How could it possibly be more Hallowe'en-y than the original Splatterhouse (A game, I must remind you, that featured monsters with chainsaws for hands and a mute, hockey-mask-wearing protagonist)? Well, for one thing the villain of the piece is a floating pumpkin called, wait for it, the Pumpkin King. The game opens with Jennifer weeping by the side of a grave, when her boyfriend Rick wakes up from inside this very tomb. Then the Pumpkin King kidnaps her while Rick looks on, bemused. To be fair to Rick, it's a surprising turn of events, plus he's just risen from the dead, which must be pretty disorientating.
The Pumpkin King is the coolest-looking villain ever. This is a fact. What he wants with Jennifer is never explained, but it's probably something nefarious, and Rick leaps out of his shallow grave and begins the hunt for his missing lady love.
The gameplay is pretty much identical to the original Splatterhouse: walk left and right, clobber monsters with your little axe, jump over something occasionally and try not to throw your pad through the screen when you die because the floor disappeared underneath you or something. It has the addition of a level-up system of sorts: killing a certain number of enemies will cause you to go up a level and increase the length of your health bar by one.
The first stage is the graveyard, and Rick travels along, looking adorable and chopping zombies in half with his ever-present axe. It's fun right from the start, with Rick controlling well, some big, colourful graphics and nice music. Soon you reach the mid-boss, and the little meter in my head that measures how much I'm enjoying a videogame suddenly flies all the way to the "Fuck Yeah!" side.
The boss is a vampire on a stage. A vampire who appears to the sound of a chiptune parody of Thriller. A vampire who moonwalks around the stage whilst zombies dance in the background. Yes, the boss is a send-up of Michael Jackson and specifically Thriller, and if that doesn't endear you to this game, nothing will. He sends his zombie minions to get you while he hangs back and throws fireballs at you, and once you've killed enough of his undead cohorts, he flashes you a peace-sign and disappears back into the stage. Personally, I'm very glad I didn't have to kill him, because that means he could return. A cameo in the new Splatterhouse would be very nice indeed, but I don't think the world is that lucky.
The King of Pop defeated, Rick moves on, through a spooky cabin where books come to life and try to fly into his face and disembodied hands try to throttle you, giving the whole area a very Evil Dead feel. The stage's boss is a little girl who sits on a bed and rotates her head 360 degrees, and it becomes apparent that S:WG is going to be full of parodies.
Personally, I love these kind of things in my videogames, so it looks like that internal meter will be hovering around the top end of the gauge for a while. Our Exorcist-inspired little girl attacks by using her Satanic telekinesis to throw chairs at you while her head floats around aimlessly. The chairs turn out to be rather difficult to avoid. Perhaps the Dark Lord should give up possessing little girls, cut out the middle-man and just conquer the world of man by lobbing furniture around. If you can manage to avoid the decor long enough to chop the girl's head a few times, the stage is complete and it's on to the sewery delights of stage two.
The stage start screen urges you to "Be garbage of cesspool!", and while I'm not sure what that means, I'll give it my best shot. Rick continues through the cabin, where the disembodied hands have gained the ability to throw crockery at you and spider-hand-facehugger beasties roam around during a short platforming section. The mid-boss is a possessed kitchen, complete with flying knives and headless zombie chickens.
Mmm, delicious. I'm not sure what recipe calls for the poultry to be decapitated but otherwise left intact when cooked, but whoever is cooking sure put plenty of them in the oven. Once you've avoided the chickens and clobbered the knives for a while, Rick falls through the floor and into the sewer. I guess this is where the "cesspool" element comes in, and there are many evil mice who wish to turn you into garbage. When you kill them, they fly into the background and splatter, much like in the original when you hit a zombie with the 2-by-4, which is a nice touch. The boss is a very irritating giant mouse who constantly pushes you backwards with the power of wind while throwing smaller mice at you: if you get hit, you're pushed all the way back. Fortunately, you only have to hit boss mouse once, because Rick slices him in half. Who's garbage now, huh?!
Stage three welcomes you to Devil Town, and any welcome that consists of flying pumpkins is a welcome I can get behind. The main enemies here are little pumpkin warriors who jump about and shoot smaller pumpkins out of their giant carved mouths, and they are easily the best regular enemies in the game.
Once you've made your way through the pumpkin-infested streets for a while, Rick steps into a house which, unfortunately for him, is filled with flying chainsaws. After the chairs and the knives, chainsaws must represent the pinnacle of things-you-can-telekinetically-throw-at-someone technology. Where can you go from there? Atom bombs? Atomic sharks? Sharks that explode with the equivalent power of four hundred tonnes of TNT? The chainsaws aren't all that much more difficult than the knives, though, and another boss awaits just beyond them.
This young lady lays on a slab, and then her chest bursts open and many, many spider-hand-facehugger things jump out. I suppose that means they are facehuggers, although they burst out of her chest so I guess they're... chesthuggers? That's not a great name, is it. Hmm. Anyway, after killing the fifty-or-so chesthuggers that jump out, the girl sits up, yawns and walks away, content in the knowledge that her chest cavity must be the size of a double-decker bus. Well. Rick takes this, as he does everything else, in his stride, and he sets off for the church.
The church has a congregation of zombies and assorted lumpy ghouls, and it is a congregation of a size that I'm sure most British vicars would kill to have. Well, maybe not kill, but, you know, consider converting to Satanism or something. The priest of this church is way ahead of them, though, as he is a robed pagan fellow who summons a horde of... wait, what are those things?
