‘Splatterhouse’ or originally ‘スプラッターハウス Supurattāhausu’ is a side scrolling, beat ’em up arcade game developed by Namco and published in 1988. It plays homage to the slasher film craze of the 80’s and is clearly influenced by many Western horror films including Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Evil Dead II.
My introduction to ‘Splatterhouse’ was an upright cabinet which suddenly appeared in the Student Union at the Dudley campus of what was then [part of] Wolverhampton University (now Dudley College). The Dudley campus was eventually sold to Dudley Technical College, but it has since been sold for housing and built over with new homes. I clearly remember my friends at the time stating that “Woody is on that weird horror game again“, instead of spending time with them.
There are rumours circulating on the web that the game was never released outside of Japan, which based on my knowledge, is clearly untrue. I also know the game was released in the U.S., so it seems that it did receive a global release.. ..but likely limited; it was certainly not a common machine.
Although the content of the game was considered somewhat controversial (at the time), there were no age limit warnings on the arcade machine itself.. .. although the PC Engine console conversion did state “the horrifying theme of this game may be inappropriate for young children… and cowards“.
Exploring the West Mansion
You control the main protagonist of the game ‘Rick’.. .. a student who has become trapped inside a mansion, set deep in the woods. ‘Rick and his girlfriend ‘Jennifer’ have taken refuge there from a violent electrical storm.. ..what they don’t realise is that this is the West Mansion, otherwise known as the ‘Splatterhouse’.. .. due to the rumours of hideous experiments purportedly conducted there by Dr. West, a renowned and missing parapsychologist.
As soon as they enter ‘Jennifer’ can be heard screaming, presumably being abducted; ‘Rick’ is knocked unconscious. ‘Rick’ finds himself in a dungeon after being resurrected by a ‘Terror Mask’, which is in fact a Mayan sacrificial artefact from West’s house which is capable of sentient thought. The mask attaches itself to ‘Rick’, fusing with his body and transforming him into a monster with superhuman strength. With the mask’s encouragement, Rick goes on a rampage through the dungeon, mansion and the mansion grounds, killing hordes of monsters in a vain attempt to save his girlfriend from a grisly fate.
There are seven levels to traverse, which take you through the mansion, outside, back in and finally back outside. You have the ability to jump, punch and kick. You also have a ‘special attack’ at your disposal, where you perform a drop kick and slide along the ground.. ..damaging enemies as you go. ‘Rick’ can also perform a low kick, low punch, and jumping attacks, as well as pick up and use various ‘slasher’ weapons placed around the levels.
Your life meter is represented by four, almost anatomically detailed, hearts which deplete when hit by an enemy. When you successfully complete a stage another two hearts are added.. ..there is no other way to increase your life energy or lives, which are represented by ‘Horror Masks’.
All seven levels consist of walking left to right, with occasional auto-scrolling segments. However, alternative pathways through sections of the house do exist (mainly in the middle levels) and are passible by falling down through holes or jumping up onto ladders. At the end of each level there is a boss fight which takes place at a static location, usually within a single room. A twist when compared to traditional side-scrolling fighters is that ‘Splatterhouse’ boss fights have varying objectives and styles.
Unlike most arcade games in the genre, ‘Splatterhouse’ sends players back to checkpoints after losing lives or reaching game over, discouraging ‘credit feeding’ as a method of overcoming the various challenges. If you stand still for too long, or do not kill a boss quickly enough a electrical mist advances across the screen and will kill you on contact. On some levels this can also be associated with the appearance of blue orbs, which also signify your impending death.
What on Earth is going on?
When you play the game it can initially be confusing as to what is happening in the story, so here is the explanation:
After exploring the West Mansion for a while and defeating foes, you eventually find ‘Jennifer’ surrounded by a throng of creatures that retreat upon your arrival. However all is not well and ‘Jennifer’ has obviously now been ‘treated’ by Dr West as she transforms into a giant, clawed monster who attempts to kill you; whilst continuing to beg for your help. As such, you are forced to kill your once beloved girlfriend, who transforms back to normal.. ..but promptly dies.
Infuriated and seeking revenge, you track the remaining monsters to a giant, bloody hole in the mansion’s floor. Upon entering it, you discover that the mansion is itself alive. You then travel down a bloody hallway to the house’s ‘womb’, which produces fetus-like monsters. Once you finally destroy the ‘womb’ the house bursts into flames and ‘dies’.
Escaping the burning mansion you come across a grave marker. The ‘Terror Mask’ then releases energy into the grave, reviving a giant monster named ‘Hell Chaos’ that claws its way up from the earth and attempts to kill you.
