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Simple 2000 Series Vol. 64: The Splatter Action

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by Rob Strangman - May 20, 2006

Namco. The name alone conjures up visions of classic games such as Pac-Man, Dig Dug, Galaxian, Galaga, Pole Position, Rolling Thunder and countless others. Up until 1988, most Namco games had been fairly bright and upbeat, the only exception I can think of being 1986's Genpei Toumaden (aka The Genji and the Heike Clans), an adventure based on Japanese legend.

But in 1988, everything changed when Namco unleashed Splatterhouse on the unsuspecting public. Obviously influenced by American horror films such as the Friday the 13th and Evil Dead series, Splatterhouse went over the top and brought buckets and buckets of gore and slightly disturbing imagery to the arcade. Some sources even claim that Splatterhouse was banned from arcades across the U.S. due to its content, a claim I have yet to see verified by any official documentation. Some even claim that Splatterhouse never received a U.S. arcade release. I have yet to see that claim verified either.

There are four official games in the series. Of course I'll be talking about each one, but first let's start off where it all began: with the story of a man, a woman, and one evil and twisted Mask...

Splatterhouse (Arcade)


Splatterhouse (スプラッターハウス) - Arcade, TurboGrafx-16, FM Towns, Windows, Wii Virtual Console, PS3, Xbox 360, iOS (1988)

American TurboGrafx-16 Cover

Japanese PC Engine Cover

Japanese FM Towns Cover

Japanese Arcade Flyer

At its heart, Splatterhouse is very much like the Irem classic Kung-Fu Master. You move from left to right only, taking down enemies with one or two punches or kicks. That's where the similarities end, as Splatterhouse is presented unlike any game that's come before.

The story of Splatterhouse is a familiar one: Rick Taylor and his girfriend, Jennifer Wills, both parapsychology majors at the local university, have gone to West Mansion, the former home of the famed parapsychologist Dr. West (possibly based on H.P. Lovecraft's Dr. Herbert West). West disappeared many years ago, and his mansion has been deserted ever since. Upon entering the mansion (during a thunderstorm, no less), the lights go out, Jennifer screams, and Rick was knocked out by a blow to the back of the head. When he awoke, hours later, he was covered in blood, and his face was covered by a mask - the Terror Mask, which Rick had read about in Dr. West's papers. It was later revealed that the Mask was a sentient object (and as such could talk to Rick) and had enormous (evil) powers, but very little indication of that is given in Splatterhouse.

Rick has several basic moves. He can punch, he can jump, he can kick, he can jump kick and he can slide kick. There also various weapons scattered throughout the game that can be picked up and used, among them a cleaver, a shotgun (limited to eight shells per gun), a 2x4 and harpoons. Unfortunately, you lose whatever weapon you may be carrying when you enter a boss room. Your life meter is represented by four hearts - REAL hearts, not Valentine's Day hearts. There is no way to replenish them aside from finishing a stage, and even then you only get one heart added back on. There are seven stages total to hack your way through. The music isn't as memorable as it is in other Namco games, but it's oddly appropriate, and a couple of pieces stand out - notably the stage 6 and end credit music. The graphics, I have to say, were some of the best Namco had produced up to that time in any game. Everything is greatly detailed and adds to the overall B-movie atmosphere that Splatterhouse just oozes.

Of course, the first thing that everyone notices upon playing Splatterhouse is the massive amount of gore present. In the first stage alone, mutilated, writhing corpses are everywhere, there are decaying zombies chained to the wall that puke acid on the floor, using the cleaver on a zombie causes its head to fly off and slime to spurt from its neck as it falls backward, and using the 2x4 on a zombie smashes it into the wall, splattering its guts all over the wall like a fly hitting the windshield of a moving car. Yes, Splatterhouse was definitely the appropriate name to give the game. Another notable notch on the gore scale are several rooms full of rotting meat, which are infested with Boreworms.

