This is what box art looked like in the 90's, and we loved it.
October is one of my favorite times of the year. Here in Pennsylvania it's not too cold and not too warm, the leaves turn beautiful colors, and it's just a great time to go out and enjoy life. On top of that there's Halloween, a time of year where people indulge in make-believe through costumes, eat lots of candy, and take the time to enjoy the entertainment value in horror. Why is it that we like terrifying and disgusting ourselves? Is it adrenaline, is it dark fantasy? While there may be no single answer to that question the fact of the matter is sometimes we enjoy scaring ourselves silly.
Oh gosh a big spooky mansion, what could go wrong?
In celebration of this October we're going to look at a game for the Sega Genesis that revels in the horror genre, Splatterhouse 3.
In the 1980's a phenomenon occurred in the motion picture industry, the golden age of the slasher flick. In these movies a seemingly unstoppable and sometimes supernatural murderous psycho would go around slaughtering hapless victims, usually annoying teenagers who almost always have it coming. At the end the murderous monster would be defeated with hints that he probably survived and that there would be a sequel. And there would be sequels. Dozens of them. Movie franchises like Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Halloween would see sequels, one after the other. Their villains Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, and Michael Myers would become pop culture icons equal to characters like Batman and Spider-Man. They became heroes for being bad and audiences couldn't wait to see how these madmen would dismember their next teenage victim.
And you thought Mortal Kombat had violent uppercuts.
Splatterhouse is the direct result of the popularity of slasher flicks and an attempt to design a game with the same kind of feel and atmosphere. The game itself is an arcade beat'em up from Namco. Originating as an arcade cabinet in 1988, the first game's most popular home port landed on the TurboGrafx-16 where it was heavily edited in the west. The sequel, Splatterhouse 2, was made specifically for the Mega Drive/Genesis where Sega, with their "mature gamer" image, allowed them to run hog wild in terms of blood and gore.
A creature hunched in a corner eating naked, broken corpses. Genesis does what Nintendon't!
Before we discuss the third game, which I feel is the pinnacle of the series, it's important that we cover the other two. The story of Splatterhouse starts with two college sweethearts Rick and Jennifer. In standard "save the princess" fashion Jennifer is kidnapped and Rick is left for dead. Lucky for Rick he's revived by a magical, possibly a little evil, mask that imbues him with the power he'll need to fight through hordes of monsters and save his beloved Jennifer. Also the mask bears a striking resemblance to the hockey mask of Jason Voorhees in a not-so-subtle reference.
The magic voodoo mask brings you back to life.
The first two games are very simplistic side scrollers. You can move back and forth, you can jump and you can attack. That's it. What set the game apart from other beat'em ups is it's shock value. The monsters are grotesque and blood soaked, they spew slime and other fluids when you smash them with your fists or various weapons and gory body parts litter most of the stages. The violence for its day, and even by today's standards, is pretty intense and over the top. Unfortunately once you got over the all of the game's chunky, meaty graphical tidbits the games themselves were pretty mediocre.
The digitized photos that tell the story make the game feel even more like a campy 80's horror movie.
Then came Splatterhouse 3 which was a major departure from the original games. In this sequel Rick and Jennifer have moved on with their lives, settled down and even had a son named David. Or course this is too good to last and all hell breaks loose forcing rick to once again don his cursed mask and protect his family from an onslaught of grotesque creatures.
The most immediate change one will notice is the game has more of a focus on the story, using digitized images of actors to tell the game's narrative which is all very corny but in keeping with its slasher flick origins. You're also no longer limited in your movement and can now maneuver up and down as well, giving you additional planes to walk and fight on like most games in the genre. This instantly makes the game feel much less restrictive than its predecessors and brings the gameplay closer to something like Streets of Rage.
Your mask talks to you? No you're not crazy. Please put down that meat cleaver.
You're also given the freedom to explore with a map of your location that marks the end of the level. You're able to work your way through however you like which is a major improvement compared to the stale scrolling of the first two games. I wish more beat'em ups would use a system like this because it adds an additional layer of interest to a traditionally shallow genre. You can't just fart around however because you're on a time limit to reach and defeat the boss otherwise you might lose one of your dear family members, or worse. Surprisingly the time is actually allowed to run out and you can continue playing. This changes which ending you'll get, of which there are four, and it's another great addition that adds to the replay value of what could have been just another boring punch-fest.
When he's not fighting Satan's minions, Rick makes his living as a butcher. Just don't ask what kind of meat.
