Splatterhouse 2

Splatterhouse 2
Game Name: Splatterhouse 2
Platforms: Genesis/Mega Drive
Publisher(s): Namco
Developer(s): Now Production
Genre(s): Platform
Release Date: Aug, 1992

The original Splatterhouse was an arcade release in Japan, with a mildly censored version in the states. It followed the tale of two parapsychology students, Rick and Jennifer, who travel to the mysterious manor of Doctor West in an attempt to discover some of his lost theories and papers. Instead, they discover the more mundane mansion decorations – portal to Hell, monsters running amok, and an artifact called the Terror Mask. Whomever wears the mask channels ancient power through their body, but becomes subject to the mask’s whims and influences. Rick, naturally, wears the mask. A number of levels later, the evil is destroyed at the cost of Jennifer’s life. A grieving Rick sulks back home.

Well, I shouldn't judge. And I don't really like babies much either.

Enter Splatterhouse 2, a sequel virtually identical to the original. In the opening cinematic, we learn that Rick was in fact too hasty, and Jennifer still lives. So Rick and the Mask go back to the mansion, to bop and scrap through eight more levels of disgusting monsters. If you’re concerned about Splatterhouse 2 being awfully similar to Splatterhouse 1, you shouldn’t be. The original arcade release never made it to the Genesis, while the Genesis-only sequel never made it to the arcades. The chance of a crossover playing of both is thus slim. Besides, the original was great, gory fun, and the sequel proudly continues the tradition.

Gameplay is the stuff of classic brawlers, and the core of this game is a lot like Final Fight, with fewer moves and no enemy health meters. What sets Splatterhouse apart are its creative, disgusting visuals. I had never heard of the game during the time it came out, which is odd, considering I would have expected a greater stink to be raised about the gore. The original Splatterhouse drew some flak, mostly for its infamous “inverted cross” boss, resulting in a mere alteration for the American release. Splatterhouse 2 maintains some of that edge unscathed, perhaps hidden through customs under the piles of dismembered body parts or shackled men cleaved in half as background scenery. Perhaps it came out too early for all the “videogames and morality” crusades, and indeed, the box does not carry one of Sega’s voluntary ratings. I’m still really surprised that someone’s mother didn’t buy this for their son, watch him pummel shambling, bloody, blistered masses with a lead pipe, and call her fucking Congressman. That is not to say that the gore contained within is the most putrid, nightmare-inducing stuff you’ve ever seen, but it is there, and I dare you to find another game where you chainsaw a bloody fetus in half.

Rick is fairly easy to control, though a little sluggish, presumably to convey his Mask-enhanced bulk. Timing is as important as ever, and is required to dodge a down-cutting flying foe or jump kick another out of the air. His sluggish movement sometimes works to your detriment in these situations. There are also a few “chase” scenes where Rick must run as fast he can to avoid being eaten by a monster on the left edge of the screen. For Rick, “as fast as he can” isn’t very fast.

Hey! Get your hand off my girl's ass!

Only two buttons are used, jump and attack, with the C button copying whatever you configure the A button to. Rick delivers a meaty punch as your default attack, which is strong enough to knock most enemies in half. Jumping is what you would expect, and useful for bounding over pits or traps in the floor. A convoluted system of jumping and pressing forward and attack just as you hit the floor results in a powerful slide kick, but I discovered this by accident awfully late in the game. The good news would be that it is not required to complete the game.

The horror theme is really played up, with all sorts of disfigured, dripping enemies and bosses. Their design mostly comes from the John Carpenter’s The Thing school of mishmashing animals, faces, and limbs into gory blobs, but they manage to remain imaginative throughout. The backgrounds are a little more disappointing, with occasional sections of corpses and torture scenes, but mostly a lot of shadows or dark, repeated textures. Stone sewer walls and dark oak planks are the order of the day.

The exclusion to this rule are some fairly cool, fairly disorienting scrolling backgrounds of ghostly faces in a few levels or sections of levels. They pan in the opposite direction of your movement, sort of like the River of Faces texture in Doom, and work to give an odd 3-D look to certain levels. There are some particular effect highlights and original backgrounds in store when you cross through the portal into Hell.

The other graphical point worth mentioning are the creative deaths you can inflict upon your enemies with rare weapons scattered around. A pipe can be used like a baseball bat, to pancake enemies on the opposite wall. Flasks of chemicals can be thrown to immolate foes. The weapons are all level-specific, and you will pick them up and drop them within the same section. They’re more for variety than actual usefulness, though the variety is appreciated. Your enemies can also fall victim to the traps and floor pits set for you. The game has a few moments of campy humor, and one comes as a monster falls into a pit of piranhas and waves “bye bye” as its hand sinks under the surface.

A few spooky themes make up the background music, with a mildly memorable main theme that reoccurs during level intros. The act of jumping and punching make no noise; only the results of their interaction with a foe are audible. These are mostly dull, reused “thud”s and a high-pitched noise meant to be a splatter. The shrieks of some of the enemies can be a little too shrill and annoying, especially when you’re trapped in an elevator with a whole pack of them, but that probably serves to encourage you to kill them faster. Rick grunts deeply when attacked, and his dying groan sounds exactly like the “Ohh” part of Yello’s one hit, aptly named “Oh Yeah”. Lightning effects and dripping water in the repeated catacomb or sewer levels provide most of the background effects, and overall, the soundscape is uncommonly reserved.

I’ve made a lot of noise about the gore in Splatterhouse 2, but not a lot about how fun it is. It’s a well-made brawler, and worth playing on that merit alone, not just to see the next way you’ll kill a creature (though that is fun as well). It has a nice balance of difficulty with enough lives, level passwords, and continues to keep you from getting too frustrated. It’s not quite as refined or complex as other brawlers, and the weapons and their individual effects only partially make up for a lack of moves. Fortunately, you won’t need more than you have, and any feelings of monotony are mostly quelled by the game’s appropriate length. Not a must-play, but lots of fun for fans of the genre.

The Good

Definitive horror-themed brawler.

The Bad

Short on enemies, moves, and sound, but at least doesn’t overstay its welcome.

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