Tuesday, Sep. 16, 2014

Splatterhouse Retrospective Part III: The End?

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November 18, 2010

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Splatterhouse 3/Splatterhouse Part 3 (Namco: Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, 1993)

“As long as that Mask remains… it can happen again.” – Rick Taylor, Splatterhouse 2

A glittering red crystal slowly rotates in the darkness as eerie music begins to play. Without warning, ghostly heads appear all around it, roaring as they fade away. More appear, all roaring as the crystal spins serenely. The heads and the crystal are replaced by a flickering light, an ominous shadow the only thing that can be seen. Its red eyes pierce the darkness, shining steadily through the strobing lights.

And from the right, a familiar bloody logo begins to scroll past your eyes.

One year after the release of Splatterhouse 2, Splatterhouse 3 hit store shelves with a sickening crunch. No four year wait to find out what’s happened to Rick and Jennifer this time. There was no unexpected platform switch this time either, so Genesis-owning Splatterhouse fans had even more reason to cheer.

Story-wise, Splatterhouse 3 picks up five years after the events of Splatterhouse 2. Rick and Jennifer had married and had a son, David. They’ve both put the events of the first two games behind them and are looking forward to the future. But one night, as Rick is returning home, the Terror Mask appears to him and informs him that a malevolent being, The Evil One, has taken Jennifer and David and infested their home with monsters. The Evil One wants to use David, who apparently had latent psychic abilities, to unlock the power of the Dark Stone (the rotating crystal from the intro) during a lunar eclipse. It will then use the power of the Stone to take over the world. The only way to get them back, of course, is for Rick to don the Mask again. Turns out the Mask has a bit of a grudge against The Evil One, referring to the being as its arch-enemy. What Rick doesn’t know is that the Mask has an ulterior motive for using him again, one that doesn’t become apparent until the very end of the game.

The manual for the U.S. version doesn’t go into too much detail about the story, instead making vague references to the Mask sleeping and Rick desiring the power he had again, but the Japanese manual lays the whole thing out.

Right from the moment you insert the cart and turn on the power, it’s obvious that you’re dealing with a whole new game. Digitized graphics make up the intro, along with a few seconds of genuine full-motion video – quite the feat for a Genesis game. Namco pulled out all the stops, hiring actors to play the parts of Rick, Jennifer and David, as well as designing (and apparently building) an entirely original Terror Mask. Wherever that Mask is now, it would surely be the ultimate Splatterhouse collectible, and a true Holy Grail for fans of the series. These actors continue to appear in the cinema screens scattered throughout the game, and don’t be surprised if a couple of those images make you jump. Music and sound effects continue to be top-notch, Milky Eiko having outdone themselves with the score this time around. The voice samples are clear, the sounds brutal.

Those expecting a direct continuation of the gameplay style of the first two games were to be extremely surprised: Splatterhouse had finally evolved. Gone was the the basic one-plane scrolling action from the first two. Splatterhouse 3 was a brawler in the vein of Technos’ Double Dragon, Capcom’s Final Fight, and Sega’s Streets of Rage. Rick now had a moveset to match the style of gameplay: he can grapple enemies, throw them, headbutt them or use a (very effective) spin kick to take them out. There’s also a new meter added to your HUD, right next to the redesigned life meter: the POW meter. This is filled by picking up small blue Eldritch Orbs that are scattered around the stages. Fill the POW meter, and with the press of a button Rick uses the power of the Mask to transform into a hulked out, “mutant” version of himself. This makes Rick much stronger and gives him a new moveset, which includes the ability to grapple enemies and powerslam them into the ground, use a gut-punch move or cause parts of Rick’s body to explode outward, damaging all enemies surrounding him. However, the whole time you’re using it, the POW meter is draining. And if you still have any power left in that meter when you clear a room, Rick transforms back into his usual self and the remaining power is wiped from the meter.

The linear left-to-right gameplay from the first two games has been replaced by a non-linear, sprawling floorplan, each stage representing one floor of the mansion. All paths eventually led to the stage boss, but getting there could be tricky. Luckily you have a map that you can call up every time you clear a room on monsters. But be warned: there is a timer. If you can make it to the end of each stage and kill the boss before the time runs out, you’ll be on your way to getting the best ending. Should you fail to defeat the boss before the time runs out, something bad will happen. You’ll lose Jennifer or David, depending on which stage you’re on, and be on your way to getting one of the bad endings. Yes, for the first time in Splatterhouse history, there are multiple endings depending on how well you do, and the quickest route to the boss is not marked on the map. Some doors only go one way, forcing you to circle around to get to where you’re going if you end up going out of your way. Other ones will warp you to the other side of the floor, which may or may not bring you closer to the bosses’ room. Being knocked down by an enemy will cause you to lose a couple seconds worth of time as well.

