Videogames have done well with the Orpheus myth. Mario descended into the fiery underworld of Bowser’s castle to rescue his beloved princess. I fondly recall exploring lava-laced caverns in pursuit of my pet frog in Master Blaster. A few years ago, I chased my girlfriend into Viewtiful Joe, and more recently I pursued her through Dante’s Inferno. This time, I’ve followed her into a bloody underworld known as Splatterhouse.
Splatterhouse shares its name and inspiration with an old arcade game that was famous for offending parents with its gory imagery. Rick, the game’s hero, put on an evil mask that transformed him into an avenging monster — sort of a sinister version of that old Jim Carrey movie The Mask — and set him loose in Splatterhouse’s haunted house.
Despite the game’s title, the house in Splatterhouse isn’t a coherent dwelling as much as it is a collection of various-shaped arenas that look like redecorated leftovers from the God of War games. Certainly Splatterhouse has its fair share of cobwebs and creaky corridors, and it features more gore and gushing red pixels than any other game in recent memory. But the comic book-style graphics and flat colors are in direct contrast with the game’s gooey, visceral action. The designers of Splatterhouse have applied gloss where it should have been gross.
Instead of looking like genetic mutations or hellish manifestations, the monsters look like they were concocted by computer hard drives, with mismatched heads clicked onto bodies with mismatched arms. I suppose for some people, these demonic Mr. Potato Heads pass for horrific. They might have been frightening if they had a chance to actually harm a character I cared about, but I’m unable to build Rick into any sort of sympathetic avatar. The best I can do is learn to control his arsenal of attacks.
But even the game’s third-person perspective action is piecemeal. Most of the fighting takes place in an indistinct swirl of enemies, but there is also always a chance that the game will switch to a slow-motion gory attack that requires me to swerve my thumbsticks in specific directions. The results are scenes in which I pry a demon’s head off its neck, or lever open a monster’s mouth until its head splits open. This should be the highlight in a game called Splatterhouse, but instead it feels like a slow-paced interruption in the midst of the confusion.
Orpheus, as one of the world’s greatest musicians, at least had his own talents to accompany him on his journey through the underworld. Poor Rick only has the likes of Mastodon and Lamb of God, who have contributed a metal soundtrack to Splatterhouse that is as monotonous and uninspired as the game itself. For all of its gore, Splatterhouse is a bit of a grind.
THE GOOD: As cheesy as it is, Splatterhouse still does a better haunted house than the recent 3D Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.
THE BAD: I spent more time watching the game’s loading screen, featuring monsters that look like shiny toys made by Todd McFarlane’s less scrupulous imitators, than I did actually battling those monsters in the game itself.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Splatterhouse is a mess.