Splatterhouse has never been a top-tier game franchise. In a time when it seemed like every video game company was walking on eggshells, Splatterhouse was sold on the idea of blood, guts and all sorts of other gruesomeness. It was the brawler for people that were sick of street gangs and mutant animals. Even with simple gameplay and straight-forward level structure, Namco's horror franchise seemed to work.
Although many gamers remember Splatterhouse as a TurboGrafx-16 game, it was not this franchise's first home console release. That honor goes to Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti, an obscure 1989 Famicom game. Despite the success of the series in both the U.S. and Europe, Namco never ported this 2D action game to the Nintendo Entertainment System. And even today, 21 years later, the game remains hard to find.
In a wise move, Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti doesn't attempt to recreate the 16-bit action of the original arcade game. Instead it gives us a brand new adventure, complete with different enemies and exciting new levels. And you know what? The whole thing is a lot more fun than it deserves to be. Dare I say, it's actually better than the more technically advanced games it was born out of.
The idea is still the same; you play Rick, the masked hero of the arcade game. As the game starts, we learn that Rick has died and left Jennifer to cry over his grave. But out of nowhere comes a lightning bolt, which magically brings our hero back to life. Unfortunately, another lightning bolt brings the Pumpkin King back to life, who quickly kidnaps Jennifer and we start the whole dance over again.
But don't get to comfortable, because Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti has a major twist up its sleeve. The ending is genuinely shocking, not something you tend to say about an 8-bit horror game. I'm not saying that the big reveal is on the same level as The Sixth Sense or Psycho, but it's significantly better than what we were getting in 1989.
There are a few interesting twists to the Splatterhouse theme. For one thing, you gain experience every time you kill an enemy. The more baddies you take down, the more life you will have. You'll need this additional life to take on the insane boss battles, many of which resemble fights you had in the arcade, TurboGrafx and Genesis games. This one change may not sound like much, but it's significantly deeper than these games usually are.
Unfortunately, the trade-off is a lack of additional weapons. Players get a single battle axe, which never seems to dull or get bloody. I also found that the backgrounds repeated a bit too much. And like most 8-bit games, there are a few too many cheap deaths. Splatterhouse is made even worse by only giving you one life and four continues.
Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti sports seven unique levels, along with two secret bonus stages. These nine levels offer you some traditional Splatterhouse locales, including a graveyard, hell house and spooky campground. But don't get too cozy, because the secret stages take our hero around the world. In the first secret stage our masked axeman will be flown to Japan to take on undead nasties.
The tone is decidedly goofier this time around, which is a wise decision given the technical limitations. It's hard to take a game seriously when everybody has super-deformed heads. Even if you took away the oversized heads, players would still be left with a bloodless game where everything comes straight out of a Looney Tunes cartoon. Fans of the main series may disagree, but I would argue that the cartoony visuals help this game hold up better than its 16-bit brothers.
This 8-bit Splatterhouse is far from perfect, yet even when I was suffering through cheap deaths, I still found myself wanting to come back for more. I love the tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, and there's no getting around the game's stellar twist ending. It may not be the most technologically advanced game in the series, but Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti is worth the experience.