31/10/2018

SPLATTERHOUSE 3 (MEGADRIVE / GENESIS)

The day is upon us at last. The pumpkins are carved, the horror movie marathon is queued up, the sweets that the trick-or-treaters didn’t claim are rapidly disappearing into my fat face. I'll be more Haribo than man by the end of the night. Happy Halloween, everybody! I hope you’re having a fun time if you’re a fan of the spooky season, and if you’re not then I hope your house remains un-egged. To close out the 2018 VGJunk Halloween Spooktacular, I’ve got one last glob of gruesome videogaming with a tale of unholy forces, exploding corpses and a guy named Rick who really needs to start wearing some goddamn shoes – it’s Now Production and Namco’s 1993 Megadrive terrifying-cleaning-bill-em-up Splatterhouse 3!


I’d imagine most people reading this already know the basics of the Splatterhouse saga, but here’s a quick recap anyway. In the original arcade game, Rick Taylor and his girlfriend Jennifer show some truly abysmal decision-making skills when they take shelter from a storm in a creepy mansion known as the Splatterhouse. “Getting a bit wet” would have been a much better outcome, but in they go, whereupon Rick is attacked by monsters and Jennifer is abducted. Rick is awakened by the Terror Mask, an ancient artefact that attaches to Rick’s face and transforms him into brutal monster-slaying madman with the body of two pro wrestlers sharing one set of skin and a mask which that makes him look like Jason Voorhees. Rick fights through the house, Jennifer becomes a monster and dies and the Terror Mask uses its evil power to summon a big monster because of course it does. It’s called the Terror Mask. It was never going to spearhead a new recycling initiative or open a cat shelter.


In Splatterhouse 2, the mask re-appears and tells Rick that if he goes back to the house, he can save Jennifer. Being the trusting sort that he is, Rick teams up with the mask once again and punches his way through yet another cavalcade of monsters that look like overgrown medical samples from an ear, nose and throat ward. It all works out in the end, though, and Rick and Jennifer are reunited and they go off to live happily until the developers decided there was money in a new Splatterhouse game.


There’s Rick now, peeking out from behind the Splatterhouse 3 logo during the intro. Don’t worry, we’ll be seeing plenty of him soon enough. So, Splatterhouse 3 has a story too, but I’m still a bit fuzzy about how it all fits together. The game itself takes a very cinematic approach to cutscenes, but for whatever reason there’s no in-game explanation for what’s happening. The manual has a bit more info – it tells us that years have passed, during which time Rick married Jennifer, they had a son named David and Rick got a job on Wall Street which makes sense because he’s used to dealing with vicious psychopaths, boom boom. Then there’s something about the Evil One, a malevolent force that rises from the abyss and attacks Rick’s mansion home. This allows the Terror Mask to wheedle its way back into Rick’s mind, and because Rick needs the mask’s power to punch all the monsters into chunky red paste they team up one more time. I think that’s how it goes, anyway. I suppose it’s not really important. I should probably, you know, play the game.


This iteration of the Terror Mask has received another new look, with a skull-like shape that’s definitely not a hockey mask and therefore safe from lawyers acting on behalf of the Friday the 13th franchise. Before the action start, the mask offers Rick a few tips, namely that he shouldn’t dawdle and that he can collect special “power stones” that’ll make Rick’s flesh expand with a surge of power. Based on that description I presume the “power stones” are fake Chinese Viagra.


And now the pummelling begins. Like previous games in the series, Splatterhouse 3 is a side-scrolling beat-em-up at heart, although the prequels were fixed to a single plane of action whereas Splatterhouse 3 allows you to move between the fore- and background in the manner of games like Final Fight. Combat also adopts the “classic” beat-em-up formula, with an attack button that can dish out a combo of punches upon repeated presses, grab attacks initiated by walking into monsters and then either headbutting them or slinging them across the room, plus a jump button for the always-welcome flying kicks. It’s a familiar toolset, so you should have no trouble getting through these early rooms filled with headless zombies. A headless zombie is kind of a genius concept, really – without a head, the zombie doesn’t have a weak point!


