Hello again, as promised, here's my talk about one of the first game I consider it deserves a more insightful analisys, Splatterhouse 2010 for Xbox 360 and PS3.
While I only played the PS3 version, I think they're pretty much identical, so there are no relevant differences, as far as I know. Here we go.
One thing that is somewhat a fad, but somehow never strikes as hard as game developers seems to expect, it's revivals.
There are a few exceptions, but even those who succeeded are really behind from other current games that are more relevant in the industry, like certain annual shooter, NFL roster upgrade and such. Any company that own a title worth of its weight back then, will probably find enough incentive to try a brand new start in this current gen, and so, things like Splatterhouse happens.
Before we fully dive-in, allow me to clarify this: I love the game, I love the series since I was a kid, and nothing will change that, still, it saddens me to accept that when it comes to sales, the game showed its worth, and that's undeniable.
Also, this analysis will come with spoilers, from the Original Splatterhouse and the new one, I guess you can avoid it, I don't know if spoilers have an expiration date as well, I mean, we all know the Titanic sunk, but somehow you always find people who burst in rage when you mention it, but I digress. Back on topic.
Splatterhouse was a series of thematic platformers (more on that later) featuring extreme violence, tetric music, and subtle references to the horror genre. Back in its days, I think that was most appealing to youngsters like us was the violence. This is pre Mortal Kombat era, back in a day when violence wasn't even a subject of discussion, and when parents didn't have internet to complain. Though I'm sure some of them did.
The original story features Rick Taylor and Jeniffer Willis, being caught in a rain, taking shelter in the wrong house. Rick being almost killed and Jeniffer taken to gods knows where.
Then a mask later called Terror Mask revives Rick and gives him the strength to fight monsters and save Jeniffer.
All of this was pretty much the little you could pick up from what the intro shows, and what the manual of the turbografx-16 explains. That's the first thing I believed could totally misfire for the reboot.
Nowadays, games can make really engaging stories, but sadly, most games from the pixels era didn't have elaborated stories, but more likely a reason to have the control in your hands, other than fun, and that's it. No complex relationships, no double-crosses, no web of intrigue. Just the reason to be there and the expectation of seeing it end.
And that's the first thing the game misses in my opinion, the game jumped into the "let's make a great story wagon" without thinking first how to keep the player engaged, not with it, but with the game. If story was a cake, gameplay is the spoon to eat it, and you can spend ages in making it great and tasty, but with the wrong spoon, it won't be as good. I'll come back to gameplay later, for now, let me talk about story for a bit more. Like I said, Splatterhouse used its story as a driven motive for the player to acknowledge the killing and the gore was justified.
The reboot, on the other hand, while respecting the knight in gory armor take from the original, added a lot of new stuff to fill blanks between the killing. I'm not very demanding of well written story when it comes to games, but it comes as a turn off when the world is in danger. I mean, people hasn't realized how big the world is? Is it possible to jeopardize all of it, but put it in the hands of one guy? I know that drama requires big stakes, but I feel you lose connection to a story when you see it's trying to embrace so much, and it cannot hold it for very long time.
That corrupted mumbo jambo wasn't necessarily bad, mind you, but the original felt more engaging without half the stuff the reboot tried to make you chew. Originally, the house wasn't going anywhere, it was in some sort of status quo until Rick and Jeniffer barged in. You never felt like the world was in peril whether they went to the house or not, and if Rick is killed, it was simply game over, you failed to save Jen, put another coin and try again. The game doesn't give you the need to feel like there was more to it than that. Did you ever think that if Jason Voorhees were to succeed in killing all those obnoxious teenagers in their thirties, he would take a plane and kill everyone else? No, then, why the West Mansion would have to represent a world wide threat with the price of oil and civil war going on out there?
I think the first misstep of the game is mostly is simply to bite more than it can chew, and unfortunately, it's not the only game that suffers from that, but somehow this game had to pay a far worse price than some others.
Now, let's talk about gameplay, and let me be clear with this: The original Splatterhouse(s) gameplay sucked reaaaally bad. Rick sprite was too big and easy to hit, the movement was clunky, and enemies had really cheap hits.
Still, it worked at the time, whoever wanted to play Splatterhouse was simply there for the gore fest, the animations with each weapon was priceless, and seeing the monsters being torn in half was really satisfying. It wasn't NES Ninja Gaiden, or Kage, that had smaller sprites and fluid action, but the feel of power you get from controlling Rick was rewarding on its own. In fact, Splatterhouse spinoff; Wanpakku Graffiti, had a small character sprite and far better control of Rick than any other canon version.