Elephant heads? Stingrays? Unfortunate neon bats? Whatever they are, their main aim in life is to be really irritating, and what a success they are in that particular endeavour. Eventually, the dark priest gets bored of having his elephant stingrays do all the work, so he transforms into a goat. Sadly for him, he gets stuck in a corner and Rick chops him to death. Such is the life of the unholy priest. Not content with the two boss fights already featured in this level, just ahead awaits the stage's main boss:
Jeff Goldblum! Yes, it's the familiar fly-in-the-teleporter problem, and you must fight this Brundlefly to progress. Said Brundlefly looks, to me at least, like Quagmire from Family Guy.
Giggidy indeed. His main method of attack is to drop other flies on you, but all in all he's easy to defeat. If you step into the left-hand pod, you're warped to the first secret level: Japan!
It's a short stage, where Rick climbs up a pagoda, avoiding umbrella monsters and clumsy robot maids who spill boiling tea on you until he reaches a friendly geisha. She does a little dance for you!
Then she gives you a magic orb, and it's back to the start of stage four.
That's Diamond, not Crystal. "A ghost comes here with a ray" doesn't make much sense, but if you rearrange it to say "Here comes Ray with a ghost", you can pretend it's a Ghostbusters reference and Mr. Stanz has just trapped an appartition of some kind. For this most part, this stage sees our hero jumping from jetty to jetty, across the afore-mentioned Diamond Lake. You get a shotgun, which is nice, and it makes short work of the sludge monsters that jump out of the water. Obviously the water has sharks in it, and they're big, mean, purple ones too. There's also what appears to be a pair of legs sticking out of the water:
At least I assume that's what they are. Maybe they're the horns of some giant sea-monster? Luckily you never kind out if that's the case, because once you've jumped over enough sharks, the boss awaits. You never really see him properly, only catching glimpses when he is illuminated by the lightening, but he's a demon who attacks you with a knife and fork.
His fork proves to be a powerful weapon indeed, enhanced as it is by some ropey collision detection that means you get hit if you so much as go near it, but that's the only time he is vulnerable to attack. Still, axes are more powerful than any fork, and soon he's dead.
Stages five and six are short and not much happens in them. Stage five starts with a scene in the woods, where hanged men drop their bodies on you while the heads fire at you. Rick dashes into a log cabin, which somehow defies the laws of physics and hydrodynamics by containing thousands of gallons of water. The water rises, pushing you towards the spiked ceiling, but it's not that hard to navigate. The boss is a little boy who turns into a werewolf, and for some reason the werewolf knows kung-fu and can shoot fireballs. Maybe this is the common perception of werewolves in Japan, because the werewolves in Castlevania are the same; I assume Japanese game developers don't think the werewolf's normal powers (you know, the power to rip you into bloody chunks) are interesting enough, and fireballs make everything better.
Stage six is even shorter. Rick climbs some mountains to reach the final castle, being careful not to fall through the rotting rope bridges or into the poisonous bogs. There are some nice mountaintop views though, so I guess that makes up for all the horror and bloodshed Rick has endured. Eventually, Rick hauls his battered, yet still adorable, carcass up to the castle, and the final stage begins.
At the start of the stage, the evil priest from stage three is wandering around, and if you don't attack him, he leads to to a doorway to the second secret area: Egypt! Obviously, there's a pyramid to navigate, complete with ghostly pharaoh heads, and waiting at the end is a slutty-lookin' Cleopatra-type who gives you the second orb.
Then it's back to the castle, which takes the form of a short series of rooms filled with many previous enemies, including monsters who look like Edvard Munch's The Scream who... scream at you. Their cries become projectiles that bounce around the screen, making it difficult for you to target the screaming ghosts themselves. After a few more screens of that kind of thing, you reach the door to the boss's final chamber, where the Pumpkin King has kindly installed a vending machine where you can get a nice refreshing soft drink. I guess he's just a nice guy like that. Coke finished, Rick steps into the final chamber, ready for the battle with the King himself.
While the Pumpkin King is as cool-lookin' as ever, I gotta say his boss fight is a bit of a let-down. He only has one strategy: A) drop some tiny pumpkins until he gets hit: B) when hit, bounce around the screen for a while and C) repeat steps A and B. It's a little disappointing, and it makes him one of the easiest bosses in the game. A few chops later, Rick defeats the King and the screen fades to reveal that...
... it was all a movie! Yes, Rick and Jennifer were making a horror movie. The director, who appears to be the moon wearing aviators, tells you that the movie will be a success. Huzzah! If you didn't collect the two orbs, the game ends here. If you did, however, you get two little extra scenes: the first showing Rick and Jennifer having a nice day out and the second showing them running toward the West mansion to find shelter from a storm, thus making S:WG a prequel and nicely setting up the original Splatterhouse. It also answers the question of what the hell is going on with Rick's hair; in the previous Splatterhouse games, he clearly has hair and then, when he puts on the Terror Mask, sudden and complete baldness takes over. In S:WG, however, Rick has gone for the rare extreme-reverse-mullet hairstyle; some hair at the front and shaved at the back. Curious.
So, should you play S:WG? Yes, of course you should. You get to play as a guy called Rick, and that doesn't happen all that often in videogames. There's Rick Dangerous, I suppose, and you can play as a Rick Dias in Dynasty Warriors: Gundam... But really, it's got vampire Michael Jackson in it, what more could you want!? Well, beyond that, it's fun, full of Hallowe'enosity and not quite as mind-meltingly difficult as its older brother. So give it a try and feel the Hallowe'en-y love.