While Splatterhouse 3 does have stages – the first stage encompasses the mansion’s ground floor, for example – each stage is split into small rooms rather than being one continuous path from start to finish. Once you’ve cleared a room, you can bring up the map to see the pathways available to you. The X marks the stage’s boss, the white doors are one-way paths and the yellow doors are shortcuts. Rick’s position is, of course, marked by that adorable little Terror Mask icon. The optimal route to the boss might seem obvious, but because each room has its own combination of monstrous inhabitants it’s sometimes faster to take a slightly longer route to avoid especially demon-infested rooms. And you do need to be fast.


We’ve got to hurry and rescue Jennifer, who is currently hiding from the monsters. Splatterhouse 3 tells its story through these cinematic intermission screens that use digitised footage of real live actors. This means that someone had to dress as Rick, complete with a prop Terror Mask and I would love to see some behind-the-scenes footage of that process. Unfortunately none seems to exist, and who knows what happened to the Terror Mask prop? We can only hope that someone had the foresight to brick it up behind the walls of an old house so that future renovators get a real surprise.


Speaking of renovations, I hope that the Evil One’s influence has warped the very nature of the mansion because otherwise Rick and Jennifer are not raising their child in a pleasant environment. Plaster crumbles from the walls, rotten floorboards crack and splinter and rather than having a nice carpet in the lounge they went with “flagstones from a mouldering crypt” as a flooring choice. I understand that any time you buy a big old house it’s going to be something of a fixer-upper, but when your home looks like the set from an Evil Dead movie it’s time to get professional decorators in. And possibly an exorcist.


Like the other games in the series, S3 also has weapons you can pick up and use. They’re few and far between and there are no shotguns in this one, but who can argue with the brutal simplicity of hurling a breezeblock into a monster’s face? These zombies can’t, on account of them not having heads and also having a breezeblock where their heads should be. You can also find more traditional melee weapons like a piece of lumber and a machete, and those are more practical than the brick because you hold on to them rather than throwing them. The concrete bricks are especially difficult to use because if you drop a weapon on the floor, a ghostly head will fly onto the screen and steal it.  At least someone’s cleaning up around here.


As time passes, we’re treated to what is one of my favourite little horror moments in videogaming, as Jennifer begins to smell of rot of the grave. It’s such a strange, sinister phrase that manages to convey a real sense of encroaching dread – imagine how terrifying it’d be if you suddenly realised you were decomposing because you began to smell like a rotting corpse. Yikes.


In an effort to reach Jennifer more quickly, I unleashed Rick’s ultimate technique – by collecting magic orbs you can fill your power bar and then use that power to transform Rick into a form that somehow manages to be even larger and more muscular than regular Rick. The Terror Mask also fuses with Rick’s flesh, which I’m sure would be very painful as well as causing the same problems with neck movement that you see in Tim Burton’s Batman movies.
While you’re monster Rick, your attacks do more damage and you take less damage, which I’m sure is what you’d expect to happen. Your moveset changes slightly, too, but for the most part it’s a straight power upgrade; although piling on an extra three hundred pounds of raw muscle unsurprisingly makes Rick move more slowly. It’s a power than can be useful in a pinch, but you’ve got to be careful where you use it because once you clear a room as Monster Rick you lose all your power and revert to normal. Save it for the boss battles, and speaking of which…


Here’s the first boss of the game, an almost child-like mass of rubbery flesh with a ravenous maw and suppurating wounds where its eyes should be. Yep, sounds like a Splatterhouse boss to me. The boss is angry because I interrupted its dinner; when you arrive in the boss room it’s happily chowing down on a pile of corpses. Whose corpses? I haven’t got a clue, but there are plenty of them. Perhaps Rick employed large staff of maids and butlers, or maybe the monster brought the corpses with it as a packed lunch. There’s a busy day of carnage ahead and all the cafeteria serves is cold goat entrails, so he asked his monster spouse to make up a lunchbox. There’s a little note inside that says “Give them “Hell” honey!! XXX.” That’s the story I’m sticking with.