Graphics wise the game is a bit brighter than its predecessors with better defined sprites. Regardless, the majority of the game is still dark and dingy with the exception of bright reds and greens for the blood and slime you'll be pounding out of monsters. The enemies don't have health bars but the more you beat on them the more bloody and mauled they'll become until they're finally vanquished. Some of the bosses explode like overinflated blood balloons and enemies will die in different, horrific ways if you're using a weapon on them like a meat cleaver or a baseball bat. The enemy designs themselves range from terrifying to downright bizarre from decapitated zombies to guys with giant noses. I can't say they're the most spectacular graphics on the Genesis but they do their job well and convey the campy horror atmosphere perfectly.
Time fer whoopins!
The gameplay itself is pretty simple. You have an attack button, a jump button and, new to the series, a button that puts your mask into overdrive, transforming you into a musclebound behemoth who both absorbs and dishes out more damage thanks to power you gain from collecting orbs on the ground. This adds a bit more strategy to the fighting which on its own becomes bland and repetitive pretty quickly. You can also occasionally regain health by picking up the still-beating hearts of some of your foes. Brutal.
Yes that is a demonically possessed teddy bear.
Occasionally you'll run into rooms full of traps like ghostly animated furniture or giant demon hands bursting out of the ground and it's difficult to dodge these things with your slow-moving Jason wannabe. While these segments break up the monotony of constant fighting and often look cool they were usually frustrating to traverse. Another problem I have with the gameplay, and it's not really the fault of this game since it wasn't designed to be multiplayer, is that I really like playing beat'em up games with friends. If this game had a two-player mode it would probably be one of my all time favorite games for the Genesis. I guess you can't have everything.
HULK SMASH SCARY TEDDY!
The game features six levels that aren't terribly lengthy especially if you take the path of least resistance to reach the bosses. It's also fairly easy to beat the game if you're persistent since you're granted both unlimited continues and a password system. This isn't a bad thing really since the game ends as soon as it starts to feel like it's dragging. The previously mentioned multiple endings and different rooms to explore also give you good reason to replay the game several times.
Sound design is pretty good, the music ranges from haunting to pulse pounding depending on the situation. It's probably nothing you'll be humming later though. Punches and grunts sound painful and enemies make some nice splatting noises. There's really nothing to complain about here.
Rick is just having one of those days.
For some reason in 2010 Namco decided it was time to revisit Splatterhouse with a remake of the original game for the Playstation 3 and X-Box 360. The game met mixed reviews due to the repetitive nature of the beat'em up genre though some praised its careless 80's horror movie shock value. Splatterhouse 3 was included as a bonus with the new game, though the cheesy digitized photo storyboards were edited out apparently for legal reasons. Still, this is a great way to play the game on a modern console.
Delicious monster hearts.
Splatterhouse 3 is a celebration of 80's horror with its gratuitous violence, blood and gore. While its shock value may not be as intact as it was when it was released it's still not for the easily queasy. The game was one of the first titles to receive a mature rating of M.A.-13 from Sega's proprietary Videogame Rating Council, and for good reason. If you're a fan of corny 80's horror, and I know I am, and you enjoy beat'em up games, then Splatterhouse 3 might be right up your alley. Just don't go up any dark alleys, especially this time of year.
Presentation: 9 Everything about this title screams 80's horror cheese. The blood and gore is completely outrageous and some parts of the game are downright sickening. The digitized photo story segments add an additional layer of camp that really captures the feeling that this game is trying to accomplish. I judge the presentation based on what the goals of the developer were, and in the case of Splatterhouse 3 and its 80's horror vibe, they came close to perfection
Gameplay: 7 While it's a fun beat'em up with a few unique tidbits like the transformation system, the fighting is really on the simplistic side and grows tiresome quickly. Pummeling enemies into a bloody pulp is so satisfying that you should still remain distracted most of the way through the game.
Graphics: 8 It's not the most fantastic thing you'll see on the Genesis and it's a little rougher than the arcade version but overall it's colorful, attractive and detailed.
Sound: 8 Nice spooky music, good grunts and groans and not much else to say here.
Lasting Appeal: 7 For those who love the horror genre, this might end up one of their favorite Genesis games. Not everybody will appreciate the over-the-top violence however and even though this game is leaps and bounds over the first two and has multiple endings you'll eventually find yourself tiring of the repetitive combat. If only it were two-player!
Overall Average: 7.8/10
Collector: Probably the best game in the Splatterhouse franchise. Given that it was edited for the 2010 re-release there's still some value in owning an original cartridge. It's gotten really pricey these days though so be prepared to empty your wallet.
Gamer: If you're a fan of horror, or beat'em ups, or especially both, then you should really give this game a try. It's probably too expensive for the casual player to pick up unless they're a serious fan of the genre but It's available as a bonus on the 2010 Splatterhouse or as always you can put on your pirate hat and fire up an emulator.