The monsters are a varied lot, most quite disgusting and all hell-bent on killing Rick. Besides your garden-variety zombie, Rick also has sludge monsters, zombie dogs that like to snack on zombie remains, bats, bizarre pink crawling slug creatures, crawling hands similar to Ash's possessed hand in the film Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn (1987), hanging corpses that vomit acid, a Necromancer who continuously revives zombies, several mirror versions of himself called Mirror Rick, flame demons, mutant fetuses and the aforementioned Boreworms (aka Body Eaters) to deal with, among others. The bosses are no slouches either - one boss is a whole room that Rick most fight, item by item, thanks to a poltergeist. Another is the last boss of the game, a giant decaying head that throws rocks in the air and uses its giant decaying arms to try to grab Rick. Then there's the Womb, where the monsters are created By far the most memorable bosses are Jennifer - that's right, Jennifer - who is transformed into a horrible demon right before Rick's eyes and proceeds to try to shishkabob him with her six foot long retractable claws; and everyone's favorite dual-chainsaw-handed, skinless, bag headed giant zombie monster, Biggy Man. The fight with ol' Biggy is one of the fastest, most intense in the whole game, so you'd better have saved the shotgun you found just beforehand, as it makes the fight a bit easier.

Like all successful arcade games, Splatterhouse received ports to home systems. The most widely known of these is the PC Engine / TurboGrafx-16 port, released in 1990. Aside from having a lot of the background details, animation, sounds and scenes between stages cut (which, while cool looking, were not cinema displays) then replaced by simpler ones, the PCE/TG16 port was very faithful to the arcade game. This is the version that was responsible for Splatterhouse's popularity in the U.S. (the arcade game was very rarely seen, even when it was released), and was one of the games that put the TG16 on the map. It's a little more forgiving on the challenge side than the arcade. For one thing, the built in turbo buttons on the controller can definitely give you an advantage if you choose to use them, and secondly the game gives you back two hearts at the start of every stage. There are a few hidden features as well, only accessible via codes: a stage select, a sound test and a way to bump the difficulty of the game up to Hard. An interesting note about the TG16 version - the Mask is red, and has a totally different design than the arcade version did. The arcade Mask looked more like a goalie's mask, as does the Mask in the PC Engine port. It's believed that this was done by NEC for two reasons: one, so Rick wouldn't be confused with the character Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th film series; and two, to avoid a lawsuit from Paramount Pictures, the studio that owned the Friday the 13th franchise at the time the game was released. There was also a later boss - an upside down cross - than was altered to be a floating head in the TG16 release.

The other port that was released was in 1992 for the Japanese FM Towns Marty console, licensed from Namco and released by a company called Ving. This version has been described as practically arcade perfect by those lucky enough to play it. However, seeing as how the game and the console were only released in Japan, both are quite hard to find these days, and on top of that Splatterhouse is one of the most sought after titles for the system, so it can get quite pricey when it does turn up. But if you want as close to the arcade as you can get without buying an actual Splatterhouse cabinet or resorting to MAME, that's the route you must take.

There was one other notable item released that's worth mentioning: a loose variation of the arcade in LCD handheld game form, made by Namco and published by a company called Varie in 1988. It's a typical LCD handheld, and in it you must traverse three floors, connected by ladders, to save Jennifer from Biggy Man. Along the way you encounter several familiar enemies: bats, crawling hands, and hanging corpses. You have to kill them all with your axe. That's about all there is to it.

Splatterhouse (LCD Handheld)

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Splatterhouse (Arcade)

Splatterhouse (Arcade)

Splatterhouse (Arcade)

Splatterhouse (Arcade)

Splatterhouse (Arcade)

Splatterhouse (TurboGrafx-16)

Splatterhouse (TurboGrafx-16)


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Comparison Screenshots



Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti (スプラッターハウス わんぱくグラフィティ) - Famicom (1989)

Japanese Famicom Cover

Namco opted to take Splatterhouse and create a version of it for the Famicom in 1989. Instead of adapting the original arcade game (which would have been interesting), Namco took the Parodius route and created one of the wackiest, most bizarre games ever released for the Fami - Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Grafitti (wanpauku meaning naughty).

