Monday, 22 July 2013

Arcade: Splatterhouse

I remember back in the day when I was a little short(er), and wandering around the seedier sites of St Osyth's arcades by the sea front. A handful of 10 pence pieces all ready to be slipped into an arcade cabinet of my choice and played, that dangerous risk of finding a machine with fully functioning controls and an attract mode that appealed and didn't have an overload of ash in the cigarette trays. Yes it was those good old, dark, dingy, paedophile in the corner, carcinogenic inhaling days of arcades.

Then I found Splatterhouse. I recalled seeing someone playing it before I did and watched them slaughter their way through monsters, creatures, bloodworms, bosses and other such ghoulies and ghastlies from the graphical pits of pixelated hell. When I grabbed the controls to find it out for myself, I was enthralled with the violence that was displayed before me.

Which is the sticking point. This game is very violent and very gory. Heads chopped off, bodies smashed into background, torsos blown apart, chainsaws biting into flesh, hanging foetuses.. foeti, puking acids and bile before being disintegrated viciously. If you've not got a weapon, you're either punching, kicking or (if you work out how) sliding your way to blood fest central, courteous of your protagonists mask-fuelled rage of anger.

The story is simple enough, you and your wafer thing girlfriend enter a spooky house during a storm, the kind that screams “Stay The Fuck Away” even if you were dying of rapid explosive blood loss most people would take one look and walk off to their safer death. Once inside you get knocked out or killed and your girlfriend Jennifer is abducted. Thanks to a magic mask of horror, you get back up and start punching your testosterone fuelled revenge through 6 levels of gore and violence against monsters, worms, paintings, demons, wombs with hearts and pizza-melted faces.

Monsters and casual opponents take one to two hits of your feet or fists while weapons are often a one hit kill except for bosses. The bosses themselves will tank your damage necessitating the use of strategy (or exploiting flaws, I'm looking at you Biggyman and those shotguns in your level), while the levels leading up to those bosses will try to chip your health down to get your time with the bosses to be as short as possible and avoid you learning their patterns.

And that is the biggest flaw here. The game is one BIG pattern. When it got to the point I could do the first level blindfolded, flawlessly, shows that the entire game is scripted, every placement and enemy is dependant entirely upon where you are on the level. If you hold right from the start, you can time every single enemy, jump, punch and kick to get through the fight. The last few bosses will break pattern but that doesn't change how things are in the levels, when you KNOW when something will happen and not just accurately guess, the suspense of the game is gone.

It doesn't help that your main character, Rick, is rather large as far as sprites go and you'll pretty much have to fight everything on your way to the bosses, you might be able to dodge the occasional projectile but you'll play safer stopping the enemies from attacking. Eventually though, the death animations get repetitive and the challenge of fighting enemies becomes too formulaic, the bosses themselves become a case of If Boss is doing X, then do Y and it becomes flawless save for the few that change their strategy towards the end of the supposed ass-kicking.

While the game is visceral, the mechanics behind the game are laid bare fairly quickly to be a plain brawl ‘em up with few platforming elements. Occasional quirks such as a route optional level are an added touch but it's unlikely anyone will see them besides focused and well-versed gamers. Yep, when you die it's refight the level or the boss, back at full health and so are they, so unlike other games, you can't just pay your way through with enough 10 pence pieces.
All depending upon whether you're fascinated by violence or not, will determine whether you want to play this game all the way through or not. It does however take some serious gore fans to want to get past what is a tough but solvable game. This game is Hellraiser's Puzzle box, solve it and the violence is there for your reward, but you'll likely succumb to pinhead before you get the game beaten.

A fun butcher fest of excessive violence and gore, but it'll be unlikely you'll want to play through to the final fights knowing they're tougher and tougher and with little pay off for it. But then, masochists might enjoy it, it's likely made for them.