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Archive for January, 2012

[Review] Splatterhouse

Along the same lines as all those articles that suppose that, if TV shows were more accessible down here, there would be less piracy, I got to thinking about the $20 game. No one sells games for $20 games at release. It’s either the full $100 or $1-15 for something downloadable. There’s no in between. And that’s a terrible shame because if games like Splatterhouse came out at that price they’d A) sell a lot more and B) let the the people feel less cheated. The sad truth is this particular title will hardly feel like value to anyone at full price. But is that such a bad thing? Do all releases need to be worth $100? Is it really a case of go AAA+ or go home? And if so what kind of a future does that leave this industry? More Fruit Ninjas and less PS Vitas by the look of things. But enough on this tangent and more about Splatterhouse.

‘Fucking carpentry

That is how your lovable mask, the one who provides the superhuman powers your boy Rick enjoys (and who is apparently an Aztec god of death), refers to beating the shit out of monsters with a 2×4. There are pipes and chainsaws too and it all hearkens back to a time when you walked from left to right, picked up whatever you could find, and bashed legions of enemies over their heads with it. Splatterhouse doesn’t pretend to be any more than that and apart from a few collectibles when you’re done, you’re done. Combat is the standard fare of recent years too with light and heavy attacks and a QTE finishing move that pops up from time to time and a Devil Trigger-esque ‘berserk’ mode is thrown in because why not?

Splatterhouse wasn’t developed in a vacuum, clearly, and I was shocked at how self aware it ended up being. I have to plug Jim Cummings’ amazing performance as the nameless mask – that character made the difference between a mundane trek through action gaming’s litany of overused conventions thrown mercilessly at the player one by one and that also wears out its welcome. It’s amazing what a few well-placed quips can do to turn the tide on monotony after entering the umpteenth room you have to clear before being allowed into the next.

Too bad the developers didn’t have the foresight to see that adding 2D sections to the game would turn out to be its greatest downfall. And why would they? Titles like Mega Man Re-loaded and Bionic Commando Rearmed from Capcom have shown that good old 2D platforming can work just as well with a new coat of 3D paint. But this isn’t the good old platforming. This is putting a 2D coat of paint on 3D mechanics and giving your entire QA payroll the week off. Less game and more fanservice, every time the camera moved to setup one of these sections I cursed the dickheads in suits who thought including this on the design document was a great idea. Just the world needs more of – damnable fanservice. They probably thought all the elements extracted from previous Splatterhouses would elicit chuckles when they only really served to grind my shit to a halt.

Self-indulgence is a good thing… sometimes

Normally I’m the first to call something a big wank when it seems to be having too much fun with itself. The mask partner of yours seems to be there only to take the piss out of everything, there’s more blood in Splatterhouse than I think I’ve ever seen in anything, and those pictures of your girlfriend that you have to assemble… oh boy. My criticism here is not that these were poor design choices, but delightfully ballsy ones.

There was one point where it crossed the line though and that was when this became a quasy-Cthulhu mythos extended universe kind of deal. Wait, what? It’s as though Splatterhouse clutched in and shifted from 4th to 1st at some point in its narrative and the result was needlessly jarring.

While there is some semblance of a story going on before this point it was not terribly compelling and relegated itself to the background. Half the problem is that you can’t take the demon-possessed mask seriously at any time and trying to force an overwrought supernatural revenge story into proceedings during the final act and then attempting to ground it in someone else’s universe just adds insult to injury.

Sure, some might see stapling this game to the wall of tenuously Lovecraft-inspired dross would be fittingly playful, or even irreverent, given how little this game aspires to to begin with but I’, not among them. It felt too cheap. Or at least cheap out of step with how cheap everything else was.

I had my fun

I feel like I’ll be retreading a lot of what I said regarding the one-size-fits-all pricing model of games when I come to reviewing Enslaved: Journey to the West because it’s a legitimate problem and pretty much the only thing preventing me from experiencing these two remarkable games when they were still new and relevant. At the end of the day, though, Splatterhouse is a genuinely entertaining 10-or-so-hour trip that I’d heartily recommend to anyone who played the original titles or anyone who can appreciate a game has fun while not aspiring to be the next God of War.

And that person had better have some godly patience too, what with those early 2D sections driving me to the brink of insanity and all.


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