Phase one of the fight sees the boss doing little besides annoyingly hopping around just out of arm’s reach and occasionally trying to crash into Rick, but after taking enough damage its head falls off. Normally this would be a good thing for Rick, but in this case it just means the monster can now extend a huge bloody arm from its guts and claw at you. I love that you can still see the monster’s tongue flapping around where its jaw used to be.
It’s still a fairly simple boss even once transformed into a reverse sock puppet, and eventually I emerged triumphant. However, you might notice that the timer at the top of the screen has run out.


I was too slow, and now Jennifer is dead. I’m probably projecting, but I think the live-action Terror Mask does a really good job of capturing a look of both cold resignation and quiet anger. The mask encourages Rick to use his rage against the monsters, but what if I did manage to clear the stage before the time ran out?


In that case, Jennifer is still alive when Rick reaches her – however, she’s been infected with a horrible creature called a boreworm that’s eating her from the inside and the only way to stop it is to kill the giant boreworm. That’s… better than being dead? I think?
What this means is that Splatterhouse 3 has multiple different story paths you can take, with each step determined by whether you clear the stage within the time limit or not. There are even four separate endings, depending on who lives and who dies. It’s a fun feature that provides for more potential replayability than a lot of other games of this type and vintage, and I’m excited to see more of these cutscenes but everything being tied to strict time limits does have its downsides.


Stage two encompasses the second floor of the mansion, and as Rick begins his mission to find the giant boreworm I can reveal to you Rick’s true power. You might think being able transform into Goth Incredible Hulk was his ultimate attack, but you’re much better served by using Rick’s spinning kick attack. Activated by hitting away, towards and attack, it causes Rick to spin around multiple times with his foot outstretched, clobbering any monsters that dares to enter even the vague vicinity. It feels like your traditional beat-em-up “desperation” attack, and indeed in the Japanese version of the game it’s activated by pressing jump and attack together, but it doesn’t drain your health and it’s more powerful than even a full combo string. If you want to get anywhere in S3, learning to reliably activate the spin-kick is absolutely mandatory.


Rick Taylor: husband, father, occasional possession victim, collector of antique Swiss clocks. He’s a multifaceted kinda guy, is Rick.  I just wish he’d put on some goddamn shoes. I’ve mentioned this before but for whatever reason I find Rick’s constant barefootedness to be deeply unsettling. If he’s not walking on cold stone floors or through rooms warped into pulsating masses of unidentifiable flesh, he’s ramming his feet down monsters’ throats. For god’s sake, man, invest in some study work boots or something. Hell, wrapping a carrier bag around each foot would be better than nothing.


The boss of the first stage reappears as a regular enemy. Normally I’d be a little annoyed that the recycling has begun already, but it’s such a fun monster design that I don’t really mind. Plus this version of the monster has much less health and now Rick has a giant cleaver, so the playing field is both more even and very messy. Monsters have special animations if you kill them with weapons such as being cleft mostly in twain by the cleaver, and honestly Splatterhouse 3 is packing in so many horrible details that I can’t help but love it.


At the end of the stage, in a room covered in the aforementioned pulsating flesh and decorative wall hearts, the giant boreworm waits. It begins the fight by throwing lots of tiny boreworms at you that I had real trouble avoiding. In the end I stopped trying to avoid them just so I could get closer to the boss. The boreworm likes to jump around a lot, occasionally spitting more worms, and it also has the rather annoying power to block your punches.


Still, it can’t block grabs, and after enough headbutts the top half of the boreworm explodes into a writhing mass of maggots. After this transformation, the boreworm spends most of the battle propelling itself along the floor like some demented living mop. The best part of this fight is that the boreworm is constantly giggling to itself. I’ve always thought that the Splatterhouse games were more style than substance, but as I fight a laughing, maggot-faced worm monster in a room made of meat I must confess that said style is fantastic.


