After the final boss is defeated, the Terror Mask shatters into pieces.
Jennifer is dead. The mansion is now charred earth. The Terror Mask is no more.
But you survived, didn't you?
As the haunting ending theme plays, the credits start rolling.
Now, let's pretend to be the GDRI again and have a look at those names in the credits!
Unlike Marchen Maze and The Fairyland Story, there's no easy answers here- the staff roll is a pseudonym-littered nightmare, made even more baffling by the fact that the game is credited as a 'Splatter Team Original'. Of all the names here, we could only positively identify two of them in other Namco games- first, Yoshinori Kawamoto (Original Music) worked on a few other arcade game soundtracks for Namco, including Finest Hour, Phelios and Burning Force (that last one doesn't surprise us, as it has some stompin' music). The other one is Haya Paya (Associate Producer) who we assume is the same person as Payapa Payapaya, credited as Producer and Associate Producer in Splatterhouse 2 and 3 respectively (although they weren't pure Namco games, as development for both titles was at least partially handled by Now Production). He's the only person to appear in the credits for all three original Splatterhouse titles.. We think. So basically, we haven't learned anything from the credits. What a downer.
... But we can't end the game without that obligatory horror movie twist!
The mask reforms, and cackles sadistically after the credits.
As long as that mask remains, it can happen again...
So let's ruin this moment with HIGH SCORE TABLE TIME!!!
We've made it to the end. Splatterhouse has been conquered.
Those observant few among you (or those who read the short review instead) might notice that we've given Splatterhouse a 4/5 score. That puts it alongside games on this site like Charlie Ninja, Psycho Soldier and Super Fantasy Zone- it's in good company indeed. Bit of a high score for a game that's essentially a Kung-Fu Master clone though, eh? I had to think on that score for a while, and while a lot of my thoughts went into the short review, I'm going to summarise here the three elements that make Splatterhouse worthy of a 4 out of 5- the controls being just right, the structure of the levels keeping things interesting at each turn, and most importantly, the atmosphere. We'll get to that last element in a second, but just discussing the basic mechanics, it does it well. It takes a little time to adjust to Rick's odd way of moving, but by the time you reach Stage VI, you realise you've got just the right amount of control over him- careful use of his jumping attacks means you can take out any of the Egg Obas before they spawn, and if they do spawn, manoeuvring the big oaf correctly means you can nail them almost wherever they come from (as long as you keep on top of them, like). Critically, it feels that Splatterhouse is designed around Rick's movement- most of the enemies are fairly slow and lumbering, so when a faster enemy like a Top-Heavy or a Body Eater appears, it actually feels like a legitimate threat. The only really bullshit moments in the game are the fights with Biggy Man and Mutant Jennifer, as they're a little too fast, but with practice and the right strategy, you can get through with minimal loss. Regarding the level design, they're full of unique weapons and keep changing regularly, so there's plenty of variety (something similar single-plane brawlers like the arcade version of The Ninja Warriors are lacking somewhat)
However, it's the atmosphere that gets Splatterhouse its fourth star. In the arcade at the time, there was nothing like Splatterhouse- the closest to it released back in 1988 was Konami's Haunted Castle, but compare the music in particular with Splatterhouse and you see that they're going for a different feel altogether. Haunted Castle is more like a Hammer horror film (for obvious reasons) whereas Splatterhouse is going for the darker slasher movie feel. The game is grim from start to finish, with all its fantastically gory background details and enemy deaths, and it even throws in a few horror movie-style twists that work very well with the slasher-esque backdrop the game has. In particular, the way it takes the at-the-time standard 'save the girl' video game storyline and turns it on its head just as you think you've saved Jennifer is the game's standout moment- it's been years since I first saw it, and while the impact has gone a little, having to zoom in on her transformation for the animated GIFs made me realise how brutally detailed it is. It's a bleak game throughout, seems more intent on scaring or unnerving than shocking, and for once has an unhappy ending. All of these elements, combined with the fantastic soundtrack and basic-but-satisfying mechanics give Splatterhouse its edge, and elevate it above its Kung Fu Master roots (albeit not enough for five stars- I like Splatterhouse, but I ain't nuts)... And if you ask me, the atmosphere alone makes it the best in the series. In particular, it's interesting to compare it with Splatterhouse 2- they're essentially the same game mechanics-wise, but SH2 is on weaker hardware with a less haunting soundtrack, and it feels a lot cheaper in terms of atmosphere (and, as we may one day find out on this site, in terms of gameplay too, hi-yo!)
