By Rob Strangman

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 (Arcade)

Splatterhouse - Arcade /Turbografx-16 / FM Towns Marty (1988)


TG16 Cover

PCE Cover

FM Towns Cover

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 (Arcade)

Splatterhouse (Arcade)

Splatterhouse (Arcade)

Splatterhouse (Arcade)

Splatterhouse (TG16)

Splatterhouse (TG16)

Screenshots Comparisons


Arcade

PC Engine

FM Towns Marty

Turbografx 16

Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti - Famicom (1989)


Famicom Cover

Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti

Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti

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 (Naughty) Grafitti.

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 a 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, WG 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 WG. 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 WG'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

Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti

Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti

Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti

Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti

Splatterhouse 2 / Splatterhouse Part 2 - Genesis (1992)


American Cover

Japanese Cover

Splatterhouse 2

Due to the (my guess, unexpected) popularity of the PC Engine version of Splatterhouse, Namco decided to go ahead and created an actual sequel to the original game, which was released in Japan, the U.S. and Europe in 1992 - for some reason on the Mega Drive, rather than the PC Engine. That's kind of odd, considering how big the PC Engine was in Japan and how much Namco supported it. The story picks up three months after the end of the original, with the Mask telling Rick to return to the burnt-out ruins of West Mansion to rescue Jennifer, who is still alive (perhaps the Jennifer fought in Splatterhouse was simply a demon that took Jen's form).

Splatterhouse 2 is almost a carbon copy of the original, gameplay-wise. That's good news for fans of the original game. Rick can still punch, jump, kick, jump kick, slide kick and use the various weapons scattered throughout the stages. The life meter is still the same, as is the fact that you lose whatever weapon you may be carrying when you go into each boss room. Following in the steps of the TG16 game, Splatterhouse 2 gives you back two hearts at the beginning of each new stage. New to the series is an option screen allowing you to set the difficulty, listen to the music of the game via a sound test and configure your controls. There is also a password feature, a carryover from Wanpaku Grafitti, where the feature first appeared in the Splatterhouse series. The passwords each consist of four three letter words (?), usually reading something like this: EDK VEI IAL LDL. This is quite handy to have, as there are eight stages to traverse and some of them can be a bit on the tough side.

The weapon selection is about as varied as it is in the original. There's a metal pipe (replacing the original's 2x4), a shotgun (still limited to eight shells per gun), a boat oar, a chainsaw (too bad you only find it in a boss room), a zombie head (!) and more. The Mask has been redesigned in this as well. In the Mega Drive version it looks similar to the Mask Rick wears in the TG16 game, but for the U.S. and European releases, the Mask was redesigned to look like a grinning skull. How utterly generic and dull - yes, even moreso than the original goalie mask look. We'd have to wait until Splatterhouse 3 to get a truly original design for the Mask.

The monsters are a varied bunch, with only a few recycled from Splatterhouse. Two of them combine in one amusing sequence... a Boreworm bursts out of a zombie chest in stage 1, just like the chestburster bursts out of Kane's chest in Alien (1979). The new monsters include flying heads, jumping mutant fish, jumping creatures called Screaming Mimis, zombies that can still attack even after being split in two and floating spirit heads that attach themselves to Rick and reverse your controls, among others. The bosses are some of the best ever seen in a Splatterhouse game. There's the giant blob that's the boss of stage 1 (watch out for the contents of his exploding stomach after he dies!), a Freddy Krueger-esque head that's the boss of stage two, a zombie mad scientist (could be either Dr. West or Dr. Mueller, although no one knows for sure) that chucks potassium bombs at you, the giant squid that tears up the dock in one stage then pursues Rick's boat in the final stage, the final boss (some kind of giant, multi-headed fleshball) and my personal favorite, the hanging mutant fetuses in what some fans have dubbed "the murder shed", due to the chained corpses and the rivers of blood flowing from them - not to mention the shower of blood that splatters your screen once you kill the "head" creature in the shed.

