Platform: Turbografx-16/PC Engine
Release Date: January, 1989
Genre: Sidescrolling beat ’em up
Developer: Namco Splatter Team
Do you want head-smashing, gut-splashing, grotesque monstrosity pummeling action this Halloween? If the answer is yes (and of course it is), then Splatterhouse is your game of choice.
Splatterhouse is a diabolical, gruesomely violent game for the Turbografx-16/PC Engine based on the Namco beat ’em up arcade title of the same name. There were two direct sequels made for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, but the TG-16/PC Engine has the one and only original – unless you live in Japan and owned an FM Towns Marty in the mid 90s, but who did?
You play the game as Rick, a parapsychology student trapped behind a terror mask that makes him look an awful lot like Jason Voorhees. Your goal is to save girlfriend, Jennifer, who is lost inside the mansion of Dr. West. Dr. West was known to conduct ethically questionable experiments in his mansion before going missing. You’ll find out soon enough what the ramifications were for Dr. West’s experiments, and it is unlikely that anyone has ever entered the mansion and returned to tell the tale. Luckily for Rick, the terror mask gives him superhuman strength, which he will need in order to dispatch the disgusting onslaught of monsters.
The plot is straight out of a horror film, and there are numerous references to other movies of the time, such as the aforementioned Friday the 13th (Jason), Poltergeist (inanimate objects become projectiles), Re-animator and The Evil Dead (the dead coming back to life to wreak havoc on the living) as well as countless other homages not mentioned here. The gameplay is basic side scrolling beat ’em up where you can use either your fists, legs or weapons you pick up throughout the game in order to literally splat your enemies against the walls and floors around you.
The plot may seem like the basic “save your girl” variety, but what sets Splatterhouse apart is the game design and graphics. For starters, your attack is very satisfying, resulting in an audible crunch/squish/splat of your annihilated enemies. It doesn’t take long to get the hang of the timing of your melee attacks or the appropriate time to use weapons and jump/slide attacks. However, the controls are really just the beginning of what makes Splatterhouse memorable.
Nothing can prepare you for the grotesque variety of enemies & level bosses which are key to the game’s appeal. Throughout the game you will encounter decomposing bodies which vomit acid, a room full of intestines with parasitic worms crawling out of the piles, skinless bodies falling from the ceiling, alien like water monsters and gruesome infant-blob hybrids that slither along the floor. And that only scratches the surface of the horrors you will face.
Level bosses tend to up the gross & fear factor as well, and one of the most memorable level bosses is **SPOILER ALERT** your kidnapped girlfriend, who transforms into a terrifying monster right in front of your eyes after begging you to save her. Yikes! Splatterhouse is essentially a playable nightmare or horror film, and this particular nightmare/horror film is an immensely enjoyable one. If you can stomach it.
Splatterhouse contains so many great levels, but some in the second half of the game are very frustrating due to cheap hits and annoying enemies. Probably my favorite level, or stage as the game calls them, would be level 3. This particular level is the only one in the game that takes place outside of the mansion. You spend your time walking through a forest in order to reach another part of the mansion where Jennifer is being kept. You have to cross a bridge, where hands will grab you and pull you down to a sub-level if you’re not careful, as well as jumping over spikes, avoiding vomit throwing enemies, angry zombie dogs and red monsters. The first thing you’ll encounter during this level is something you have not seen up to this point. That would be the game’s best weapon: the shotgun.
The shotgun is the best weapon in the game, mainly because it allows for long-range attacks that other weapons such as wooden planks and axes don’t provide. The downside is that they contain limited ammo, so they must be used sparingly. Level 3 will offer you two shotguns, one at the very beginning and one closer to the end. You cannot pick up and hold both at the same time, so you can either use the first one trying to get to the end of the level unscathed, or you can attempt to save it by bringing it with you and using melee attacks instead of shotgun attacks. You can also drop it to pick up rocks that are useful against the vomit-spewing enemies. In my opinion, the best technique is to utilize them both at the level 3 boss by continuing to drop and pick the first shotgun up until you encounter the second shotgun. At this point you’ll have to keep dropping them and picking them up until you reach the screen where you meet up with the game’s best enemy.
The first time I encountered the level 3 boss, I was genuinely nervous. It is a huge, skinless monstrosity with a bag tied over it’s head and two chainsaws for arms, and that in itself is enough reason to quiver and reconsider you’re choice to pop this game into your Turbografx-16. On top of that, the music changes to a frantic pace in an attempt to increase the tension, while a high-pitched buzzing attempts to mimic the sounds of twin, flesh-chewing chainsaws. I have been programmed to think of chainsaws as one of the most horrible weapons for killing people thanks to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and it being an X-rated movie back when I was a kid. My assumption was that the gore level in the movie was so beyond what was acceptable for an R-rated film that it had to become this ultra-restricted movie-going event. This reason alone causes my skin to crawl each time I fight the level 3 boss.
Because of the enemy’s large size, its reach is also long, so unless you want to get chopped into bits by the chainsaw arms, your best chance of survival is to blast him with the two shotguns. If you don’t have two shotguns, you can still do a lot of damage by ducking when it jumps across the screen and using slide kicks to stay under it’s chainsaws. Once defeated, it simply dissolves as if it was never there.
I thoroughly enjoy Splatterhouse, and in my opinion it is a must own for your TurboGrafx-16. Saving Jennifer won’t be easy, but you’ll be granted numerous continues which assist your efforts. I’ve played through the game and there are a couple of surprises that await the brave souls who venture into Splatterhouse. The game’s final boss fight is definitely winnable once you recognize the patterns, but the ending may haunt you long after Halloween is over.
Jason Breininger: Author and Chief Games Writer
Retro gaming enthusiast and blogger that grew up on the classics from the 80’s and 90’s. Enjoying the process of documenting my extensive video game collection & providing personal retro gaming experiences on my Cartridge Corner blog.
My wife and two daughters, classic video games, Alien franchise, the music of Prince, the films of Stanley Kubrick, Christopher Nolan, and Jack Nicholson, indie rock, classic hip-hop from the golden era of ’87-’94, musician related biographies.
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