To put it in two lines, the original Splatterhouse has good mechanics backed up by fucking amazing atmosphere.
That's worth four stars. Are we OK with that?
And now, it's that time, folks!
Just as a reminder, while this article's covered just the first game here, there's more info out there.
You may wish to visit The West Mansion for more on the Splatterhouse series than any one human really needs.
In particular there's more on the various movie references in the game, which I mostly left out because some of it's a bit iffy if you ask me.
Like a few of Namco's late 80s arcade games that don't get the Namco Museum treatment, ports of Splatterhouse are kinda thin on the ground.
As far as contemporary home ports go, there's only two, for two unloved systems.
Of the two, the PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 port from 1990 is probably the most well-known, especially since it was one of the titles that NEC really pushed in America, with t-shirts, promotional comics and even a TV spot produced (which isn't quite as good as this haunting Japanese commercial, but still). Even before you get to the game, the manual fleshes out what little story the game has- it establishes that Rick Taylor and Jennifer Wills (there's your full names, fact fans) are parapsychology majors and visit the Splatterhouse to look into the work of the demented Dr. West, a leader in their field who is also quite dead. There's a couple of other details here and there, but you can look them up at The West Mansion's Lost in Translation article which goes into more detail than I'm willing to.
So, let's get to the game itself. This was one of several System 1 ports Namco made for NEC's system (Marchen Maze is one of the others) and it isn't quite up to the task, but it does an admirable job. The basics are unchanged (although with the turbo capabilities of the gamepad, you can punch enemies into putty a little easier) but a lot of the graphical detail has been lost (mostly the backgrounds), the music is weaker and tinnier (although, oddly, Unholy Battle sounds better on the TG16) and a few things, such as some enemy variants and the whole intro, have been excised. The game is also considerably easier than the arcade version- you have five credits to beat the game with but you get five hearts per life by default and the enemies are generally less aggressive and numerous than in the arcade. If you've cleared the original on one credit, you're gonna sail through this port... You can increase the difficulty a little bit, though, if you hold Select on the title screen until HARD appears- enemies will now take twice as many hits to kill.
The gore has also been toned down, and this is across the board- both the Japanese and American versions of the game lack the meat cleaver in Stages I and II, splatting enemies against the wall generates less slime, and the Body Eater sequences have less rotting flesh in the background. I'd say this was done more for the sake of squeezing the game onto a HuCard rather than attempting to sanitise the game... However, a few elements were censored specifically for the US release. Most obviously, the Terror Mask is no longer a litigation-baiting Jason Vorhees-style white hockey mask, but a plainer red one which seems to have been reused (and repainted white) for the Japanese version of Splatterhouse 2. All the religious imagery has also been excised- the Inverted Cross boss from Stage IV has been replaced with a floating blue head, all the crosses from the chapel have been removed along with the altar (which means there's some candles that just float in mid-air once the boss is defeated- hover your mouse over the picture above to see the difference), and the cross just before the final boss has been replaced with a tombstone (again, hover to see the difference). Rick also has a slightly darker skin palette (which we only noticed when we made those 'before/after' screenshots above) but as far as censorship goes, that's your lot.
The other home port is the FM Towns Marty version released in 1992, handled by Ving, who were responsible for several Marty ports (including The New Zealand Story and Bubble Bobble). Now this is more like it, as this port is very, very close- all of the mechanics are right (it even has that weird platform glitch where Rick will slide to the end of a platform if you're positioned correctly) and you have to be really pedantic to pick apart the differences. Fortunately I am very pedantic. The main difference is that the screen resolution is a little smaller- you can tell just from the health bar, as the hearts are closer together- so you see slightly less of the action, and scenes that used to fit on a single screen, such as the first Body Eater sequence and the poltergeist fight, have to scroll a little. This isn't a problem until Hell Chaos, as his bacon hands will sometimes be hidden slightly off-screen, but it's very minor. Additionally, the game is censored in the tiniest possible way- in the intro with the Terror Mask taking over Rick, Rick's sprite is different (it's the one used when he gets up after dying) which means the barely-visible splotches of blood on his head have vanished. As far options go, you can alter the difficulty and listen to the music/sound effects on the options screen (there is one song in particular that appears to be an arranged CD song and is exclusive to this version- anyone who knows how to get this song to play will be rewarded greatly if they tell us!) as well as adjust the display, but that's it. Still, considering how close it is, you can't complain too much. Unless you're me.
