Thursday, August 26, 2010

'Splatterhouse' 20 years of Classic Horror Clichés

As a horror movie buff, I thought I would take an opportunity to do a review of sorts of 'Splatterhouse' on the TurboGrafx-16 as it celebrates its 20th anniversary. 'Splatterhouse' takes on the ideas and clichés of horror movies and incorporates them into a video game. This was way before 'Resident Evil'-esque games were even a concept. You could argue that the Atari 2600 had 'Halloween' and 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' and the NES had 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' and 'Friday the 13th' (all the aforementioned sucked ridiculously) but those were movie remakes not original titles.

The game pays homage to some classic horror movies you would be able to catch late on a Saturday night, most notably 'Evil Dead' and, of course, 'Friday the 13th'. Let's face a simple fact, dude wears a hockey mask in 'Splatterhouse'. Even though it is changed to a red hockey mask in the TurboGrafx version, a jacked dude walking around in a hockey mask wielding a 2x4 is Jason Voorhees - I don't care what color the mask is and what you rename the character.

'Splatterhouse' was around before 'Mortal Kombat' made it into the arcade let alone before an appearance on a home console in 1993, making this the goriest game ever ported to a home console by a credible video game company (Namco) at the time. Even the manual's story screams of blood and gore. "Rick's unconscious body was covered with blood. Hours later, Rick awoke to a fantastic horror - he was alone and drenched in blood." In fact, it was gory enough to have a pseudo-warning stating, "The horrifying theme of this game may be inappropriate for young children...and cowards." My guess, this was to appease the Tipper Gore types and also to slight them at the same time. Either way, as a kid, that gave a feeling of taboo like when I purchased a 2 Live Crew album when I knew I shouldn't.

The story of 'Splatterhouse' is relatively simple and ridiculous - just like the storylines of most horror movies. "A Boom of Thunder...Darkness...a Scream...and then!" - not to knit pick the manual but should "and then" really end with an exclamation point? Anyway, college students Rick and Jennifer are freaking stupid and decide to check out a mansion that they know has an evil, crazy doctor (Dr. West) doing demonic experiments in it but don't seem to give a damn which leads me to believe parapsychology as a major leads to severe and irreversible brain damage. Perhaps an argument could be made that the evil, crazy doctor named Dr. West could be the Japanese game developers perceptions of those of us living in the West. Anyway, it starts to rain so Rick and Jennifer go inside the mansion and someone or something attacks them and snags Jennifer and leaves Rick for dead. Following classic horror movie mentality, the whatever the hell it is that attacks them leaves one of them for dead when clearly he is not. Rick comes to and finds himself under the influence of a Mayan artifact named a "terror mask". Once again the originality of video game developers of the 1980's astounds me. Apparently "scary mask", "evil mask", and "I'm going to kill you mask" were taken by other up-and-coming franchises. So Rick makes it his mission to go and find Jennifer and whoop the ass of any other demonic creatures he encounters.

The novelty of the gore and blood brought out the feeling of playing a horror movie. The late 80's/early 90's were renowned for overly gory slasher and splatter films which gave the macabre feel of 'Splatterhouse' its highest points. The feeling that you were playing a movie - especially a horror movie made the game fun. On top of which, the music had an eerie, horror film feel that added to the role playing fun of the hero (who most I have ever discussed 'Splatterhouse' with thought was actually the antagonist but since the story is so cryptic, it didn't matter).

Unfortunately those are the high points of the game. The game itself is short and rather easy - as were most of the actresses in late 80's/early 90's horror movies (zing!). I remember playing it in a friend's basement right when it came out and us tearing through it in an evening. The action is rather clumsy as are the controls. And, let's be honest, the twists and turns that they throw at us are rather cliché and juvenile (as is most the 80's and early 90's horror films). I don't want to give away any spoilers of a twenty year old game (the girlfriend is really a monster) but it has been done. They may as well have had Jennifer become Rick's twin brother and they have to duke it out.

The arcade was much better (as in most cases) and more gore and more blood could have been incorporated. Also, I am not going to lie, it pisses me off they changed the mask from white to red. Of the TurboGrafx titles, this doesn't stand out for its playability and certainly not for its replay ability but for its historical significance and killer music (get it, killer music?) Is it worth the 600 Wii points to get on Virtual Console? No.

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