There are cinema displays that move the story along, although they do leave a lot to the imagination. None of them are as detailed as the ones that would later appear in Splatterhouse 3. The graphics... personally, I find them to be a bit of a mixed bag. While excellent in several places, in other places they just look undetailed and kind of muddy. Musically, Splatterhouse 2 is a step above the original and WG, but it's not as good as the music we would later hear in Splatterhouse 3 (although a decent job was done on the voices, even if they aren't quite as good as the original's). Maybe it's not fair of me to constantly compare 2 to 3, but they were released only one year apart, and one can easily see exactly how much everything improved in the course of that year. It just feels like the guys at Namco didn't take as much time as they should have on Splatterhouse 2. Maybe they were already working on SH3 before 2 was finished? It's possible.

While Splatterhouse 2 is a solid continuation of Splatterhouse and undoubtedly appeals to fans of the first game and how it played, you can't help but to feel that something vital is missing. But it definitely earns its place in the series and is a must play for fans.

Splatterhouse 2

Splatterhouse 2

Splatterhouse 2

Splatterhouse 2

Splatterhouse 3 / Splatterhouse Part 3 - Genesis (1993)


Japanese Cover

Splatterhouse 3

Splatterhouse 3

Splatterhouse 2 ended with Rick and Jennifer being reunited, and all at last was well... or was it? As Rick ominously pointed out during the ending "As long at that Mask remains... it can happen again", and the appearance of the spectre at the very end seemed to indicate that Rick would be donning the Mask and battling hordes of monsters again sometime soon.

Luckily for Splatterhouse fans everywhere, we didn't have long to wait. Splatterhouse 3 was unleashed upon gamers in Japan and the U.S. in 1993 (there was no European release this time, sadly). The story picked up several years after the events of Splatterhouse 2, as Rick and Jennifer have married and had a son, David (who appears to be about four or five in the few pictures you see of him). Rick is now working on Wall Street, and apparently is very good at what he does, because he's bought the family their very own mansion in Connecticut. (You know, after what he'd been through, you'd think Rick wouldn't want to go near another mansion for the rest of his life. But I digress.)

The Mask talks to Rick throughout the game, acting as a guide to the mansion and a helper of sorts (this isn't really reflected during the game, just in the cutscenes). Jennifer and David have both been taken by the Evil One, although it's later revealed that Jen was taken only to keep Rick busy, as David has psychic abilities and is needed by the Evil One to unlock the powers of the Dark Stone. However, it also turns out that the Mask has an agenda of its own...

Splatterhouse 3 drops the format of the first two games in favor of a non-linear beat-em-up approach. As such, Rick can do more than just punch and kick. Now he has the ability to headbutt enemies, do a roundhouse kick and more. Unfortunately, that useful slide kick from SH1 and 2 is gone, and has been given to one of the enemies instead - and those enemies will use that move against you, as often as possible. Each stage of the game takes place on a floor of the mansion (until the later levels), and you can go from room to room, even backtracking if you need to. A handy map feature is included that makes navigating each floor a lot easier. The map can only be accessed when the current room you're in is devoid of enemies, which makes sense as that's the only time you can move from room to room.

Also new to the series is the addition of a timer. If you don't clear a level before the time expires, something bad happens, depending on which stage you're on. This affects the ending of the game, as there are four possible endings you can get depending on how fast you clear each floor. The most startling example of this is on stage two. If you don't beat the boss before the time is up, Jennifer becomes a "mindless beast", and is lost to you. The picture of Jen you're presented with is truly startling, especially for the time the game was made.

Another new addition to the series is the Power meter. Scattered throughout the levels (and occasionally dropped by dead monsters) are small blue orbs, called Eldritch Orbs. These replenish the Power meter, which is used to transform Rick to Mutant Rick, a muscled monster that makes Rick's already Mask-enhanced physique look like a 96 pound weakling. This gives Rick a new assortment of moves to use... chokeholds, body slams and one devastating move that causes parts of Rick's body to explode outward, taking out enemies on all sides. This lasts until the Power meter is empty, at which point you have to pick up more Eldritch Orbs to replenish it. You also encounter one-ups for the first time in Splatterhouse history. These are represented by books. On top of that, you can replenish your life in each stage, a feature not seen since Wanpaku Grafitti. You'll find beating hearts, which look a lot like they do in your life bar in the first two games, at various places in each stage. Much like the orbs, they can also be dropped by dead monsters.

