Splatterhouse is an infamous side-scrolling horror-themed action game that was released into arcades by Namco in 1988. It is known for its grotesque opponents and for its satirisation of well-known horror films of the 1980s.
You play Rick, a hockey mask-wearing parapsychology major who is trapped inside a nightmarish building called West Mansion. According to the story, Rick has died and been resurrected by The Terror Mask and he’s now on a mission to rescue his girlfriend Jennifer from a fate worse than death. Rick can jump, punch, crouch, kick, do a special sliding kick, and can also pick up weapons he finds along the way. He must make his way by any means possible, from left to right, through hoards of evil monsters – all of which want to suck his brains out through his nose… Rick mustn’t dawdle either, because an unknown horror is slowly creeping up behind him as he walks and if it catches him it’ll kill him. Again.
At the end of each scrolling section Rick must survive an even more brutal onslaught – usually in a single room – by punching and kicking his way through a boss battle. Although it’s not really a single ‘boss’ he’s fighting, per se, more of a prolonged attack by multiple smaller opponents. Rick’s only fallback is his health meter, which is indicated by a row of hearts at the bottom of the screen. One hit from an enemy will lose him one heart, and when all his hearts have gone he loses a life. You get three lives and one single continue to carry on once the game’s over, so experiencing Splatterhouse‘s later levels is something of a rarity. Unless you’re exceptionally good at the game.
Graphically, Splatterhouse is very basic, with limited animation and muted colours (just look at the screenshots – everything is very brown), although credit must be given for the imaginatively-designed enemies and situations. It’s also quite funny in places. Although I haven’t seen it (because I didn’t manage to get that far) there is apparently a severed hand in level five that gives the middle finger, which is obviously a tribute to the severed hand in Sam Raimi‘s classic horror sequel, Evil Dead II.
The gameplay in Splatterhouse is very simple, but also very challenging. It’s quite satisfying to punch and kick enemies, but even more fun to slice them in half with a meatcleaver. And – if you make it to level three – Rick also gets to wield a pump-action shotgun, which he shoots from the hip. Boss battles are particularly difficult, especially the fight with the ghostly furniture at the end of stage two, and if you make it through that you are rewarded with the shotgun (although it doesn’t really make stage three any easier).
Splatterhouse was converted to a number of home systems in the early 1990s but many of these were toned-down in terms of violence, gore, and sound effects. Which is a pity. There have also been a number of sequels too. Splatterhouse was re-released on mobile phones in 2010 and this included the uncensored Japanese arcade game as an unlockable extra.