Splatterhouse 3 is a beat ‘em up in the vein of Final Fight or Streets of Rage. You can move on a 3D plane but only attack side-to-side. The appeal to this brand of beat ‘em up, aside from the large characters, is the various ways in which you can decimate your foes. As far back as Double Dragon, you’d sometimes need to give up the terrible efficiency of the elbow punch for the opportunity to knee a dude in the face. As Duncan Idaho taught, an artist kills with the length of the blade. Streets Of Rage and Capcom brawlers played to this strength—characters had copious moves to unleash on their foes. And yea it was good.
Splatterhouse 1 and 2, on the other hand, were beat ’em ups in the vein of Vigilante or Kung-Fu, with action on a 2D plane. This brand of games is more precise: Enemies only take a few hits (even bosses), and gameplay is very pattern heavy. There are limited moves and pick-ups.
It’s through the combat that Splatterhouse 3 shows its heritage—Jason Voorhees, I mean Rick, only has a paltry set of moves to use. Punch, jump-kick, a few holds and throws, plus an awkwardly performed and unreliable, but devastating special move. If he has collected orbs he can morph into mutant Rick. Mutant Rick is stronger and studier but is effectively rendered useless by decreased attack speed (making him unable to actually land a hit on blocking enemies), and brandishing a super move that while cool-looking will likely be performed once in a lifetime.
Sounds not so bad, but in the transition to Final Fight-style beat-’em-up, enemies now have copious life. Only early game monsters can be taken down in a few hits; others can be fooled into a corner where you can wail on them mercilessly, but it will take forever. You become dependant on your serendipitous special, and leery of your crappy mutant power. You need to play cautiously; mid- to late-game enemies can trap you in combos that obliterate your life bar, and fat zombies, dogs and ghosts can one-shot you (with their dicks no less; no enemy in Final Fight or Streets of Rage can do that). In Splatterhouse 1 or 2, that would fly better, as you can one-shot most things as well,. In 3, you’re forced to play conservatively without effectiveness or finesse. Duncan Idaho would be pissed.
It’s a damn shame too, because Splatterhouse 3 was progressive in other parts of its design. You were able to explore each floor of the house at will. After defeating a screen of enemies, you could pick a door to go through. You can look at a map and decide your path to the boss room. More meticulous exploration could reveal rare items, health, or extra lives… or get you killed. The catch was that there is a time limit in each stage, if you didn’t kill the boss in time… well, you live, but your wife or son may die or end up zombified. It’s an interesting way to create divergent paths that affect the story. It’s really cool and fun to experience all the ways this can play out in an effective and atmospheric action game. You explore the Splatterhouse, and pay the price.But if you think I’m tearing through this by the seat of my pants so Jennifer can live with like three crappy moves… man you gotta another thing comin’.
Article by Rene Decoste
GameSpite Journal 12: Splatterhouse 3