SEGA Horror Fest Review: Splatterhouse 3
Despite its departure from the mechanics of its predecessors, Splatterhouse 3 is a superb brawler and is the best single-player beat-em-up game of the 16-bit era.
Review spoiler warning! I friggin’ love Splatterhouse 3. It’s the reason why I love the Splatterhouse series so much, and as far as both violent games and 16-bit brawlers go, it definitely top-tier. That being said, it’s not 100% flawless, and fans of the first two games might not appreciate the changes made to the third installment. So how does it measure up?
Voice: But Rick, perhaps you neglected to notice that your final score is already posted here at the top thanks to the site’s rigid formatting? “Spoiler warning,” indeed.
Ah, dammit! Thanks Terror Mask. My name isn’t Rick, though. It’s Requiem. Geez, what a burn…
Return to the review, fool!
A-hem! Without further adieu, ladies and gentlenerds, I present to you the final installment of Namco’s Splatterhouse trilogy…
As long as there is human suffering in the world…
You’ve beaten back the powers of darkness twice. The first time, you barely escaped with your life; the second time, you narrowly pulled your girlfriend Jennifer back from the abyss. Now, years later, you and Jennifer have married and started a family, but the forces of darkness have this time come to you, attacking you in your own home.
But we have an extra surprise for them, don’t we Rick? Now you have the power of the Eldritch Orbs!
Right you are mask, but my name isn’t… oh forget it. Anyway, the Terror Mask is correct, and you can collect these orbs throughout the stages to temporarily mutate Rick into a more powerful form.
Rick… Why didn’t you say “your flesh will expand with a surge of power?”
Because that sounds way too suggestive, dur! I know you’re just a bone mask and all, but most people are going to think about penises when you say that.
…You just wanted me to say “penises,” huh?
You suck, Terror Mask! So, we’re kind of putting the cart before the horse a bit here. Yes, Rick has a whole new set of abilities at his disposal this time around, but there are even bigger changes to Splatterhouse 3, the first being that the game is not a true side-scroller like its predecessors, but is now a beat-em-up game with a simulated 3D field similar to Streets of Rage or Golden Axe. However, unlike those two games and most other brawlers from the era, Splatterhouse 3 is still only a single-player game.
Before you freak out, you have to admit that the story of Splatterhouse doesn’t exactly lend itself to multiplayer (though playing as the mutant Jennifer from the original could be interesting). If that still doesn’t settle well with you, the designers have found many clever ways to make Splatterhouse 3 a very satisfying single-player experience and set it apart from other beat-em-up games of the time. First of all, once Rick clears a room, you can pull up a map of your mansion and proceed along a number of different paths towards the final boss of each floor. Some paths may appear to be the fastest, but there are hidden weapons, power-ups, and passageways that encourage exploration.
But you can’t just wander, Rick…
The Terror Mask is right. Every stage is timed, and while running out of time won’t necessarily mean game over, if you take too long on any of the first four floors, you risk having either your wife, Jennifer, or your son, David, be consumed by the forces of darkness, which results in one of the three bad endings when you finish the game (out of a total of four endings). That’s why exploration over multiple playthroughs is key, because you can find the most efficient path to the bosses.
Don’t forget the Strange Zone, fool!
I was just getting to that, smarty-face! While you are punished for progressing too slowly, you are also rewarded for moving quickly and completing a stage with enough time left on the clock. Not only can you skip entire stages altogether (which is a shame if you happen to skip Stage 2, which is my favorite stage), but your reward can also come in the form of “Stage X,” also known as the Strange Zone. Inside, you’ll find a mazelike series of rooms in which you can find extra lives. Sure, you’ll have to contend with several demons along the way, but seeing as how you’re a bit of a bad-ass for being able to breeze through the regular stages so quickly, laying waste to these peons shouldn’t deter you in the slightest.
When the moon is covered by the black cloud…
Controlling Rick is very smooth. He animates well and moves much more briskly than his lumbering counterpart in the first two Splatterhouse games. Each of his attacks hit with a very satisfying sound effect, which really drives home the sense that Rick is indeed a meat-sack pounding machine. Rick also has a special attack executed by quickly pressing forward, away, forward + attack, which slams enemies in all directions. It takes a little bit of practice to execute with ease, but once you do, you’ll be making short work of your enemies, so much so that I might say that this attack may be a bit too powerful. At least it’s execution is skill based, and some of the enemies will still be able to block it, so it doesn’t break the game or anything.
Most of the weapons you will find in the stages are familiar enough. You’ll discover cleavers, baseball bats, concrete bricks, among other items seemingly designed for demonic bludgeoning. If you drop one, a spirit will retrieve it an usher it away to another room in the house, so it’s up to you to decide if it’s worth the detour time to retrieve it.
Get back to the house…
Okay, okay. Rick has apparently made some serious bank over the past few years. His Connecticut mansion is huge, and it looks remarkably like that of the first two games, an odd aesthetic choice for someone likely scarred by battles with demonic hordes. In any case, the levels are graphically solid, though the first three don’t offer tons of variety.