Before getting lost in the original gameplay, let's switch to the Reboot. Is the gameplay good? Hell yes, but it's rough as hell, unless you're a dying fan of the series, you'll find better action games in God of War, or Prince of Persia, the sands of time series, hell, even X-blades is a better action game, and before you chew me for that, I will talk about X-Blades in another moment, let me continue with Splatterhouse.
Like I was saying, the gameplay is rough, at first it doesn't explain much of its mechanics, and it's frustrating to no end, the enemies had ways to prevent you from landing a single hit for a good time, while draining your lifebar. Any newcomer is better starting a new game+ in order to feel what the core gameplay mechanics can really do. In fact I dare to say that you should start with everything and the more you progress, the more you abilities should be lost to make it really challenging, but there's no way a mechanic like that will ever see the light of day.
In any case, the game wastes a lot of chances to make the players feel like he controls Rick, I'm no friend of tutorial levels, but this game could use something like that. Even seasoned veterans of GoW might have a hard time with it.
Another thing we could compare is the population of enemies. Enemies in the first Splatterhouse were pretty much organized, they mostly came in turns, sometimes you find two or three coming at you to increase the challenge, but most of the times, it was pretty simple. The Reboot, decided to go big and you always are outnumbered, and Rick, with the previous flaws I mentioned, could manage them fairly fine; and while it appears like enemies are made of jelly, monsters in the original were as weak, most of them died with one hit, but now that you fight hordes of them, if feels less personal than before. There are enemies that represent somewhat a better challenge, and they're quite tough, you need to learn how to take them and once you do, you're up for a nice challenge. But most of the times they appear when there's a horde as well, so it's hard to be personal on that. I think this is more of a personal taste of mine, I don't mean to say this is wrong, or that they shouldn't, it's good as it is, I prefer something else.
So what? Well, it's true that gameplay in the first wasn't a shining example of action platformer, but it's really rewarding for experienced players. Enemies have fixed movements and positions, so once you play enough, you can pummel your way through with a bandage in your eyes.
On the other hand, the reboot suffers from the same issues even with a fully upgraded Rick. Enemies that rips your arms off instantly, forcing you to use that drain move in order to regen; enemies that gang on you and don't let you hit the ground, and lack of more wide attacks without having to consume your Necrobar.
The platforming is also a mess, originally, it was a little unforgiving, a single mistake could get you killed, but again, once you learn to play with that handicap, your pretty much confident enough to go on. The Reboot, tried to use many ideas, with no explanation, or truly a reason to be as frustrating as it ended up being. I'm sure this one specifically is more a consequence of the game being jumping between developers, and that shows. There are some platforming that seems to came from Uncharted games or Ninja Theory's Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. Those parts feel so out of place, I can't believe they green-lighted it unchanged.
Platforming in 3D is something really hard to achieve, and this game is proof of it, which makes me wonder why did they include platforming at all. I mean, you control a hulk like guy that moves like he weights a ton, I think that goes without saying that he is no Prince (of Persia) so precision platforming shouldn't even be mentioned in the development meeting. Sadly, it was.
What made it worse is those moments, the game rush you into moving as fast as possible, and while the jumping between shiny-grab-on-here objects is automatic, the game makes a wonderful work forgetting it and making your jumps simply miss and get ready to see the loading screen, oh, the loading screen.
Another thing that makes even more hard for me to love this game, is that they decided to add 2.5D platforming sections, and it's more like a 3D platforming section with a fixed cam, because the game doesn't change its physics for those moments, you just cannot run to the background, but the game still acts like a 3D game, so the jumping is awkward, falling into a pit is insta kill, and boy, do you fall in pits. I feel like I repeat a lot, but I cannot avoid it, remember what I said about the original and learning through memorization? This also affects here, no matter how good you get with the game, or how much you upgraded Rick, which by the way, has no upgrades that affects his movement, except for that roll thing, but it wasn't really useful in those sections, you will most likely fail due to awkward controls in a split second decision you have no time to correct or regret. It's loading screen time.
This could be solved in so many ways. My first choice is to remove any platforming, and leave the game to be the gore fest it tried to be, instead of something else. But let's be fair, and constructive.
Mario 64 does platforming quite well, hardly a split second jump decision, and plenty of jumping here and there if that's what you wanted. Sonic Adventures does that cinematic thing that could worked, even with a fridge for character, with games getting more into the cinematic, it wouldn't be weird to put scenes that ask you to run and jump non-stop while shit get serious in the background and getting closer to the player. You can make mistakes, enough to get the gist of it, without being insta kill for not jumping at the right time.
And it doesn't have to be quick time event; it would be more rewarding if the player learns on its own the timing for it, and successfully clears that jumping and running section, with a margin to screw up.