Mission accomplished; Jennifer remains undigested and we leave her here to recuperate while we complete the rest of the game. If you don’t make it in time the boreworm eats Jennifer’s brain and she becomes a “mindless beast,” so we’re definitely on track for the good ending now.
With Jennifer rescued, Rick turns his attention to his son, David, who is also hiding somewhere in the house. David’s survival is tied to, you guessed it, a time limit, so we’d better get a shift on.


Pictured above: Rick getting clonked in the jaw by a haunted lamp. A bit of poltergeist activity makes a nice change of pace, although after all the grotesque beasts we’ve already faced it’s hard to be scared of a book. It must be Michael Owen’s autobiography or something.


Spooky furniture aside, the combat is much the same as before. Rick controls quite well, and while his movements can feel a bit heavy with a fair amount of inertia when you’re trying to change directions, it doesn’t hamper the action much and even gives Rick a satisfying sense of solidity. Hit detection is good and quite generous, especially when trying to gather multiple monsters together so you can hit them all at once, and each attack has it’s uses – flying kick knock enemies down quickly, throws can buy you some breathing space, that sort of thing. However, there is one major issue with the combat: the spinning kick is too good. In almost every situation it is vastly superior to your normal moves, because it hits all around you, does tons of damage and you’re invincible while performing it. This is only true of the American version of the game, by the way, because the spinning kick is far weaker in the Japanese version and is mostly used for crowd control. But this is the US version, so having Rick constantly pirouetting things to death like a ballerina with anger management issues is really the only way to go.


Don’t worry, David, daddy’s coming! He’s very dizzy, but he’s on his way!


This stage’s boss fight is great, and if you ever wanted to see a masked maniac stick the nut on a huge teddy bear then you have serious issues but hey, Splatterhouse 3 has you covered. Perhaps unsurprisingly the teddy bear isn’t much of a threat at first, what with it being a cuddly toy and all. A cuddly toy inhabited by an evil spirit, sure, but it doesn’t attack much and even if it did hit you it seems unlikely to cause much damage.


Eventually the inevitable happens and the bear erupts into a twisted blob of bloody flesh and razor sharp claws. It uses those claws to taunt you with a “bring it on” gesture and boy, the bosses in this game really do have a lot of character. The boss’ bravado is misplaced, however, because all it really does is charge at Rick so you can stand there and let it run right into your spinning kicks. It might block the first one or two but Rick will keep on spinnin’ and land a hit eventually. Then the teddy bear monster explodes, because that’s what monsters do.


But alas, even though I beat the time limit David is nowhere to be seen, and the monster in his bedroom was merely a distraction. The good news is that David is still alive. The bad news is that the monsters have taken him because the Evil One needs a psychic child to serve as a sacrifice that will release the Demon Stone and whaddya know, David is psychic, apparently. I guess some of the Terror Mask’s power found its way into Rick’s, erm, gametes. There’s a difficult conversation with Jennifer waiting for Rick once all this is over.


The game says stage four takes place in the mansion’s basement, but that is quite obviously an open sewer. That can’t up to building codes, can it? Did Rick build this mansion himself, using the Terror Mask’s fearsome power to dig an uncovered drainage channel? Frankly I’m impressed that a game set entirely within a house still managed to contain a sewer level.


Rick also has a very well-appointed wine cellar, which does mean he’ll be able to drink to forget afterwards. No wonder he can afford all this wine, what with not paying building inspectors or buying shoes.


The excellent monster designs continue with these sack-wearing ghouls that hover ominously until they decide to attack with the big monster arm they’re hiding under their cloaks. You can’t go wrong with the “one eyehole in a sack” monster design, and between that and their lumpy red flesh I can’t help but wonder whether they’re related to the original Splatterhouse’s chainsaw-handed Biggy Man boss. Once you’ve hit them enough their cloaks fall off to reveal the very Deadite-like heads beneath, although getting to that point can be a struggle because these monsters can become immune to your attacks on a whim, an especially annoying trait when you’re trying to kill them as quickly as possible. I think it’s fair to say I have mixed feelings about these cool-looking bastards.