While some of the rooms are beyond awesome with large paintings slashed with blood, or rooms dripping with the remains of the demonic dead, a few of the larger hallways are a bit bare, making you wonder why Rick purchased such a large estate without being able to furnish it. Luckily, there are enough really cool rooms to make up for these emptier ones, and the next room is always only a handful of enemies away. There is also a better variety of enemies this time around, and several have unique death animations depending on which weapon you use to halt their existence.
And I will always be there to guide you.
That’s right. Between each stage, the Terror Mask gives you a rundown of where to go next in a quick story cinematic, which are told by using some pretty cool, digitized still images. Even after two decades, these sequences still look pretty good thanks to their clever use of a limited color palette. But if you’re not keen on them, or you’ve already seen them all, no worries. Not only are they short, but skippable.
You will suffer… You will die!
It is worth noting that Splatterhouse 3 is not much of a scary game, but it is extremely bloody, gory and gruesome. Graphically, Splatterhouse 3 looks great, and the quality of the music is improved over previous installments. Fans of the series may argue that Splatterhouse 2‘s tunes are better from a horror standpoint, but part 3’s really get you pumped up and is more fitting to Rick’s inflated sense of power. Like previous installments, the boss music is the most memorable, and once it gets crankin’ and you see just how little time you have left to beat the bosses into submission, you’ll be primed for punishing that demon bastard for ever screwing with you and your family!
Take a listen to my fave, the Boreworm boss from Stage 2…
On the subject of the bosses, they are definitely the toughest part of the game. Most of the stages can be trodded through easily enough once you get the hang of things, but you will struggle to defeat the bosses, many of whom are very quick, within the time allotted for securing the good ending. The boss of Stage 3 is particularly cool, and at the further risk of spoilers, I’ll tell you this: he’s a giant Teddy Bear. No joke. Freakin’ awesome. This all leads up to the final confrontation, where Rick finally gets to face off against the dark force responsible for all his family’s woes, and he is able to give said force a very deserved beat down.
What’s that supposed to mean?
Nothing! Shut up, Terror Mask! You’ll spoil the ending of a 20-year old game! On the subject of the game’s ending, it’s not really all that difficult to complete Splatterhouse 3, but doing so with the best ending is indeed a challenge. You do have the benefit of a simple password system to save your progress and more easily experience each of the game’s four unique endings. There is also a difficulty setting in which you can adjust the experience to your liking, though I didn’t notice many gameplay differences when cranking the difficulty all the way up to “Game Master.” Maybe there were a few more enemies. Maybe.
Now I can rule the world!
Splatterhouse 3 is the most polished and well-designed installment in the original Splatterhouse series. While Splatterhouse 2 has its fans and, as a matter of personal taste, the changes made to the third game might not be well-received, it’s hard to deny that Splatterhouse 3 is a very satisfying beat-em-up romp. As a brawler, it’s unique in its setting, and all of the extra effort put into the game and expanding its explorative aspects make Splatterhouse 3 one of the best, if not the best, single-player brawler experience of the 16-bit era, whether on the Genesis or its games-made-for-babies competitors.
Like Splatterhouse 2, though, Splatterhouse 3 is a bit pricey to pick up in its original cartridge form. Loose copies go for about 30-40 bucks, and unfortunately, there is no Virtual Console version for Wii owners.
However, you can still play it as an unlockable bonus in the 2010 Splatterhouse reboot on Xbox 360 or a PS3, which is bound to cost less than the original cartridge. Be warned though, there are a few changes made to the story interlude images, most likely due to licensing issues over the portrayal of the original actors (which may be why it never came to Virtual Console, seeing as how Nintendo insists that those games be in their original form).
If you have a way to play it, and if you aren’t feint of heart, definitely give Splatterhouse 3 a try. Even if you feel that the gameplay changes made to the 2D style of the first two games are sacrilege, I’m pretty sure you’ll find a spectacular brawler with some really smart design choices, great music, and tons of replay value. Don’t you think so, Terror Mask? Huh. Where did he go…?
Oh, sh-t! Terror Mask! You made me poop my pants!
No! Look! Look at it! Smell it, you boney ass hole!
Jesus, Rick, that’s gross! Get it away from me! It smells of rot… of the grave!
That’s not my name, bitch! Smell it! Smell the Requiem’s double-with-bacon dinner from last night!
Oh, Christ! He’s smudging it all over me! I can’t see… can’t hear… I’m dying!!
My poop has become a mindless beast, bitch!
+ Awesome visuals and music
+ Multiple pathways and endings
+ Gruesome rooms and enemy deaths
+ Great replay value
+ Maybe the best single-player brawler experience of the era
– A few bland backgrounds
– Series purists may not like gameplay changes
– Special attack a bit overpowered
– A rare single -player only brawler