Have you ever wanted to punch a giant, deformed baby head right in the eye? Of course you have, and here's your chance with Namco's 1988 arcade classic Splatterhouse.

I have something of a love-hate relationship with the Splatterhouse series. I love the pure out-and-out gruesomeness, I love the music, I love punching giant baby heads. However, the difficulty level is such that a mere mortal like myself stands next to no chance of getting anywhere with any of the games. Every so often, though, I go back and try again. This time I'm even writing about it!
In case you missed out on Splatterhouse's bloody charms, it's an age old story: Young lovers Rick and Jennifer take refuge from a storm in an abandoned mansion, where they are attacked by ungodly monsters. Jennifer is kidnapped, and Rick is dying until an evil hockey mask whispers that Rick should try him on. The mask turns him into a beefcake, and he sets off through the house to rescue his beloved. It's essentially the same story as almost every Super Mario game, except Mario doesn't clobber zombies with a two-by-four.
The game itself is a simple scrolling action game. You move left to right (there's no up-down plane) punching things, every so often using a weapon like a plank of wood or, erm, a rock, and occasionally jumping over something. It's pretty basic, but its main draw is the gore and the horror-movie theme, a route which surprisingly few games have taken. Rick starts the game in the dungeon of the house, and the game makes its intentions to revolt and disgust clear from the off. Mangled corpses litter the stage and zombies trundle around, waiting to be punched until goo flies out or they're decapitated with a meat cleaver. There are women in cages in the background: women which Rick doesn't even so much as glance at. I'm sure Jennifer would be touched by his devotion. The caged women, one assumes, are still there at the end of the game, which is unfortunate for them, as we shall see later. Monsters hang from the ceiling and vomit on the floor, until you hit them with the meat cleaver, which makes a rather satisfying "hitting a baseball" sound effect. Soon you come to a room that it full of meat - there's gore everywhere, piled up in the corners of the room, from which a host of monsters that look like the chestburster from Alien jump out and try to eat you. This serves as the boss of the first stage, and you can deal with them best by rotating on the spot whilst mashing low kick. Soon they're all dead, and it's so far so good in terms of the difficulty level.

Rick progresses further into the house, mostly with the same enemies. When you kill the hanging
corpses, their intestines spill out in a nicely-animated pile, something which I'm sure you'll all appreciate as much as I do. You venture into the sewers of the house, which for some reason are filled with spiked balls that look like marine mines. I can't think why they'd be in there, unless their constant movement scrapes all the dried-on corpse meat off the walls. It would certainly be difficult to get down there for maintenance, what with the swamp-monsters who keep jumping up and who seem very reluctant to be punched. Jump-kicking sorts them out well enough though, and it's onto the boss of stage two. This time it's a haunted poltergeist room: a chair flies at you, some knives fly at you, and then the painting of an eyeball flies at you. They all just need a thorough punching to put them back in their place, although Rick should think himself lucky the ghost wasn't haunting those sewers. I don't think punching the spiked iron balls would have been so easy. The first time I beat the poltergeist, I didn't realise that the chandelier falls down. If you're standing underneath it, it hurts you. This is a pretty embarrasing way to lose a life.
For stage three, Rick steps outside. The music gets real nice here, although the Splatterhouse 2
soundtrack is much superior. You have your first encounter with zombie dogs here; crouching down and kicking them in the face works wonders. Soon after, the aforementioned mutant baby head makes an appearance, all pink and gooey and pretty darn creepy, although to his credit Rick doesn't seem surprised. There's a shotgun nearby, but I recommend saving it for the level's main event: the boss fight with Biggy Man (no, that's really his name). Biggy is one of my all-time favourite videogame enemies: he's a large, lumpy, red fella with a bag on his head (like Jason Voorhees in Friday 13th Part 2) and chainsaws for hands. Not in his hands, chainsaws for hands. That is some serious hardware sticking out of those stumps. It must make him very frustrated, not being able to touch anything without chopping it into tiny pieces. You know, I kind of feel sorry for him. Oh no, wait, he's trying to slice my arms off. Any goodwill I had towards him has evaporated, and I have a shotgun. Soon he's full of lead, and I can move on to the next stage. A couple of things I noticed about Biggy: one, he bears quite a resemblance to the chainsaw-wielding, head-bag-wearing Dr. Salvador from Resident Evil 4, and two, he looks to me a little
like he's made of raspberry jam. Delicious.