The stage’s boss starts out as an embryo that knows how to punch. Thinking to myself “I’m not going to lose a fist-fight to a foetus,” I sent Rick wading in there. Then the boss electrocuted me. Okay, fine, you win this round.


Of course, it didn’t take long for the boss to transform – or hatch, in this case – so now there’s another malformed hellspawn for you to repeatedly spin-kick back to the underworld. Definitely less endearing than the other bosses, this one, perhaps a touch nondescript, and like the teddy bear boss it’s more than willing to run right into your foot repeatedly, so keep spinning like you’re trying to drill your way to China using nothing but your disturbingly bare feet.


Phew, David’s okay, and remarkably unfazed by seeing his father transformed into a hulking brute wearing a skull mask. I suppose he already knew what was going on. Because he’s psychic, you see.
With David and Jennifer both saved, the family-rescuing aspect of the game comes to a close and we’re assured of the good ending… assuming we can vanquish the horrors that still remain.


Even though David was rescued, the ritual got far enough along to free the.. Demon Stone? Evil One? I’m having a hard time keeping track of what’s going on at this point. We don’t appear to be in Rick’s house any more, either. H.R. Giger’s house, maybe, but not Rick’s. Oh well, so long as there are monsters to punch the path to victory will be fairly straightforward, and despite being late in the game this stage is something of a relief because there are no time limits to worry about.


Considering how viciously difficult the earlier games in the series were, Splatterhouse 3 is surprisingly fair on the straightforward “kill the monsters and don’t die” side of things. You’ve got a decently-sized health bar, the spinning kick is very powerful and having an extra plane of movement means that attacks are a lot easier to avoid that they were in the single-plane prequels. Most of the game’s challenge does come from beating the time limits, and it can be really tough to save everyone, requiring multiple playthroughs to learn the fastest, safest routes. It’s an unusual balancing act and I’m not normally a fan of games with meaningful time limits, but in S3’s case it adds enough to the game that I’m glad of its inclusion.


Now that I’ve said the game wasn’t as difficult as I expected, it’s time for some hubristic punishment in the form of this stage’s boss. It’s the Evil One, and you might recognise him from Splatterhouse 2, where a giant version chased Rick during the latter potion of the game. The Evil One is smaller here but no less deadly, and the real challenge is getting close enough to it to land any hits. Not only will the boss fly away as soon as you get near, but it can also fire exploding orbs at you that knock off a big chunk of your health. I’m sure there’s a specific pattern to its movements and grabs seemed to be the most effective attacks, so manipulating it into grabbing range is probably the way to go, but I found this fight extremely hard. It’s not even very interesting visually. I didn’t like fighting buff, naked bald guys when they were the villain of Street Fighter IV and I don’t like it now


After many, many deaths and the application of a cheat code for infinite lives (hey, I want this article out on Halloween) Rick finally emerges victorious. Things are looking up for our hero – the Evil One is defeated, his wife and son are safe and the Terror Mask didn’t try to betray him this time!


Oh. I ask you, if you can’t trust ancient evil artefacts called the Terror Mask, who can you trust? Defeating the Evil One has left a power vacuum that the Terror Mask is more than happy to slide into, but Rick’s not about to let that happen. Not while I’ve still got that infinite lives cheat active.


And thus you find yourself fighting the Terror Mask’s physical form, or at least the top half. After the nightmare I had with the previous boss I’m pleased to say that the Terror Mask’s first form isn’t too hard to deal with. The trick is to try to stay close, because otherwise it’ll keep shooting pillars of fire at you. Get in close, try to land a hit just as it starts attacking and don’t get too greedy and the first stage shouldn’t be too much of a problem.


The second phase kicks things up a notch. The mask consolidates itself into a mask and one very large meatball. A deadly meatball that once again tries to beat Rick through manoeuvrability rather than sheer power, teleporting away when you get close and launching a barrage of bone skewers at you. When you do land an attack, the mask responds by summoning another, ghostly mask that chases you around the screen for a while. When I say “a while” I actually mean “bloody ages,” to the point that you really shouldn’t damage the boss when it’s in the centre of the screen because then you won’t have enough space to run away from the ghost-mask.


