With Splatterhouse, Namco Bandai reimagines its 1988 16-bit cult classic via God of War, whose basic gameplay template and mechanics are liberally borrowed for this gruesome heavy metal button-masher. As with its predecessor, you play as Rick, an average Joe who—after visiting a mad scientist’s home, having his girlfriend kidnapped by the evil genius, and being left for dead—discovers a devilish “terror mask” that transforms him into a rampaging brute bent on finding his abducted love. In this iteration, Rick’s hulking shirtless frame moderately lessens the impression that he’s a Jason Voorhees knockoff, though it’s tough not to see him now as a Kratos photocopy, what with his newest saga’s combo fighting techniques, skill-set upgrades through the accumulation of blood (here subbing in for God of War’s orbs), super-combat powers, and boss battles against gigantic fiends that require timed button-presses and thumbstick gestures. Faced with transitioning a niche property from its side-scrolling 2D past to a 3D present, Namco wisely opts not to reinvent the wheel but, rather, to appropriate tried-and-true elements, albeit while simultaneously remaining faithful to the nuts and bolts of what made the original Splatterhouse such a bludgeoning, simplistic good time.
Consequently, the game is overflowing with oceans of blood, decapitated heads, and severed limbs, with the last two usable as weapons during skirmishes. Decimating demonic enemies with enemy parts has a certain numbskull charm that also extends to the riff-heavy soundtrack (featuring tracks from, among others, Lamb of God and Mastodon) and the sarcastic, profane repartee between Rick and the terror mask. As a sentient being guiding Rick toward his girlfriend Jennifer and the nefarious Dr. Henry West, the mask regularly bosses Rick around, taunts him about his miserable condition, and drops intriguing clues about the real nature of this supernatural house-of-horrors adventure. That contentious conversational dynamic creates a minor measure of mystery that, along with generally superb graphics (during both gameplay and cutscenes) that meld God of War fluidity with a dash of cell-shaded hyper-reality, helps prop up what’s otherwise a rather routine slash-and-basher. A bit of slow-down, as well as dialogue that occasionally drops out for no reason—notable mainly because the spoken lines still appear as subtitles—somewhat diminish the game’s overall polish, but by and large, these are minor stumbling blocks along a reasonably smooth underworld journey.
Between its quarrelsome banter, over-the-top goriness, and occasional homages to its 2D roots (a side-scrolling sequence here, a chainsaw-handed behemoth and a trusty shotgun there), Splatterhouse wisely keeps matters tongue-in-cheek outrageous. That doesn’t mean that some of its essentials don’t tip the proceedings into juvenilia, be it collecting nude pictures of your girlfriend or “splatter kill” finishing moves whose nastiness quickly gets old. Still, single-minded immaturity is part and parcel of a title whose narrative and mechanics revolve around smashing everything and everyone to pieces. Despite moderately intricate gameplay that encourages, if doesn’t quite necessitate, combo-technique experimentation, the game is ultimately as clear cut as it is relentless. The overriding structure focuses on one-dimensional action at the expense of all else, so that puzzles prove rudimentary and any serious scariness—which might have flourished, given the game’s intriguing, yet underdeveloped, use of skewed perspective—is undercut by an unwavering focus on giant clashes. While that may leave Splatterhouse feeling a tad thin, its melding of relatively straightforward controls and objectives results in a cohesive whole that, through cartoon-extreme blood, guts and nostalgia (not only are there allusions galore, but you can unlock the original two side-scrollers), bluntly revels in the vicious bloodlust at the heart of the beat-’em-up genre.