Now, there's been a few re-releases since then, mostly emulations, including the PC (Japan-only in 2000 and reprinted in 2003- it seems to be a direct emulation of the arcade game), Wii Virtual Console (Westerners received the TurboGrafx-16 port again, while Japan also got the arcade version- check out the manual for that version here), and mobile phones (this version replaces the Terror Mask with the 2010 reboot design) but one of the more interesting ports (and by interesting I of course mean shite) is the one for iPhone. Available from the App Store for the low, low price of £1.99 (well, no longer, as it was delisted), this isn't a direct emulation but a new port, and, well, let's start with the good stuff, the extras. You get three difficulty settings, the ability to continue from any stage you've previously reached, a Splatter Rush mode where you must kill zombies until you die (with music from the 2010 reboot) and, intriguingly, cheats... Which are in-app purchases. Yes, it's DLC! You can unlock infinite shotgun shells for 69p (which is enough to buy ZIGGURAT), the ability to slide without jumping for £1.99 (which is enough to buy Metal Gear Solid TOUCH with change) and invincibility for £2.49 (which is are you fucking kidding me, or a quarter of the way towards Miku Flick). They do give you a freebie though, Maskless Rick mode, which strips Rick of the Terror Mask (with a head-swapped sprite, even) and gives him one hit before he dies. It even has achievements courtesy of Game Center. Isn't that nice? Other than that, this is based on the arcade version, with some changes that only people who've played the original a million times (hello) would notice, like different enemy movement patterns (especially Mutant Jennifer) and different physics for jumping and the slide...
... And it's at this point I have to address the main problem here- the controls blow. As with many iPhone ports of old games, Splatterhouse uses a virtual d-pad/joystick (your choice) for movement and buttons to the right for attacking, jumping and, if you've enabled assistance, sliding. Needless to say, this isn't ideal for this game. I've said about a million times that Splatterhouse's controls are just right, and this iPhone port really brings that home, as whether you use the virtual joystick or the virtual d-pad, you just don't have enough control over Rick, with turning around quickly and ducking when you want to being far harder than they should be. I have fairly dainty hands (oh, hush) yet I was still ducking and stopping when I didn't intend to, and if you have the screen set at its biggest size your hand will cover parts of it- the downside of having the screen at its smallest is that everything is tiny. These problems make the Body Eater sections the hardest in the game by a wide margin, to the point where I nearly bought the invincibility cheat to get past it (there's a 'sweet spot' on the left side of the room that makes the encounter easier). The music has also been given a good kicking, especially the music for Stage VI (it's missing half the song so it loops the same section over and over) and with the changes to the enemy behaviour and general physics (Master Dead can now hurt you when he's blinking, the jumping is way off) it all means this
is was a pretty crap port all around.
Next, an emulation of the original arcade game was included alongside Splatterhouse 2 and 3 in the 2010 reboot of the series for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360- beat Phase 2 of Story Mode to access it. Handled by Hanaho Games, it's a decent-enough port (it's better than the ports of 2 and 3 in the game, which have considerably more issues emulation-wise) but has a few odd quirks- certain sound effects are missing (the WOBWOBWOB of the possessed knives and the sound of a swung weapon) and the status bar has a habit of constantly flashing during gameplay (it eventually calms down as you get further into the game) which can be distracting. However, this
is was the only faithful Western port of the original arcade game up to this point, so...
... Until 2017, with the release of Namco Museum Switch on, er, the Switch, which alongside the usual suspects, contained... Splatterhouse? Yes, tagging along with other newcomers to the series Tank Force and Rolling Thunder 2 (which both received new translations), Rick's violent odyssey was finally inagurated into the Namco Museum properly (our screenshos here come from a friend who requested no credit- we thank you). This particular instalment was made primarily by Gotch Technology, an Osaka-based developer whose GDRI page has them as Namco's go-to developers for ports in recent years, including their XBLA output (and Namco Museum: Virtual Aracde), the PS4/Xbox One arcade ports, and even oddities like the Pac-Man port inside Pac-Man Party. Shame they didn't ask them to do Pac-Man Museum, eh? Anyway, we can't check for ourselves, but Gotch's previous work has us reckoning this is a soli port (I'd peg it above the Hanaho job) with full dipswitch settings, and aside from the lovely border art and HD rumble, has one neat extra- a Challenge mode with leaderboards. Rather than a simple one-coin challenge, you have to beat Stage V, with infinite lives, racking up the highest score and lowest damage you can. Stage V, of course, has multiple routes, so this is a rather clever choice! Needless to say, this is the port to go for nowadays. I love a happy ending!
