Too many elements of "Splatterhouse" are unintentionally horrific

Too many elements of "Splatterhouse" are unintentionally horrific

The horror. Oh, the horror.

It often felt as though I was trapped in a nightmare as I played “Splatterhouse,” but don’t credit the Lovecraftian creatures I had to fight.

No, my terror had more elementary causes: horrific load times, a monstrously bad camera, inexplicable glitches and a touch of multiple personality disorder. It’s a shame really, because there’s an enjoyable, playable game buried beneath the dross.

In case the name sounds familiar, this is a remake of/homage to an arcade classic, and the story remains largely the same. Rick, a skinny weakling, accompanies his smoking-hot girlfriend, Jennifer, to a creepy castle.

Monsters attack. Jen is kidnapped, and Rick is left bleeding on the floor. A strange mask appears before a dying Rick. It offers to save his life and grant him enough power to save Jennifer. Rick accepts this devil's bargain, price unknown. Why wouldn't he? He'd definitely die otherwise. So he puts on the mask and is transformed. In the original, you'd think he'd turned into Jason Voorhees from "Friday the 13th." In this remake, he becomes a giant, muscle-bound bodybuilder, and kind of looks like the "Batman" villain Bane.

While the original “Splatterhouse” was simply a side-scrolling beat’em-up, this version is a mix of old and new. Most of the time, it’s a modern 3-D brawler, yet every so often it returns to its side-scrolling roots ... and on rare occasion it tries to experiment with "Uncharted"-style platforming.

Quite simply, it's a mess. And it didn't need to be. If the developers had focused on doing one style of game-play right, "Splatterhouse" would be far more worthwhile.

Most of the game-play is what you expect from a brawler. You'll pound monsters with your fists while trying to avoid their claws. Sometimes you'll get to pick up a weapon -- a machete, baseball bat, 2x4, etc. -- and carve a swath of bloody destruction. That part works fine, though the camera wants to make it harder than it should.

Because even though you can control your view with the right thumbstick, it doesn't want to sit still. It'll swing wildly on its own sometimes, without rhyme or reason. And if you're fighting too close to a wall, you'll usually have a view of almost nothing at all, which makes it difficult to know if you should be punching, dodging or running away.

Anything that diminishes your battle prowess is bad, because the last thing you want to do in "Splatterhouse" is die. For if you die, you must endure an eternity before play resumes. In other words, the game takes a minimum of 20 seconds -- usually longer -- to reload, and during that time you're treated to endlessly looping footage of one of the game's monsters snarling.

Twenty-plus seconds might not sound like a long time, but it's more than enough to disrupt the flow of play, and if you happen to keep dying -- for instance, because you're trying to navigate a torture chamber's tricky obstacles during a side-scrolling mission -- it gets really old fast.

Frankly, it's especially frustrating during the few times when the developers decide to toy with 3-D platforming. You'll be playing the way you should be -- jumping from point to point, running through as quickly as possible because the ground is crumbling away as you pass -- when they'll suddenly throw in a dirty trick. In the middle of your next jump, a piece of debris will fall and hit you, sending you into the abyss -- just because you were doing what you're supposed to do in that situation instead of stopping and looking around. Or the piece of ground you were running across will suddenly break away, sending you into the abyss, because they've taken the cues they were using to indicate danger zones two seconds before and now are using them to represent the safe path.

And as far as glitches go, the most frustrating one I encountered was when the game decided that my on-screen health bar was unimportant. I was fighting a bunch of monsters and I knew I'd taken a few hits, but my health bar was full. One more hit and I fell dead, though my health bar was still full.

Another time, I was fighting in an area where a block of spears would stab up from the floor every few seconds, skewering me or any unfortunate monster that happened to be standing there. And then the spears became invisible. Oh, they'd still stab upward and hurt me, but I could no longer see them, so I no longer had any idea what areas of the room were safe.

If it wasn't for these issues, "Splatterhouse" would be worth playing. The combat is decent, and you can do some delightfully brutal moves to wounded opponents, such as crushing their skulls or ripping off their arms, during optional quick-time event segments, where you manipulate the controls to match on-screen prompts.

And in-game collectibles are designed to appeal to prurient interests. In other words, the reason I know Rick's girlfriend Jennifer is smoking hot is because the game's developer decided to put a dirty picture of her in every level of "Splatterhouse." You just have to assemble the pieces. For instance, the picture you can assemble from the first level is of Jennifer topless in the shower. Obviously, the guys behind this game are aiming to have her featured in Playboy's annual video-game vixen spread.

Also, as you make your way through the game, you unlock other rewards. Combat arenas, for one, where you battle almost endless hordes of monsters and collect more dirty pictures. But more importantly, you'll unlock the original "Splatterhouse," as well as its two sequels. So there is some value there, but I still don't find this game to be worth buying.

"Splatterhouse"
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3. Reviewed on Xbox 360.
Publisher: Namco Bandai.
Price: $59.99.
Rating: M for mature.
Recommendation: Although it's got some hidden value, a bad camera, frustrating load times and other issues make for an often unpleasant experience. It's a rental at best.

Image courtesy of Namco Bandai
Thanks to the power of the Terror Mask, Rick can regrow his arm if it gets torn off in battle.

 

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