This is another thing that I cannot help but to think it could be a lot better. But, unlike before, I don't think it's bad either. I liked the music in the new Splatterhouse, and I can't deny it fits, but whoever heard it in game, tell me, doesn't it feels like you cannot memorize a track from it?
The original Splatterhouse had really good tracks, easy to remember, chilly, and completely tetric.
While I think it's a good idea to use Metal to give the game that grindhouse feeling it wants to give, I think this is another huge missed opportunity to put a trademark on the industry.
If we want grindhouse, I think that there are a couple of games out there that simulates that feeling just fine. But what made Splatterhouse unique was that tetric, chilly music that gives you goosebumps when you heard it. That feeling of I'm getting into something so uncanny, this music makes me want to flee, that was the core of iconic tunes like Halloween series and Friday the 13th as well, and Splatterhouse was no exception. Check out Splatterhouse - Part 2 Intro:
Now, when you see this intro, doesn't make you feel uneasy to know what's on the house? Doesn't that tune sticks to your memory and makes you remember right away where it's from? When you compare this track to the Metal soundtrack of the new one, makes the Reboot feel a bit underwhelmed, and really forgettable.
Now, it would be idiotic to say that we need this midi tune to make a next gen game better, and since you want to use Metal bands so bad, how about this?:
See? It wasn't that hard, now was it? But let's say you (NAMCO) are still insisting on using new tracks to promote the bands, which in return will promote the game, then, why not having an option to choose what soundtrack do you want to use? Games like Lollipop Chainsaw allows you to pick the music you want to listen in game, and you have some tracks to unlock via purchase, which adds replay value. Why not trying something like that? Or take this game ClaDun X2, the games lets you choose in the options menu if you want to listen to normal music, or midi versions. Why not enabling it like that?
Getting Metal bands to make your music was mostly a marketing decision I think, and I understand where that comes from, but unless you're into the Metal scene, you won't have the slightest idea who those bands are, so, again, they bet on the wrong horse if you ask me.
Well, it's a no brainer that there is no comparison between 2D sprites and fully 3D world, I love how Splatterhouse, the new one I mean, looks. Its pseudo shading filter looks far better than a realistic environment would look, so I'm more happy with the final result. I think that while it's not at the top of graphics, it made a good use of the aesthetics, and respects the source.
The creatures looks kinda messy, a bit, if you excuse my language, fucked up, and they're not scary, rather, they're repulsive. It's not a bad call, you cannot empathize with them, so you're less likely to have second thoughts when you rip them apart. I think I sort of disliked some of GoW finishers because I loved how the creatures look, they're well designed, somewhat good looking, and they look like creature like us, sentient and living. Splatterhouse on the other hand, they look so messed up, you feel you're doing them a favor by killing them, so it's no biggie.
Bosses are great, I liked them all, and while no one seemed to represent the original bosses from the Original Splatterhouse, they look great, and gameplay wise, the fight are far better than pummeling hordes of messed up creatures. When it comes to bosses, now more than ever you want to break them up. So I think overall this part was really well made.
Now, could it be improved? I guess, there's always room to improve, but I don't think it deserves as much attention as the other subjects I mentioned deserved.
Now, I'll go into the story a bit more, this time:
No need to repeat myself, right? The story was adapted in order to last more that the hour or so it could take you to finish the original game, and thank god the main motive for rick to be there is still the same, to save Jeniffer.
Now, originally, while they were Parapsychology students (I want to major that, oh yeah), they had no connection to Dr West, in fact, it is unknown if West appears in the original one. Most people believe is that ghostly head that appears in the end after you defeat the final boss, but in any case, West never have direct interaction with Rick and Jen, making him some sort of unwilling antagonist at best. The new one, he couldn't have anymore screentime, being a bad imitator of Dick Dastardly. I guess it's okay as a villain though, it's better than an unknown, faceless force like before, and helps develop a Hero-Villain relationship.
What I liked the most of Dr. West, is that he pretty is much the same as Rick, a man that would stop at nothing to save his wife, who casually resembles Jen, and well, the antagonist isn't one-sided, as Rick is the one who killed his wife Leonora in the past, as part of the needlessly complex script this game has. So, Rick wants to save Jen and to do so, he needs to get rid of West, while West hates Rick and the Terror Mask because they killed Leonora, which they wouldn't if West didn't took Jen, who wouldn't take Jen if Rick and the Mask didn't kill Leonora and on... and on... and on.
It's a mess, I know that you cannot play with time and come out unscratched, but this game got seriously confused, and like I said, needlessly. Now, let's be fair, the game could do seriously worse, and luckily, it's not that bad. In the Original, like I said, rescuing Jen was mostly a driver for the player in order to play, why save her, or why was she taken, was not relevant. Now, the game demands a reason, and I must say, there aren't much options for this, so I guess we can roll with it.
