their application is context-sensitive.
As you can aleady tell, I'm saving a lot of the content of the game for the play-through itself, rather than going into detail here. Just like Robocod, half the appeal of Splatterhouse is seeing the spectacle of the horror that awaits you first-hand. Of course, those in the audience without the iron will and determination required to get through Splatterhouse- it's probably best known for its uncompromising attitude towards kicking the player's ass- won't be able to see such blood-curdling terror for themselves. Well, while disappointing my audience is my primary objective on this site, I'll humour you lot and show you what awaits. Just this once.
It's time to ignore all the warnings about the West Mansion and dive right in. Let's play Splatterhouse!
Don't go into the house... Alone!