The original Splatterhouse was an arcade release in Japan, with a mildly censored version in the states. It followed the tale of two parapsychology students, Rick and Jennifer, who travel to the mysterious manor of Doctor West in an attempt to discover some of his lost theories and papers. Instead, they discover the more mundane mansion decorations – portal to Hell, monsters running amok, and an artifact called the Terror Mask. Whomever wears the mask channels ancient power through their body, but becomes subject to the mask’s whims and influences. Rick, naturally, wears the mask. A number of levels later, the evil is destroyed at the cost of Jennifer’s life. A grieving Rick sulks back home.
Enter Splatterhouse 2, a sequel virtually identical to the original. In the opening cinematic, we learn that Rick was in fact too hasty, and Jennifer still lives. So, Rick and the Mask go back to the mansion to bop and scrap through eight more levels of disgusting monsters. If you’re concerned about Splatterhouse 2 being awfully similar to Splatterhouse, you shouldn’t be. The original arcade release never made it to the Genesis, while the Genesis-only sequel never made it to the arcades. The chance of a crossover playing of both is slim. Besides, the original was great, gory fun, and the sequel proudly continues the tradition.
Gameplay is the stuff of classic brawlers. You’ll move left to right across the screen and pummel enemies with a simple set of attacks or occasional weapons. What sets Splatterhouse 2 apart are its creative, disgusting visuals. I had never heard of the game during the time it came out, which is odd, considering I would have expected a greater stink to be raised about the gore. Piles of dismembered body parts and shackled men cleaved in half are both used as decoration, parasites burst out of bloated stomachs to attack, and everything dies in a creatively nasty way. Perhaps it came out too early for all the “videogames and morality” crusades – indeed, the box doesn’t event carry one of Sega’s voluntary ratings – or perhaps the green “blood” was enough of a change, but I’m still surprised someone’s mother didn’t call her fucking Congressman when she saw her son chainsaw a wailing fetus in half.
Rick is fairly easy to control, though a little sluggish, presumably to convey his Mask-enhanced bulk. His ponderous foot speed makes dodging difficult, and avoiding flying enemies a particular hassle. This makes Splatterhouse 2 a fairly difficult game, and one focused more on pattern memorization (you simply won’t have the speed to recognize and react). There are also a few chase scenes where Rick must run as fast he can to avoid being eaten by a monster on the left edge of the screen. For Rick, “as fast as he can” isn’t very fast, so you have a surprisingly limited margin of error.
Only two buttons are used: jump and attack. The C button copys whatever you configure the A button to. Rick delivers a meaty punch as your default attack, which is strong enough to knock most enemies messily in half. Jumping has plenty of height but not much distance, again a possible concession to Rick’s bulk, so pits and traps in the floor need yet more careful timing. A convoluted system of jumping and pressing forward and attack just as you hit the floor results in a powerful slide kick. It’s fairly helpful, but very easy to get overlooked.
The horror theme goes all-out, with all sorts of disfigured and dripping enemies and bosses. Their design mostly comes from the John Carpenter’s The Thing school of mishmashing animals, faces, and limbs into gory, melted blobs, but they manage to remain imaginative throughout. The backgrounds rely heavily on repeating titled textures, but good shading helps keep them shadowed and moody. Some outdoor areas give a chance to show off depth, and some fairly cool, fairly disorienting scrolling backgrounds of ghostly faces appear in later levels. They pan in the opposite direction of your movement, and work to give an odd 3D look to certain levels. There are some particular effect highlights and original backgrounds in store when you cross through the portal into Hell.
It may seem like a simple cut-and-paste job from the original arcade release, but Splatterhouse 2 actually does a better job of bringing the arcade title home than the real port for the Turbografx-16. Enemies bleed, colors are darker with better use of shadows, and character sprites are huge. Rick’s mask ditches the U.S.-censored reddish tint in favor of the original bone-white (any resemblance to Jason Vorhees is purely intentional!), and in general, more of what made the arcade guilty fun is here than in the T-16. The fact that Namco went to the trouble to create all new levels and an extension of the storyline (rather than just porting the arcade to the Genesis) shows bonus dedication to the fans… or a way to get around the promise of Splatterhouse as T-16/PC Engine exclusive.
The other graphical point worth mentioning are the creative deaths you can inflict upon your enemies with rare weapons scattered around. A pipe can be used like a baseball bat to pancake enemies on the opposite wall. Flasks of chemicals can be thrown to immolate foes. The weapons are all level-specific, and you will pick them up and drop them within the same section. They’re more for variety than actual usefulness, though the variety is definitely appreciated. Your enemies can also fall victim to the traps and floor pits set for you. The game has a few moments of campy humor, and one comes as a monster falls into a pit of piranhas and waves “bye bye” as its hand sinks under the surface.
A few spooky themes make up the background music, with a mildly memorable main theme that reoccurs during level intros. Effects are disappointing. Punching hardly makes a noise at all, and the results are reused “thud”s and a high-pitched noise meant to be a splatter. None of it matches the power that the striking animations display. The shrieks of some of the enemies can be a little too shrill and annoying, especially when you’re trapped in an elevator with a whole pack of them, but that also serves to encourage you to kill them faster. Jennifer’s “Help Me!” cries are particularly low-fi and grating, and Rick’s groans when hit sound more like a bad case of indigestion. Lightning effects and dripping water in the repeated catacomb or sewer levels provide most of the background effects, and overall, the soundscape is uncommonly reserved.
I’ve made a lot of noise about the gore in Splatterhouse 2, but not a lot about how fun it is. It’s a well-made brawler, and worth playing on that merit alone – not just to see the next way you’ll kill a creature (though that is fun as well). It has a nice balance of difficulty with enough lives, level passwords, and continues to keep you from getting too frustrated. It’s not quite as refined or complex as other brawlers, and the weapons and their individual effects only partially make up for a lack of moves. Fortunately, you won’t need more than you have, and any feelings of monotony are mostly quelled by the game’s appropriate length. A good romp for fans of the genre.
Definitive horror-themed brawler.
Short on enemies, moves, and sound, but at least doesn’t overstay its welcome.