Genre: Horror Beat ‘Em Up
Horror movies have a particular formula. A majority of films in the genre- especially in the late 80s and early 90s- will set up an improbable plot to place characters into a terrifying situation. When the character or characters who survive until the final scene reach the end, there is climactic confrontation. The survivors breathe a sigh of relief, and the viewer is left with some kind of indication that a sequel is inevitable. The killer-thought-dead’s eyes open, the phone rings in the house that’s supposed to be safe, the camera pans menacingly back into the forest; if the writers and director can allude that the terror is still lurking, they will.
Games in the horror genre aren’t much different, and the original Splatterhouse did the same thing. It wasn’t as effective in the console port due to some strange editing of the final scene. In the original ending in the arcades, however, once Rick has survived his nightmare and comes out of the other side, there is a solid promise that the evil he was involved with also survived.
It would be four years later that the Sega Genesis would see the sequel, Splatterhouse 2, come to life in the West. It came at a great time- the early 90s was a strong time for “in your face” gaming, even if it was a bit of a lull for classic horror. Aside from dropping most of the censorship between the Japanese and English versions of the game like the original, though, there isn’t a ton of information readily available on Splatterhouse 2’s development. Even if it’s not hard to see why it would have eventually spawned a sequel, I’ve heard plenty about the first and third games in retro circles, and the reboot gets a mention here and there. I’ll admit that my curiosity piqued so far as the lack of information on the second game.Plot
It’s been three months since the West Mansion- known to locals as the Splatterhouse- burned to the ground. Rick Taylor and Jennifer Willis, two students from the local university, stepped into the house that night but only Rick walked away. After the twisted series of events that took place and the monstrosities he had come face to face with, Rick was still worse for wear. Those aside, the loss of Jennifer and his pact with the malevolent Terror Mask have left him with scars both mental and physical to deal with.
The last Rick knew the Terror Mask had been destroyed along with the mansion, shattered into irreparable pieces. Through some supernatural force, the Mask reforms, seeking out its previous wearer. Like before, it whispers temptations to Rick; promises that Jennifer can still be saved. There is a condition, though- Rick must return to the mansion, and he must accept the power the Mask provided him before or he won’t survive the ordeal. His guilt guiding him, Rick dons the Terror Mask once again.
Heading back to the West Mansion, all Rick finds are the charred remains from months earlier. Beyond it, however, is another house. Set in the middle of a lake, the isolated house calls to him. He knows his only chance to save Jennifer is there- and he’ll do anything he can to save her this time.
Very little has changed since the original Splatterhouse. Moving on a two-dimensional plane, the player controls Rick as he punches, jumps, and ducks his way through a number of disgusting creatures. He also has a sliding kick that is powerful but difficult to catch on to, allowing him to attack a number of enemies in his path. Once again, he will find a number of weapons that he can pick up and use in a melee or by throwing.
The bittersweet fact about Splatterhouse 2 is that folks who enjoyed the original will likely get a kick out of this sequel, mainly because nothing’s changed. The game plays the same way, the enemies feel a bit too familiar, and the horror and gore is still at the forefront but doesn’t feel like it’s been improved on or brought anything new to the table. Levels still come and go quickly, and if you had added this to the end of the first game, it could easily feel like one long title. While that can get boring, though, the foundation that Splatterhouse made for this game was a solid one. The game may play the same, but what we got from the original game was a mechanically sound beat-em-up with a lot of character and an oppressively dark tone that may or may not wind up with a happy ending. It may feel a little stale, but it’s still a well-made game, and where the regular enemies feel repetitive, some of the boss mechanics- especially in the late game- feel fresh and make up for it a little.
The changes that were made outside of the gameplay are welcome in a number of ways. The password system is a technological step forward and offering the ability to change the game’s difficulty was a nice feature to have, especially since standard difficulty on Splatterhouse 2 feels less forgiving than the first game. Seeing Rick with his white mask rather than the skewed crimson one is a small but gratifying touch, too. Presentation
Turning back to the downside of Splatterhouse 2’s lack of innovation, it’s still a good looking game. Taking it on its own merit, the game is creepy and dark, and it delivers on its name plenty with guts and gore abound. Rick makes for an imposing protagonist, and the monsters of the house are well-rendered nightmare fuel. In relation to its predecessor, it’s a solid step up in quality. The game’s music is good, too. There are a few tracks that amp the action up and drive the chill factor behind the game’s tension. I can specifically remember the last couple of bosses and the soundtrack that accompanied them. The visuals aren’t the only things that splatter, either; there are plenty of squelches and screams to be had, adding an effective tone to the over-the-top presentation already being given. Conclusion
I enjoyed Splatterhouse 2 more for the moments that it tried to do something more than the first game did. The original Splatterhouse was fun and a well-constructed innovator. Splatterhouse 2 feels more like “Splatterhouse 1.5”- it uses the same plot, the same gameplay, and even feels like it uses the same structure in most of the levels as the first game. If not for the steps forward in game progression and those few moments and aesthetic changes, I would swear I was playing the same game or at least a remake.
Of course, there’s the horror fan in me that screams “more of a good thing is still a good thing” and having a different kind of horror to look forward to would have been great if I had been a fan of the genre at the time. The game treads the same ground and fails to excel beyond the quality of the first one due to the lack of shock value. What it does, it does well. It just doesn’t have much going for it that the first game didn’t already do.