Now, a big, I repeat A BIG chance was lost with Jeniffer. In the original Splatterhouse, you find her before the game ends, and when she gets up, she transform in a horrible monster that will attack the player with no mercy, leaving no option but to defeat her, while she sometimes ask your help.
Back in 1988, this probably was a huge "OMG" moment. I played the first after playing the 2nd and 3rd, so most of the impact was lost, but even so, imagine this, the person you have to rescue is now your enemy and there's no other choice but to kill or die.
There were rumors for a time that she wasn't the real Jen and the real one was trapped somewhere else. But the Japanese version of Splatterhouse 2, explains that she certainly died, and her soul is trapped in the house, so she can still be saved, which also serves to the purpose of... the house I guess, in any case, you killed her in the first game.
Imagine that in the Reboot, or put yourself into Rick shoes for a moment, right there. The only person that makes your world worth every single thing, is a monster that you cannot save. was she worth killing if it mean everything to you? What was the point of killing her and going on afterwards?
I think this is what, as a fan, I cannot ignore. One of the most important twists in the history of games, pre Kojima, and it wasn't pretentious, it was bold and well executed.
And they didn't included this change in the Reboot.
Alright, I know that a Reboot require some changes in order to adapt to new technologies and the new blood, but not facing Jeniffer monster and killing her with your own controller was by far the biggest opportunity lost, and that crappy evil smile at the end didn't cover it.
Now, like I said, this game was rather than bad, a series of missed opportunities to shine, ending with underwhelming sales, the closure of the developer, and probably we won't have a sequel at all, so regardless of personal feelings towards it, I think we cannot deny the failure of this game.
Most of the issues the game had was caused by today's state of affair with the industry. Games are getting more expensive to develop, and sales aren't as good as before. Consumers will always get on retail their shooters and their roster update, but games like this belongs in the offer bin.
I personally love it, with all the criticism I made, I still say with pride that I love it, they included the first three Splatterhouse games for free, if it were another Game Company, we would be paying 5 bucks each on our console store, but we got them for free. The nude pictures was a bit uncalled, but was another positive step, and not for the reasons any male would agree, but because M games are M simply for violence and language, and games always had a awkward way to face nudity, while we can still have a stupid uncalled sex scene on any over the top action flick. So it was a positive step, even if it wasn't your thing. GoW was another one that kinda takes this for granted, and I complimented that on a lot of gaming talks I had.
The violence... well, it's violence, doesn't come in many envelops, so you know what you'll find. Maybe another thing this game suffered is that it took too long to come out. This game should have appeared before Devil May Cry, or not long after, and it would probably would have left a better impression on younger generations. I mean, nowadays, seeing a monster explode is pretty much part of our daily routine, so if this was the only thing that made Splatterhouse a name before, it should have returned when Violence wasn't in every bloody game like chocolate sprinkles.
But, backtracking this blog a little, revivals have a hard time, times changed, and it's hard to be relevant unless you never left, like Mario.
Most thematic platformers had to accept they died, find a way to reinvent themselves, or stick to formula and be forgotten.
I refer to thematic platformer to games that joined the platformer band wagon and took their own take on it. Games like Sonic, Bubsy, and Rocket Knight Adventures are mascot Platformers, Mario should belong there, but I'm not entirely sure, I know it pretty much started it, but I don't know if it was its purpose. I think it wasn't until Sonic, that everyone felt like making their own Mascot Platformer. Contra is an Action Platformer, a game based on frenzy action and shooting, with platfoming. Castlevania was a horror platformer, like Splatterhouse, but not because it was scary, but because it uses Horror film references and aesthetics in it. And there are a bunch more of platformers with their own theme in it, but are mainly platformers because that was what sold back then, it's like making an FPS today out of an old RTS... oh, wait.
Well, I guess this industry somehow remains the same while changing.
And as a final word, Splatterhouse was a victim of the current industry, plus its own weight, and some bad decisions made at some key points. I can only wish for a sequel, I would be more than eager to "not-so-retroview-it"
By the way, this ended being longer than I thought, so I'm more than open to suggestions on what I can remove, I know I repeat myself a lot, and like I said, being English my secondary language, it's hard for me to realize when I become too redundant. I hope you enjoyed the reading.
About Earthfield One of us since 11:47 AM on 11.07.2012
I'm just your average user, fond of gaming since I was a young lad.
I love retro gaming, not so retro gaming, and current gen.
I'm not a reviewer, but I love to analyze games as an entertainment and as an experience.
One word of advice, English is not my native language, so please bear with the grammar horrors.