Returning are the option menu and password feature, both of which come in quite handy. The options menu includes a sound effect test and a voice test in addition to the options featured in Splatterhouse 2. The passwords are a bit simpler this time around, being just one word rather than four as Splatterhouse 2 had, like PHENIX for example. The music is quite appropriate for each scene and stands as some of the best music to ever come out of a Splatterhouse game. The voices too are well done, better than Splatterhouse 2's were.

There's a few new weapons to be had this time around, namely the cinderblock and baseball bat. The cleaver makes a return for the first time since SH1, as does the 2x4. There's also a knife that can be found as well. For some reason, the shotgun has gone MIA. While that did feel quite odd at first... after all, what's Splatterhouse with a shotgun?... after a while, you won't miss it. There's also a new twist thrown in regarding weapons: should you happen to drop whichever one you're carrying (usually by being knocked down by a monster), a grey spirit head will fly onto the screen and grab it, unless you're quick enough to pick it up before the spirit reaches it. If the spirit does get it, it takes it to a special "spirit room" which you must find if you want that weapon back.

Virtually none of the monsters from the earlier games return in Splatterhouse 3. Instead, Rick has to fight variations on some, like the headless & handless zombies and creatures that look to be descended from SH2's Screaming Mimis. New creatures that appear include obese creatures which huge jaws (that drop items when killed), vicious ant-like things that possess Rick's old slide kick, and doglike creatures that are very easy to defeat, despite showing up later in the game. The bosses are typical for the Splatterhouse series, although a couple do stand out: namely the giant teddy bear boss of stage 3 and the final boss of the game - the Mask itself.

There are six stages total to travel through. Four take place within the mansion itself, the fifth takes place in realm of the Evil One, and six is the confrontation with the Mask. Additionally, there are several bonus stages, each entitled "Stage X". You can only reach these if you complete each stage within a certain amount of time. At last count, there were ten recorded "Stage X" occurrences, all varying depending on who was alive or dead at that point in the game.

Splatterhouse 3 really broke new ground for the series, with digitized photos used during the cinema displays, some of the best graphics the Genesis has ever seen, and the best design EVER for the Mask, one that's finally original and represents the evil inherent in it. It's too bad this ended up being the last in the series, but at least Splatterhouse went out with a bang.

MP3s

Level 1

Splatterhouse 3

Splatterhouse 3

Splatterhouse 3

Splatterhouse 3

Splatterhouse 3

Splatterhouse 3

Splatterhouse 3

Rip-offs

Simple 2000 Series Vol. 64: The Splatter Action - Playstation 2 (2004)


Japanese Cover

The Splatter Action

The Splatter Action

A game considered by some to be a successor to Wanpaku Grafitti was released for the Japanese PS2 in 2004. It was not created by Namco, but rather by a company named D3, and is part of the Simple 2000 series. I've never played it, but judging by the screenshots it looks to have definitely been inspired by WG. Here's the lowdown on the game, courtesy of IGN:

"Volume 64 installment in D3's Simple 2000 Series of budget game titles. The Splatter Action has players slip into the role of scarecrow Kakashi who takes on a host of nasty creatures with the help of his trusty chainsaw in order to avenge his parents who were injured when the evil Jagado took over the world. You can make use of your bare hands, punching and kicking your way past creatures of the night, or switch to a chainsaw mode and use something a bit stronger against your enemies. Don't use the chainsaw too much, though, as its gas supply slowly depletes. Collect coins by defeating enemies in order to purchase recovery and special action items from a shop that appears at the start of each of the game's seven stages. The game features seven different stages, multiple endings depending on the player's performance, and an 'another story' mode that mixes around enemy locations for more replay value."

The Splatter Action

The future of Splatterhouse?

Splatterhouse maintains a cult following to this day, despite the fact that no new games in the series have been released since 1993. Rumors pop up every couple of years that Namco is thinking of reviving the series on whatever the big platform is at the time, but no official word from Namco ever surfaces to either confirm or deny these rumors. For a couple of years, there was a preorder form on Amazon.co.uk for a PS2 Splatterhouse, but it has finally been removed. A rerelease or new game in the series may happen eventually, but don't hold your breath.

Links

West Mansion: The Splatterhouse Homepage My own Splatterhouse site, now resurrected!

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