Splatterhouse Hands-on Impressions

After numerous delays and a change in development teams, there are probably gamers who thought the next-gen revival of the Splatterhouse arcade series would never see the light of day. However, Namco-Bandai is apparently so confident that Splatterhouse will make its anticipated holiday season release date that they’ve been showing the pre-Alpha build to the press. The characters, locations, and buckets of blood are all throwbacks to the original that fans should appreciate, and the developers appear to be treating the franchise with respect and admiration for its origins. While Splatterhouse sported violent gameplay mechanics, the freezing and framerate hiccups don’t bode well for a smooth October release.

The original Splatterhouse, which hit arcades in North America in 1989 and graced the TurboGrafx-16 a year later, featured a young man named Rick who dons a mask and turns into a psychotic, blood-thirsty killing machine in order to save his girlfriend. Splatterhouse for the 360 and PS3 follows the same basic premise, though the gameplay has obviously come a long way in the last two decades. Now Rick follows a bread crumb trail of sexy pictures that his girlfriend Jennifer leaves behind while solving combat-centric puzzles and using his bloodlust to do horrible, horrible things to the monsters unfortunate enough to cross his path.

As Rick kills everything in sight, his Brutal Gauge fills up, eventually allowing him to go into Berserker Mode. Once Berserker Mode is achieved, Rick goes absolutely nuts, grabbing monsters by their limbs and smashing them together before ripping them completely apart. Rick is susceptible to damage as well, and can have exposed ribs or lose an arm if he’s not careful. Spilling more monster blood will heal the main character, allowing his flesh and bones to regenerate, and Rick must continually get blood on his hands in order to survive.

Most of the game takes place in 3D environments, where bouts of hand-to-hand and weapon-based combat will be occasionally interrupted by organic puzzles and 2D side-scrolling segments. The word “organic” actually comes straight from the mouth of one of the game’s producers, meaning that the puzzles usually involve torturing or mutilating the game’s enemies in some way. It’s pretty gruesome, but over-the-top violence is a trademark of the series, which draws inspiration from classic horror movies. The occasional 2D section is meant to be a nod to the original Splatterhouse, and features some platforming elements that should add even more variety to the gameplay. On paper, it’s shaping up to be a great revival of a cult classic series.

In reality, however, that may not be the case. Splatterhouse’s producer stated that the game was nowhere near done, with the 45 minutes being shown off more complete than any other part of the game. However, that demo was full of glitches, ranging from lowering framerates to complete freezes that required a system restart. Even when running smoothly, Splatterhouse didn’t look as good as it should have, and little things like spelling errors (“gauge” was spelled “guage”) don’t exactly instill confidence that the game would be out when Namco-Bandai wants it to be. Even worse would be if Splatterhouse came out filled with bugs, which would truly be a shame after so many years in development.

With not a lot of time left until Splatterhouse is due for release, it’s hard to say whether or not the development team will be able to clean up all of the glitches and unleash a smooth, finished game onto the market. The nods to the original game are great, and the inclusion of Splatterhouse and its two sequels as unlockables may be a convincing factor for those who remember the arcade days of the late ’80s and early ’90s fondly. The game shows a lot of promise, but it also has a long way to go if it wants to compete with the other big-budget titles coming out this holiday season.