Since this is a parody, it doesn't fall into the regular Splatterhouse story continuity. That said, the game opens with Jennifer in mourning, kneeling beside a grave. Out of nowhere, lightning strikes the grave and blasts it open, revealing Rick buried there, still wearing the Mask. He wakes up and sees Jennifer, who jumps for joy. Then another lightning bolt strikes the grave immediately to the left, and a bizarre jack-o-lantern apparition, the Pumpkin King, rises into the air, then grabs Jen and flies off. Rick follows it, shaking his fist in rage.

What follows gets downright strange at times. There are all sorts of bizarre things that happen, and bizarre Engrish quotes to puzzle over ("BE GARBAGE OF CESSPOOL HA HA HA...." being one of the best). From the "disco vampire" - an obvious Michael Jackson spoof - in stage 1, to the girl who recovers from spiders bursting out of her chest à la the film Alien (1979) in stage 3, there's a lot of stuff that causes simultaneous laughter and head scratching here. Some of the funnier bits include the ability to get soda to refill your life bar out of a machine in the Pumpkin King's lobby, right outside his office/evil altar/place that you fight him. Then there's the girl in the hidden Japanese stage that dances for Rick. If you press the A and B buttons repeatedly, Rick eventually starts farting, and when the girl finishes her dance, she tells him "Gee! How rude you are! Go home with crystal ball!" Speaking of toilet humor, there's a section in stage 7 where Rick can actually enter the restroom and fight little green turds with huge eyes that swarm up from a toilet after an evil plunger sets them free. Then you fight the plunger.

I swear, I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.

In a first for the Splatterhouse series, you now receive a password at the beginning of each stage (speaking of which, there are seven stages total, each with names like "Diamond Lake", "Hell House" and "Devil Town"). These passwords just consist of four numbers, like 8671 for example. Another new feature is an NES Bionic Commando-esque leveling system to increase your life bar. In the upper left of the screen is a readout that starts like this: 00/10. For every creature you kill, you get a point, and as your points pass the number on the right, your life increases by a bar. You can replenish your life in one of two ways, either by picking up a piece of candy (restores one bar) or a hamburger (restores several bars). These are plentiful, and can be found by chopping open boxes, chopping down trees and stomping on garbage cans. Monsters also drop candy more often than not. Because of the life bar and ability to level up, Wanpaku Graffiti is widely regarded to be one of the easiest Splatterhouse games ever made.

Compared to the other Splatterhouse games, there is a distinct lack of weapons in Wanpaku Graffiti. There's only one other weapon, a shotgun (with a ten shell limit this time). Good thing for Rick that he's always armed with an axe the rest of the time. No, there's no punching and kicking here. That in itself is a major departure from the original. In fact, I could more closely compare Wanpaku Graffiti's gameplay to Monster Party (NES) than any other Splatterhouse title. There's platforming to be had as well - something the other Splatterhouse games most definitely did not have.

The monsters are... well, cute. What did you expect, though? A lot of monsters return from the original Splatterhouse, just now in super deformed form - namely the zombies, the zombie dogs, the crawling hands and so on. Some other enemies and most of the bosses are parodies of famous horror icons: you'll find spoofs of Regan from The Exorcist (1973), Seth Brundle from The Fly (1986), Bruce from Jaws (1975) and a few others.

The graphics are some of the best seen on the Famicom up to that point, even featuring parallax scrolling in several places. Everything is bright and colorful, yet still retains a fair amount of the gore that the original had (I love the headless chickens and the hanging zombies whose bodies fall off and chase you). The music is okay. It's good for what it is, but the music pieces don't seem all that inspired.

Once the Pumpkin King has been defeated and Jennifer has been saved, you find out the most surprising thing of all - this was all a movie! Or at least a movie that was being filmed. The director congratulates Rick at the end, complimenting his fine acting and how this will be a great movie. Rick removes the Mask and leaves after the director does... then the Mask comes to life and starts throwing chairs and lamps around. A movie? Perhaps not. In fact, the hidden ending sequences (which are only viewable by obtaining two hidden crystal balls) show that this was just the beginning for Rick and Jen. But of course, we already knew that.

Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti

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Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti (Famicom)

Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti (Famicom)

Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti (Famicom)

Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti (Famicom)

Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti (Famicom)


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Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti

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Splatterhouse 2
Splatterhouse 3
Simple 2000 Series Vol. 64: The Splatter Action

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