There's a lot wrong with Splatterhouse. It's a bungling action game that relies heavily on the nostalgia from its predecessors while hiding its faults under the copious amounts of blood you spill kicking, punching, and chainsawing the fleshy demons that get in your way. This gory action game is an assault on the senses. Heavy metal bands such as Five Finger Death Punch scream in angst and anger; you reach into various monster orifices and pull out the viscera inside; and your constant companion spouts gleeful expletives, encouraging you to revel in the innards you spill. If you delight in such excess, you'll be glad that Splatterhouse delivers it by the bucketful. If you require more from your games than an explosion of grossness, however, there are few other reasons to swim in these rivers. Inadequate level design and abysmal visual cues turn side-scrolling and platforming levels into excruciating disasters. A twitchy camera and inconsistent collision detection make both combat and movement more awkward than they need to be. A poor game is a poor game, regardless of how long it marinates in its own clotted juices.
To be fair, however, Splatterhouse isn't all bad, and its brutality isn't its only noteworthy element. The story shares much in common with the original Splatterhouse arcade game, though it is more of a reimagining than a retelling. The saga begins already in progress, with you collapsed on the floor of an ostentatious mansion, leaking blood and within arm's reach of an ominous mask. You are Rick Taylor, a meek-looking student; the mask is a potty-mouthed demon that transforms you into a hulking beast with biceps larger than your own head. Together, you set out to rescue your girlfriend, Jennifer, who has been kidnapped by a sneering mad scientist intent on unleashing hordes of undead fiends from the depths of hell, or somewhere thereabouts. The lack of exposition makes for some initial confusion, but eventually you relive the events that drew you to this macabre mansion, thereby gaining some perspective. More importantly, connecting the dots leads to not just one, but two intriguing plot twists that make it worth paying attention to all the blood-and-thunder theatrics leading to them. You don't come to a game called Splatterhouse looking for narrative subtlety, yet this story is more than just a skeleton to hang flesh from: it's a revenge tale told with pulpy, self-important flair.
Separating you from Jennifer are killer clowns, spiked creatures, and lanky demons, all of them prepared to spurt blood onto the floor, walls, and your television screen. You move from one area to the next, killing them all, flipping a few switches, and listening to the ever-present voice in your ear urging you to celebrate your ghastly murdering spree as if it's a gourmet meal. The combat is button-mashy but serviceable, and as you collect blood by spilling gallons of it, you can purchase new moves and enhance existing ones. In time you might grab a spiked demon and swing it about, charge through a group of fire-breathing foes, or yank an enemy's limb from its torso and bludgeon others to death with it. In fact, your own limbs can also be torn off. Should you lose an arm, you can use it as an instrument of death while you wait for a new limb to grow in. There are other weapons to grab--cleavers, chainsaws, and the like--and while the weapon sound effects lack impact, it's fun to replace your fists with a more efficient means of murder.
The action isn't as fluid as the ruddy puddles you wade through. Animations are jumpy and collision detection is iffy; your target might take damage even though it doesn't look as though you made contact. Some moves, such as your dash, have a too-long recovery time, and the charged attack button can temporarily refuse to respond after such a move, even if the associated animation has finished. Animations aren't the only disappointing visual element, however, what with the erratic frame rate and low-resolution textures. Yet attention was clearly lavished on Splatterhouse's overall visual style. Gnarled vines twist across a gothic background, purple neon lights emit a soft glow in a carnival's tunnel of love, and a prone figure is a stark silhouette against a turbulent sky. Striking cel shading brings these environmental elements together and gives the overall grit some elegance. Those and other visual details--flames lapping at your feet, an elaborately carved mausoleum--are the highlight of your travels and a good counter for the below-par technical facets.
The blood lends the action some entertainment value, and there are moments of fun to be had in stringing together a series of quick punches that make the red goo fly. Yet in spite of the additional moves you earn, the same few moves will get you through most of the game--even the boss fights. As a result, the combat falls into a rut, and every attempt to spruce it up is troubled in some way or another. The so-called splatterkills serve up some of the game's most disgusting highlights. When an enemy glows red, you can perform a gruesome finishing kill that may feature reaching into your victim's sensitive passages and doing things unlikely to ever be mentioned in pleasant conversation. Unfortunately, all too often you see an enemy start to glow red while you are in mid-combo, and you end up punching the fiend to death before you get the chance to activate your finisher.
Missing a gory kill move is a tiny disappointment, however, when compared to the abysmal platforming sections. Jumping is imprecise and made even more maddening by the inconsistent collision detection and poor visual cues. Glowing objects indicate you can jump to them, but the glow is faint and can be easily missed, and the game doesn't always properly communicate that a platforming sequence is about to begin. And so you plummet to the ground below, unaware that the surface could collapse underneath you; or you land on the edge of the beam you must jump to, rather than its very center, and slide off into the abyss beneath.
Control imprecisions and improper visual aids also mar the side-scrolling sections, which at first seem like a great throwback to the original Splatterhouse games; the way your victims splat against the screen is certainly a wonderful visual treat during these portions. But avoiding traps is a real pain. You might need to sprint past a series of spiked surfaces, but once you're mid-stride, you can't necessarily stop. And so you become a bloody pancake. You might need to avoid deadly creatures that lash out at you as you rise upward, but they are spaced so closely that you don't get enough time to respond to their appearance. Similar spacing and timing issues sully a free-falling segment in which you must avoid jutting platforms. Moments like these are too common and often result in "gotcha" deaths you can't avoid without a bit of trial and error (or just dumb luck). These deaths are made all the more frustrating by the 40-second loading screen you must endure every time.
Clumsy flaws like this drip from every crevasse along with the droplets of blood. If you're a horror junkie, you will be delighted to encounter a memorable weapon from a movie classic. But pressing the button to pick it up causes you to grab at thin air if you already have a weapon equipped. (The game wasn't programmed to check this simple variable.) When you fulfill the requirements to move to the next area, any remaining enemies simply disappear, and you have to wait around for the next area to load before you can open the door to it. The sound design in particular suffers from a number of obvious issues. The grinding soundtrack sometimes shifts into high gear, drowning out dialogue and other sound effects, while at other times it can barely be heard under the squishing of blood and the thwacks of Rick's fists. In the meanwhile, the camera jitters about as you move down corridors and repositions itself in odd ways when you try to wrestle away control, making the simple act of moving from here to there more pesky than it should have been.
If you come to Splatterhouse just looking to satisfy your thirst for violence, you'll find the carnage well suited to your particular tastes. In fact, some great-looking environments and interesting plot devices signify an attempt to rise above the pools and puddles saturating every surface. (If you prefer the simpler approach of the first three Splatterhouse games, they are provided as unlockable bonuses.) But as notable games like Condemned, Manhunt, and MadWorld have proven, bloodlust can be satisfied without sacrificing quality gameplay. Even taken on its own terms as a 3D rendition of an old-school beat-'em-up, Splatterhouse is a messy game with too few merits to recommend it.