Fighting the Terror Mask raises some questions: namely, how is Rick still wearing the mask? And why does the mask still resurrect Rick when he dies? There are no fewer than four Terror Masks in the screenshot above. That’s too many Terror Masks. Perhaps it’s intended to highlight the arrogance of the Terror Mask, destroyed by a weapon that it created. Or maybe the developers thought “who cares, it’s a game about not-Jason Voorhees beating monsters to death.” Either way, with enough perseverance the Terror Mask will, in essence, punch itself to death.


Hoisted by your own veiny, bulging petard, huh? That’s the end of the Terror Mask, his plan to take over the world by manipulating someone who’s good at killing evil demigods having backfired spectacularly.


Rick returns to his family, or at least he does in the good ending. The others are variations depending on who survives. If no-one survives, you get a scene with Rick reflecting on the loss of his family and his crushing loneliness… immediately followed by a message reading “Congratulations!” I’ve got to say, that feels like a bit of a kick in the teeth.


You know, I think Splatterhouse 3 might be my favourite Splatterhouse game – my favourite to actually play, anyway. The graphics, music and overall atmosphere of Splatterhouse 2 are very difficult to top, but the difficulty does kinda wear me down whenever I play it. I’m bad at games and I’m really bad at difficult games, so Splatterhouse 3’s less brutal gameplay definitely holds my attention better. And it’s not like Splatterhouse 3 is without atmosphere, because it looks great. Perhaps style over substance, as I said earlier, but god damn what a great style. Excellent enemy designs, copious amounts of cartoonish gore, unpleasantly slimy environments where no barefoot man should dare to tread – it is absolutely a VGJunk kinda game.
A couple of boss battles aside it plays nicely too, especially if you don’t care what ending you get so you can take your time. There’s little truly special about the core gameplay, but it handles well even if the spinning kick does become a bit of a crutch, and Rick’s monster form is a nice touch. The monster form’s version of the spinning kick makes Rick shoot disgusting tendrils of flesh out of his torso, so yes, I can definitely recommend Splatterhouse 3.


For the final Halloween-O-Meter score of the season, there’s no way I could give Splatterhouse 3 anything but top marks. It’s basically a slasher film that you’re in control of, everything explodes in gouts of blood like a terrible accident at the black pudding factory and there’s a demoniacally-possessed teddy bear. The Halloween-O-Meter might be a fickle thing, but Splatterhouse 3 offers a good calibration point for a ten out of ten even if it doesn’t have any pumpkins in it.

Well, that’s the end of this year’s Halloween Spooktacular. I hope you’ve all enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed putting it together – well, apart from when I was playing Vampire Killer, that was not fun. Seeing people say that they were excited to see the Spooktacular return definitely gave me the strength to keep ploughing on through, so thanks for that. VGJunk will return soon enough, but I  might take a short break. Thanks for reading, and until then remember this – it’s always Halloween if you’re willing gorge on fun-sized Mars bars and listen to Dokken’s Dream Warriors on a loop.

8 comments:

  1. Fantastic Halloween articles! Thanks for the laughs and have a well earned rest. Always enjoy an article on game covers if you get the urge to throw us a bone during your break.

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  2. "Chinese Viagra", aka Stree Overlord.

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  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  4. I watched Halloween for the 100th time and finished my copy of Wanpaku Graffiti for famicom, so it was a good day. Happy Halloween, VGJunk!! Thank you for the good times.

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  5. Another Halloween has passed, and another bunch of great articles.

    Enjoy the break, but don’t be too long.

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  6. “Dream Warriors” is good, but rock out with the Goo Goo Dolls “I’m Awake Now” for a superior sonic session. (Ooooh, alliteration!)

    Thanks for a month worth of great reading! And happy (belated) Halloween from my wife and I! (I got married last month!)

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  7. Enjoy the well-deserved break VGJunk, and thanks for the entertaining Halloween articles!

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