The 2×4 and meat cleaver from the original game finally make a return appearance, as does the lead pipe from Splatterhouse 2. They’re now joined by the baseball bat, cinder block, ancient stone and knife. They definitely make it easier to mow down the enemies and enable you to clear rooms much quicker, and you can finally carry them from room to room. But there’s a catch here too: whenever you’re knocked down, you drop the weapon you’re carrying. At that point, a flickering grey spirit will enter the room and head right for the weapon. If you can’t recover and reclaim it before the spirit gets there, the spirit will take it away to a room hidden somewhere in the stage. Sometimes the room lies right along the fastest path you need to take, other times it’s extremely far out of the way. Use your best judgment when deciding if the weapon you just lost is worth losing precious seconds getting back.

A few familiar enemies return, but much like Splatterhouse 2, the roster is mostly all new. You get boreworms, zombies (these are called Bonedead and lack hands and heads) and smaller Deadman Fat (first boss of Splatterhouse 2) enemies, but now Rick has to contend with Screaming Mimi-descendants Dead Rippers, Andras (bird/ant-like creatures), Chagul (large headed demons) and Ectoplasms, to name a few. The bosses are an equally imaginative bunch that include the musclebound Hell Guardian who will lose his head after several well-placed punches, the Giant Boreworm that infects Jennifer with a boreworm at the end of Stage 1, the possessed Teddy Bear, an embryonic creature called the Tattsu Verumu – and of course, The Evil One.

Should The Evil One manage to fall before Rick, the Mask finally reveals its true motive: to make itself the ruler of the world. All it needed to do was get The Evil One and its minions out of the way. The only one left that even stands a chance of stopping it is Rick, and thus, the final showdown begins.

Splatterhouse 3 is a fitting conclusion for the original series. It wraps up all the loose ends nicely and is one of the best brawlers you’ll find on the Genesis, and all in a package that shows what the Genesis can do in truly capable hands.

This is where the Splatterhouse saga ends, but the true story of Splatterhouse was just beginning. As the years passed with no fourth game, Splatterhouse slowly faded from memory, and by the turn of the century, the series was virtually unknown to modern gamers, aka the “PlayStation Generation.” On the flip side of the coin, classic gaming enthusiasts and horror fans remembered the games fondly. Several hoped for a revival, as long as it was handled correctly. During this time, the long-lost, mostly unheard of Famicom game Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti was unearthed, thanks to the Internet, adding another game to a series which had now achieved cult classic status. Rumors persisted that Namco was going to release a new game in the series on whichever console happened to be hot at the time. And in mid-2001, a little Splatterhouse website on GeoCities opened its doors, its webmaster having no idea of the future importance of the information he was compiling, or what the mere existence of his site would ultimately come to mean to so many.

Slowly the fans came out of the woodwork. Some were artists that celebrated the classic series in pictures, some were aspiring authors that wanted to share their own vision of Splatterhouse with the world. And some, amateur programmers that were tired of waiting year after year for Namco to unleash a new Splatterhouse, created new games that took the Splatterhouse series in different directions, introducing new characters or building on different scenarios presented by the original games. A few amateur filmmakers even tried their hands at making short fanfilms. All of them, and the rest as well, were united in their love of all things Splatterhouse.

All of this was building towards something. What that something was, no one knew until a surprise announcement on the cover of the the June 2008 issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly – the public’s first glimpse of an all new Splatterhouse game, a reboot of the series for the XBox 360 and PlayStation 3. Over two years and a major internal shakeup later, we’re now less than one week away from the all new Splatterhouse. Whether it will compare to the original games or not remains to be seen. Whether it will be able to hold its own or not in the face of the competition it has remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: it’s going to bring the Splatterhouse name back from the grave and introduce the “PlayStation Generation” to the original videogame gorefest.

SPLATTERHOUSE: WANPAKU GRAFFITI FUN FACT!

To this day, Wanpaku Graffiti has never left Japan in any way, shape or form – although if you’re import-savvy, you can buy an original copy to play on eBay or other online auction sites; alternately, you can buy translated reproductions that are compatible with standard NES consoles at The NES Dump or RetroZone. It was not included as an unlockable in the PS3/360 game. However, it has a loyal sub-fanbase in Splatterhouse fandom, and a certain favorite Engrish phrase from the game has surfaced in the new game as an achievement title. If nothing else, this tip of the hat shows that even though Namco chose to let it languish in obscurity for the past twenty-one years, it hasn’t been completely forgotten by the company that created it.

BE GARBAGE OF CESSPOOL!

Rob Strangman, known by some as the one-man Splatterpedia, is the founder and webmaster of West Mansion: The Splatterhouse Homepage, as well as the import-focused retro gaming site The OPCFG. He also writes the “Matters of Import” column for the Digital Press fanzine, rules his discussion forum The Third Moon with an iron fist, is a Gradius enthusiast, a die-hard Indiana Jones fan, and a “genuine Rush scholar.” He lives with his family in Connecticut.

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Rondal

Rondal is the Editor-in-Chief of Strange Kids Club and a creative instigator who tackles each day with Red Bull-induced enthusiasm and a mind for adventure. Rondal has written for other sites including Rue Morgue, Fuel Your Illustration and Bloodsprayer. His obsession with horror movies, 80s animation and action figures is considered unhealthy by medical professionals.