Upon destroying this monster it unleashes a tormented ghost that dissipates into a series of bright lights. As the lights vanish, the mask shatters, turning you back to normal.. ..you then quickly flee as the house burns to the ground and the credits roll.
However, after the credits end, the ‘Terror Mask’ reassembles itself and laughs evilly, staying there for 45 seconds, with the word “END” appearing on the bottom right corner of the screen.
The arcade game is driven by a Namco System 1 board, which adheres to the JAMMA standards. It was quite a complex board featuring three Motorola M6809‘s and a Hitachi HD63701. Sound was produced by a Yamaha YM2151, a DAC and custom chips. The boards have proved to be very resilient to ageing.
‘Splatterhouse’ was quickly ported from the arcade to the PC-Engine/TurboGrafx-16, FM Towns and PC.. ..indeed many people never realised there actually was an arcade version. The ports suffered the usual loss of graphical detail and removal of some sound effects due to the reduced grunt of the hardware. However, the ports were not at all bad, giving a close approximation of the arcade original.
But there were edits, made to both the Japanese PC-Engine and the US TurboGrafx-16 versions of the game:
- The arcade version opens with ‘Rick’ and ‘Jennifer’ running through the storm and into the mansion, followed by an exterior shot of the mansion and the sound of screaming. The console version opens simply with the exterior of the mansion, and no sound effects;
- The weapon in Stage 1 and Stage 2 is a meat cleaver instead of a wooden stick;
- In general the violence and gore is toned down; enemies bleed less and the sound effects are less gruesome;
- The weapon for the Stage 4 boss is a golden meat cleaver instead of an axe, the only cleaver in the game;
- The crawling hand in Stage 5 no longer flashes the middle finger;
- The death of the womb boss of Stage 6 is changed from a graphic spilling of embryonic fluids into a generic fiery explosion;
- The final boss uses different attacks;
- The end cut scene is changed from the original arcade ending, in which the mask breaks from ‘Rick’s’ face, followed by a shot of him walking away from the burning mansion and an additional cut scene showing the mask reform and laugh. The ending in the TurboGrafx-16 version only shows the mask explode, followed by a picture of West Mansion burning while the credits roll, and finally a large red and orange “End” is displayed.
The following edits are exclusive to the US TurboGrafx-16 version:
- The ‘Terror Mask’ is changed from a white hockey mask to a red mask with black accents.. .. to prevent ‘Rick’ from looking too much like Jason Voorhees and leading to copyright violation claims;
- The cathedral arches are removed from the Stage 4 boss chamber background and the altar is removed from the following cut-scene;
- The inverted cross boss of Stage 4 is replaced with a severed head;
- The final boss’ grave is changed from a wooden cross to a tombstone.
The TurboGrafix-16 version was released on the Wii’s Virtual Console in Europe on March 16, 2007 and in the US three days later. The arcade version was released on May 26, 2009 on the Japanese Virtual Console.. ..there are currently no plans for a global release.
The 1992 FM Towns version, ported by Ving Co. was only released in Japan and is a pixel-perfect rendition of the original arcade, with no substantial changes apart from a new menu interface in the title screen.
The arcade original was ported in 2010 to mobile phones and iOS to coincide with the release of a new remake. The only change made was in that in the Java based mobile phone version, the mask is modelled after the one present in the 2010 remake. This change is not present in iOS version of the game. However, the iOS version includes a ‘Splatter Rush’ mode where enemies continuously spawn from both ends of a wide screen.
The original arcade game is also included as an unlockable extra in the 2010 remake.
Personally, I love this game, mainly due to the subject matter.. ..but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is a great game. Lucas Thomas from IGN captured some of my feelings about ‘Splatterhouse’.. ..“putting aside the aesthetic design and just looking at the game on the merits of its mechanics, ‘Splatterhouse’ is lacking”. Frank Provo of GameSpot reinforces this view, stating “ultimately, the problem with ‘Splatterhouse’ is that there’s not much to it.. ..there are only seven levels, and you’ll finish each one in just a few minutes“. All of which is true.. ..the enemies follow easily memorised patterns, making the game very easy to complete.
However, for me focusing solely on the gameplay is somewhat missing the point.. ..OK ‘Splatterhouse’ is not an amazing game.. ..but the style, imagery and sounds are fantastic. What Namco really achieved with ‘Splatterhouse’ was to create one of the first games to receive real attention (mainly from concerned parents) which inadvertently paved the way for other horror-themed games to emerge. If you look at it from this perspective it is a triumph.. ..go on, give it a try.
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