Retro Thunderdome – Splatterhouse 1 and 2 vs Splatterhouse 3

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The evening’s dark with fog and rain. The stench of the dead and dying waft through desolate rain soaked streets. Off in the distance, in a rotten, ragged graveyard, two games appear from behind a row of gravestones. Together, side by side, they walk across muddy ground towards a large, crumbling tomb.

Atop the tomb is another game, large and imposing. The image of a mask-wearing muscle-man wielding an axe against a fish-faced monster is drawn upon its face.

“Splatterhouse One. Splatterhouse Two. What are you two cretins doing in my presence?”

The two games flinch, but stand firm. Two speaks up for the both of them.

“We’re here to challenge you to a battle, Splatterhouse Three. A deathmatch of pixels and sound. You’ve thought yourself vastly superior for too long now. Time to prove it. ”

Splatterhouse Three belts out a hearty laugh that shakes dew from the trees.

“Even with your combined powers, you have no hope of defeating me! Name the time, name the place.”

Without hesitation, One and Two leap into the air, their plastic bodies silhouetting against the moonlight. The smile on Three’s face cracks as they scream, “Right here. Right NOW!”

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In The Blue Corner!Born in 1998 and 1992 respectively, these sister games terrified kids, and over-protective moms everywhere with their graphic, side scrolling combat. Filled with monsters, meat cleavers, and gore a-plenty, the images in the first two installments of this horror series are effective even to this day. Open the gates and welcome the first tag team in Retro Thunderdome history – Splatterhouse One and Splatterhouse Two!

In the Red Corner!Released only one year after Splatterhouse Two, the third and final game in the trilogy upped the ante in every conceivable way. More motion, more moves, and a grander scope gives this title the immediate upper hand. But is it a runaway winner, or will the original games steal an unlikely victory? Time to find out as we welcome Splatterhouse Three to the Retro Thunderdome arena!

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NOTE: The arcade version of Splatterhouse One will be battling in this bout, not the TurboGraphix 16 version. ‘Cause that version is awful.

OTHER NOTE: Splatterhouse One and Two are teaming up because they are essentially extensions of the same game.

Graphics / Art Style

Once you see the "womb" level in Splatterhouse One, you can't un-see it.

Once you see the “womb” level in Splatterhouse One, you can’t un-see it.

All three games have one visual goal: to creep the mess out of you. One and Two feature larger, softer characters that look like first generation SNES games.  But what it lacks in fidelity, it makes up for in detail and creep factor. Piles of rotting flesh and creatures behind cages line the hallways. They often go a bit too far (one of the final levels takes place inside a monster vagina where you get attacked by floating ghost fetuses), but the attention to detail is impressive.

Three features sharper graphics for the sacrifice of art style. Simply put, there’s nothing in Three that comes close to the disturbing images in both One and Two. Character designs are more varied yet blander, and it’s clear Namco tried to tone things down on the gore front. Having the entire game set in a mansion also limits the visual possibilities. One and Two with the early round.

Sound / Music

Both games feature similar soundtracks, so it all comes down to how they represent the game. One and Two bounce between schizophrenic thriller themes and driving, upbeat battle music. The score has an action oriented energy that works well with the on screen gameplay.

Three adds more dread to the mix, which contributes to the overall sense of unsettling urgency. But it also has its fair share of hard knuckle 8-bit thrash and heroic themes more akin to Mega Man than a slasher flick. Both are uneven, but when all is said and done, variety wins out. Three with the win.

Control

"Give me a kiss", says the monster to Rick in Splatterhouse 3

“Give me a kiss”, says the monster to Rick in Splatterhouse 3

This is where things really hit the skids for One and Two. You essentially walk right, punch, jump kick, and wield weapons. Your huge character equals cheap damage, making boss fights needlessly difficult, unless you’ve figured out the pattern. If it weren’t for a shockingly quick runtime (both games can beat in under an hour), they would be a bore fest.

Three ups the ante tenfold in the control department. Three-dimensional control, a variety of moves, and smoother combat makes for a tighter experience. It feels like a real game, not a gross out tech demo. And although it still feels like you’re walking through mud, you’re a possessed dad wearing a psychotic hockey mask. What do you expect? Three with the easy victory.

Gameplay / Story

One of Splatterhouse 3's many creepy cutscenes.

One of Splatterhouse 3’s many creepy cutscenes.

With the entire trilogy creating an ongoing narrative, it’s hard to judge one tale against the other. As a result, this is all about the gameplay. As mentioned before, One and Two are standard, uninspired brawl-fests. Three goes the Double Dragon route with the play space, providing more variety.

And while Three’s enemy types are either palate swapped versions of early monsters or uninspired bosses, they are creepy enough to get by with. Add to the mix a number of other touches like a timer, hidden bonus stages, and multiple endings, and Three is the more rewarding experience. Three with another round.

Horror / “Gore”play

Ummmm...those are zombie babies hanging by their neck...

Ummmm…those are zombie babies hanging by their neck…

But at the end of the day, why are we here? Why are we playing a game entitled Slaughterhouse in the first place? The answer is to be scared. Filled with dread. Controlling a bad-ass through a visual nightmare.

To that effect, One and Two easily take the lead. There is nothing in Three that comes close to the final zombie head of One or Two’s hanging baby boss. It’s gross, disturbing, and disgustingly Halloween.

But Three has one thing One and Two don’t: a sense of dread. While it doesn’t have the yuck factor of the originals, the story and setting are more classic horror than Hellraiser stomach turners. Your preference of the two will largely depend on your scary movie taste, but for me, One and Two win out. While playing them, I felt like it was Halloween. Three didn’t match that visceral intensity. Or maybe, I’m just a weirdo.

Still, even with the last minute win, Splatterhouse Three rises victorious! Let’s re-join our combatants after the match…

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———————

As the dust settled on the epic battle, Splatterhouse Three rose from the rubble of smashed tombstones, and looked at the fallen duo. He watched their shallow breathing, thinking back to how he was born. Without them, there wouldn’t be him.

Three walked over to One, lifted him by the arm from the ground, and did the same with Two. The pair bowed their heads in shame.

“Stop it”, said One. “You both fought well. Didn’t expect this sort of resistance, but I have to admit. You both performed admirably.”

Edges of sunlight began to break through the lifting fog, and illuminated the trio’s faces. Brothers of the same trilogy. One an evolution of the other.

And as the first beams of sunlight cut through the nighttime gloom, the three shook hands.

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About BillTucker

Writer, gamer and beer geek, Bill Tucker writes words for a number of sites and publications. He currently blogs for the Entertainment Weekly Community and The Austinot as well as contributes film reviews to a number of literary sites. He’s also a published author of creepy short fiction and uncomfortable essays. Follow him on Twitter @BillTuckerTSP and check out all of his everything at thesurrealityproject.com.

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