Retro Review: “Splatterhouse 2” (SEGA Genesis, Festival of Dread Special)
Of all the games I’ve owned, sold, repurchased, etc., over the years, I’ve never sold any of my original Splatterhouse games. Why? Because braining demons with blunt objects and watching their unholy essence spray from their freshly-cracked skulls is good ol’ family fun. Wholesome shit, am I right?
My personal experience with the Splatterhouse series went like this: Splatterhouse (TG-16 version), Splatterhouse 3, and finally Splatterhouse 2, so it was the last game in the original series that I played.
There is still something about Splatterhouse 2 that sits oddly with me right from the get-go, though. When you watch the opening sequence before the title screen, the dialogue seems very one-sided. So I’m going to redo it a little bit for you, my loyal Splintering readers, and fill in the gaps for Rick…
The Mask: She doesn’t have to die, Rick…
Rick: You stupid mask! Jennifer is already dead! She died in the first game when the house burned to the ground!
The Mask: We can save her.
Rick: Yeah? From what? Are we going to save her ashes from being used in a litter box somewhere?
The Mask: Go back to the house.
Rick: Helloooooo? Didn’t you hear what I just said, you big dink? At the end of the first game, the house BURNED TO THE FUCKING GROUND!
The Mask: I’ll find you there…
Rick: And how are you going to get there if I don’t take you, chump muffin? What, are you planning to go grab a coffee and then hail a cab?
The Mask: Only I can give you the power.
Rick: Why don’t I just bring a bunch of guns? Those seemed to work just fine against the chainsaw guy last time.
The Mask: You need me.
Rick: Yeah, I need you to shut the hell up, maybe. Well, I guess I’d better get going seeing as how you’re not likely to ever quit yapping, otherwise.
As it turns out, if you watch the introduction from the import version of the game, the story makes waaay more sense, as the mask tells Rick that there is another house, and that he will give Rick the power to give life and restore Jennifer. How did this become even MORE confusing when it came to the US?
Oh well, who cares? The Splatterhouse series is more about painting the walls red & green with demon goo than it is about telling a compelling, coherent story. Press start -> make things bleed -> catharsis. There you go. That’s your narrative line. But is the game any good?
She doesn’t have to die, Rick…
Splatterhouse 2 is the sequel to the arcade/Turbo Grafx-16 original developed by Namco. Like its predecessor, it’s a side-scrolling arcade style action game where you punch, kick, slide, chop, bludgeon, and cleave your way through a small army of otherworldly demons in an effort to save your girlfriend Jennifer from the clutches of purgatory (’cause she’s dead, see?). You play as Rick, who is assisted by a super-powered mask which was discovered in an ancient Mayan jungle somewhere near Cancun. That’s right, Cancun. I’m thinking that temple has become a T-shirt shop by now. A T-shirt shop of horrors!
Throughout the game you can pick up lead pipes, chainsaws, hedge trimmers, oversized femurs, shotguns, and even decapitated heads in order to reduce your enemies to a glorious, gushing glop of goo, and by God, does it feel good to see them splat, burst and pop (just like Rice Krispies, but with blood)! You’ll wish you had more opportunities to pick up weapons like these as the game goes on, because Rick either drops them every time he moves on to the next screen, or in some cases you will only get to use the weapon during a boss fight (i.e. the chainsaw). Without these items, you are left to jump, punch, kick and slide, and controlling Rick is responsive enough, though a little more variation would have helped keep the action fresh and I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks that Rick may lumber about a bit too slowly.
We can save her.
The game is rather short. There are eight stages which in and of themselves can be completed rather quickly, with only one or two hidden areas (which are actually more of a punishment than a reward when you find them). The whole game can be completed in less than 30 minutes if you’re a pro. Each stage has a boss waiting for Rick at the end, most of which are particularly enjoyable. Several of these bosses are rather large, and in defeat, their death animations are quite satisfying for those with a video blood lust. Oddly, some of them are far more difficult than others. I found that the boss of stage 4 might have been the second hardest moment in the game other than the final stage (Get his second form in a corner, for the love of God, get him in a corner!).
Actually, Splatterhouse 2 as a whole is pretty tough, although the difficulty doesn’t seem to progress at a natural rate. You should be able to cruise through to the end of stage 4 easily enough (where you will meet the aforementioned insanely tough boss), and then things get pretty easy again until the difficulty spikes at the boss fight of stage 6, and the game remains pretty intense until its end. There are also some sequences, including the later boss fights, where you will take some pretty cheap hits unless you straight up memorize the sequences of upcoming attacks, falling objects, etc., almost like a bullet-hell shooter. You do however have a password system at your disposal to make things a bit easier, or to perhaps revisit a favorite moment without trudging through previous stages, so let’s all thank the appropriate Mayan deities for that. I personally like revisiting the stages… on account of the death and blood and all…
Go back to the house.