Now, uh, remember that rule, if it exists, there is a Touhou version of it?
Well, yes. There is a Splatterhouse/Touhou cross-over fan game.
It's called SPLATTER FAITH.
A Flash game available to play for free on the 'net here, developed (we assume) by 3-me.net, Splatter Faith is a very bizarre mash-up that's a shortened version of Splatterhouse with plot elements from the 12th Touhou game, Undefined Fantastic Object. Rick has been replaced by Moriya Shrine maiden Sanae Kotiya (but she still has that hunched-over look, hilariously), the Terror Mask is now Suwako Moriya's frog hat (called Pyonta) and Jennifer is now played by Kanako Yasaka, who has been kidnapped by aliens because why not. The basics are exactly the same as the original Splatterhouse (with one change- Sanae can end a sliding kick with a massively useful backflip with huge invincibility time if you press up and the attack button at the right time) and almost all the stages have been lifted directly, but the enemies have been replaced with pop-culture aliens (including characters nicked from Space Invaders, Aliens and The Thing) and the bosses are a mix of aliens (Chest-Bursters replace Body Eaters and you have to fight a Predator) and Touhous (Kanako turns into a Gundam in a parody of the Jennifer fight, Reimu Hakurei is Sanae's mirror image, and the final boss is Suwako's hat doing an impersonation of Hell Chaos, which is... Yikes, just look at it!).
As a parody game, Splatter Faith's worth at least one play, but 'tis no proper Splatterhouse, English. It's kinda weird that the two things that give Splatterhouse its edge- the tight controls and short-ish levels broken up into varied segments- are missing here. Most of the levels that have been brought over (there's no equivalent for Stages II or V) are truncated so there's only one section, and they're twice as long as they should be so they get dull a lot faster- throw in the fact that Sanae is far slower and more sluggish than even Rick (now that's an achievement) and you have a parody that's far more frustrating than the source material. In particular, the new version of Stage VI which has the screen juddering up and down as you're attacked by alien fetuses is not cool at all. Goes to show how tightly designed the arcade game is, though- it's nothing without the controls or level structure! If you're a lunatic for Touhou though, Splatter Faith is worth a go just to watch Sanae beat the living hell out of a mutated Pyonta. Also, the music is a highlight- most of it is Touhou music done in the style of Splatterhouse (Kanako's theme reworked to sound like Jennifer's theme is a good one, as is the metal version of Sanae's theme), but one track (used for the Chest-Burster fight) is a mash-up of The Primal Scene of Japan the Girl Saw (from Mountain of Faith) and the boss music from R-Type. That's classy as hell.
Complying with Touhou tradition, though, there's also an Extra Mode. It seems to unlock when it wants (first time I unlocked it was after beating the game with continues, the second time it unlocked after I continued several times without beating the game) and it answers a question no-one has ever asked- what if the original Splatterhouse was designed by a raging asshole who hated all human life? At least, that's what I assume. In a surprising break from Gaming Hell tradition, I didn't beat the Extra mode, mostly because the first two stages are interminable. They're reskins of the first two stages from the main game, but with a lot more memorisation and bullshit involved (examples invlude a fire demon that spawns immediately after a pit of spikes, fire logs that appear out of nowhere, enemies beyond spike pits that you can't avoid without a weapon/taking a hit, etc.) that suck any fun out of the game... Touhou fans might want to persevere, as all the bosses are new (Stage 1 has a parody of the Poltergeist fight with Sakuya, Staori, the Prismriver Sisters and Ellen from Phantasmagoria of Dim. Dream, Stage 2 has a Leatherface version of Chen) and, after the first two stages, it turns into a boss rush of sorts (Orin as Master Dead, Rumia as Inverted Cross, and a totally new boss in the form of Keine and Byakuren) but to reach them you must be a formidable player as losing your lives means you must start from Stage EX1. Despite having near-infinite patience, I gave up, so you can see a playthrough of EX Mode here on YouTube (it starts at 3:40)
The oddest thing is that unless you are intimately acquainted with both Splatterhouse and Touhou...
This game will not make even the slightest bit of sense. That's a very specific audience you're catering to!
On the plus side, the soundtrack album's art is boss as fuck, man.
(Speaking of the soundtrack, it's difficult to find. Here you are, chief.)
In the end, after all the mess...
The Splatterhouse was finally no more. Rick had escaped, but at a great cost.
... But what of the mask?
DUN DUN DUUUUUUUUUUUUUN~