It's back into the house for the nest stage, and whoever owns this place must be a keen fisherman. Of whales. Look at all them harpoons! Of course, harpoons are just as effective at skewering zombies as they are butchering the gentle titans of the sea, which is useful. The baby-head returns, still as pink, waxy and creepy as John Prescott after climbing some steep stairs. Whirling blades spin at ankle-height, which, having seen Pet Semetary and its abuse of the Achilles, made me a little anxious. Once they are traversed, there's a hallway of mirrors from which, you guessed it, an (even more) evil version of Rick appears, and he's pretty tough, too. Once a few more have been dispatched, you arrive at a church. A spooooky church, that is, complete with and upside-down cross surrounded by floating severed heads who acts as the stage's boss. He's an irritating prospect, constantly firing disembodied heads at you while you try and smash him with an axe that someone conveniently left in the aisle. Once he's defeated, Rick takes a moment to contemplate the altar before Jennifer's screams get him moving again.

Stage five starts off with a short, frustrating platforming section across some sloped floor sections, inbetween which beckoning hands try and grab you. If you're a fan of puns, you could say I defeated them in hand-to-hand combat, but that's a really bad joke and I wouldn't laugh at it if I were you. Beyond them, you get a choice of routes. They all lead to the same place, so here's a quick rundown of the rooms: a small sewer section, followed by a room full of corpses (quelle surprise) in which zombie attack you. These are no ordinary zombies, however, because a little necromancer chap flies around and brings them back to life by shouting what sounds like "Underhoover!". Once he's dealt with, there's some more zombie dogs who, in a nice touch, start eating the corpses of the zombies. There are also some cutesy ghost-girls who drop skulls on you head and then laugh at your lack of skill in getting out of the way. If you go the other way, there are more skull-droppers and some haunted paintings that fire faces at you. Further on there are some more mirror Ricks in a dressing room, followed by another meat room full of the chestburstery boreworms. Low kicking is still effective. Then you reach the boss room, where Jennifer lies surrounded by monsters. The monsters vamoose, Jennifer says "oh, my darling!" and then transforms into a rotting corpse-monster. Notice how I didn't make a cheap joke about women's moods there, mostly because I don't know anything about women. This boss fight is, apart from Biggy Man, my favourite thing in the game. Jennimonster jumps around and tries to claw you with her extending Wolverine talons, and after you've kicked her enough times, she transforms back into Jennifer and begs you to help her, and then back into the monster version. Once you've given your lady friend enough of a kicking, she sadly dies and turns to dust. Strangely, even though Rick's sprite doesn't change or anything, you can see that he's really pissed off. So pissed off, in fact, that he jumps into a gaping bloody hole in the floor and into the squishy bowels of the house for stage six.

This stage. Dear fucking Christ, this stage. Jack Bauer could get a lot of use out of this stage: it could be used as torture, it's so frustrating. Floating eggs spawn randomly around the level and fly towards you. This is bad enough, because they hurt you when they touch you. That's okay, though, because they die in one punch. Soon there are what seem like hundreds of the things, and because Rick's so bulky, there's very little place to hide. It gets worse, though. After a while they hatch, and the little foetus-monsters jump onto you and latch on, draining your health. There are lots of them. Lots and lots. At this point, the game has stopped being fun and become a perverse lesson in masochism. It makes you want to hunt down the developers and slowly push knitting needles into their tear ducts. Slowly, slowly you crawl through the level until you reach the boss, which is a wall with a tumour on it that's constantly giving birth to these eggs. I can't even imagine how many times I tried to kill this thing, and when you die, (and you will die,) it sends you back to the start of the goddamn level. I nearly punched myself in the throat the first time that happened: I can see this stage being responsible for a lot of smashed arcade cabinets. If you have the god-like perseverance required, it eventually goes down, and as it dies it shoots out some acid which can kill you. Fortunately I avoided this, but if it was to kill you, I think you would have reasonable grounds for murdering the nearest person to you.
Once that's done, the final stage awaits, and it's back outside while the mansion burns in the background. Some (apparently sentient) flaming logs hover toward you, and the zombies have been set on fire and bound around the level, generally being a nuisance. It's a short stage, and soon you're at the boss. He's a giant rotting head that pops out of the ground, and apparently Rick has some kind of dirt allergy, because the soil he knocks into the air will hurt you if you touch it. After the last stage, this boss is almost embarrassingly easy: you punch the head whilst avoiding its big rotten hands until it dies, and that's the end of the game. The mask explodes while Rick, looking a little stunned, stands in front of the burning mansion. If those women are still caged up in there, then they're crispy-fried now thanks to Rick's sociopathy. Rick wanders away, confused now that there's nothing left to punch; there's an evil laugh, and the mask reforms itself. The End.

So, Splatterhouse, then; A triumph of style over substance. The actual gameplay is, frankly, a bit ropey. It's all very samey, there's some wonky collision detection and there's that goddamn embryo stage, but in the end, I still love it because of the atmosphere, the setting, the music, Biggy Man and Jennimonster, and, of course, punching a giant deformed baby head right in the eye. Who could ask for more?

Gameplay footage:

West Mansion, a great site for all your Splatterhouse needs.

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