Graphically, Splatterhouse 2 isn’t a 16-bit wonder or anything, but it is more than solid. Rick has his white mask back from the arcade original (it was changed to a pink-ish red in the TG-16 version to avoid a lawsuit for looking too much like Friday the 13th‘s Jason). Rick animates well as he lumbers along, and there are nice little animation touches that give the game personality. I’ve already mentioned the death animations of the bosses (God, I love watching that fat fuck of a first level boss’ gut burst like a snot-filled balloon!). Knocking some enemies into water hazards causes them to sink to their demise, but they wave their hands “good-bye” as they sink down. It would almost be cute, if this weren’t Splatterhouse! Bwah-hahaha! Blood! Guts! Violence! Ferrets!
The backgrounds are fittingly dark but still well-detailed. There isn’t a remarkable variety of stages here considering your location is a house, but the designers manage to mix it up pretty well between a forested exterior, a subterranean purgatory, even a ride on a motorboat. Some of the backgrounds do repeat themselves by the end, but not enough to jar you out of the experience. There isn’t a ton of variety in the enemy designs, either, as later stages meet you with little more than palette-swapped versions of earlier ghouls. They all bleed good blood, though.
I’ll find you there…
The tunes aren’t necessarily anything that you would hum in your head, though the killer intro above is my personal favorite jam from the game. Most of the music does a good job setting the appropriate, macabre mood. During actual gameplay, the boss battles had the most memorable tunes, though I’m also a really big fan of the off-putting discord in stage 6, which was criminally cut short. The Genesis sound chip approximates the haunting effect of a harpsichord pretty well, and I imagine that arrangements of the soundtrack performed on said instrument could be amazing. I’ll get right on that as soon as someone buys me a harpsichord…. Anyone? Cheap bastards.
There are a few voices scattered throughout the game. Whether the mask’s laugh, Rick’s grunts as he is hit, the screams of enemies as they perish (with their insides being blasted to the outside in glorious, rapturous fountains of glop), and of course Jennifer’s cry of “Help me…” These voices are all pretty much standard Genesis fare, very raspy and a bit indistinct, but their effect actually does work well to some degree here in Splatterhouse, as they add to the aesthetic discomfort intentionally designed into the game. Would I rather have a CD quality recording of Jennifer Hale muttering “Help me…” instead? You know, I think I wouldn’t.
One very personal complaint I have about the design of Splatterhouse 2 is this: In the first Splatterhouse game, you really felt as though you were in a fight against the house. There are far more environmental traps organic to the location, as well as stages where you would fight possessed chairs, knives, paintings, etc. In Splatterhouse 2, however, this isn’t the case, at least not as much. Sure, there are some barfing ram heads and in one of the boss battles you briefly have to fight a floating chainsaw and hedge trimmers, but other than that, you mostly fight creatures inhabiting the house rather than the house itself. This is a minor gripe and speaks only to my own personal view of what the personality of the series really is, so I won’t hold this against Splatterhouse 2, overall. At least that was corrected somewhat by the third installment (Spoilers: Splatterhouse 3 is g-ddamn incredible).
You need me
When it comes to side-scrolling action games where you punch things in the face, you could do a lot worse that Splatterhouse 2 (see Last Battle). It’s a bit repetitive in some respects and some gamers may not care for Rick’s slower movement or the crazy difficulty spikes, but it’s a haunting celebration of catharsis through ultra-violence that will have you dreaming happy dreams of sloshy goop oozing from all orifices of your body. All. Orifices. In short, it’s a damn good game, but not the bloody cream of the crop.
Splatterhouse 2 has become a slightly desirable collector’s item over the years. Even a loose copy will likely run you north of fifty bucks, but there is good new for those looking to get their bloodbath on without dropping a lot of cash. The game is available on the Wii Virtual Console for eight bucks. Wait, is that thing still online?
I’ve got even better news for those of you with an Xbox 360 or a PS3, the entire original Splatterhouse trilogy is an unlockable bonus in the 2010 Splatterhouse reboot (which is itself an adequate gore-fest despite being lackluster on the combat side). You can probably snag it online for about $20-$30, I’d think, so that’s definitely the best blood for your buck.
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