Sometime during the spring of 1991, visit my brother asked me if I was interested in a used TurboGrax-16 console. The seller was my cousin Phil, who had rented the system and a selection of games from the local sports-cards-slash-videogame shop. Phil had hazarded a king’s ransom of compounded late fees versus the likelihood the business would go tits-up and won, though his prize ended up being not nearly as desirable as anticipated.
I can’t remember the exact asking price, but it was somewhere in the vicinity of fifty bucks for the console, an arcade stick controller and a half dozen or so games. It seemed like a good deal, and I was flush with scholarship cash at the time, so I punked down a small stack of bills in exchange for a brown paper grocery bag containing Phil’s ill-gotten goods.
As the entertainment center in our bedroom was already occupied by our NES and Genesis consoles and their associate tangle of wires, we conducted our TG-16′s test run on the TV in my grandma’s living room. Over a period of roughly two weeks, we — though mostly my brother — tried our hands at the small stack of games Phil threw in with the system.
Most were utter drek (like Double Dungeons) which even the nostalgic gnosticism associated with commercial underdogs couldn’t redeem. The only real standouts in the lot were the (hyper-derivative yet entertaining) first Bonk title and much-ballyhooed Splatterhouse.
The latter was a port of a relatively 1988 Namco arcade game from long, strange transitional valley between the company’s coin-op successes of the early 1980s and its Tekken-fueled reemergence as a major creative player. Though the its quarter-fed progenitor was relatively obscure, the home version of Splatterhouse became one of the few TG-16 titles that even came remotely close to “killer app” status.
The game’s (limited) success can be chalked up to a fortunate combination of thematic content and timing. With a hockey-masked (altered to a less legally actionable “terror-masked”) protagonist punching, kicking and clubbing his way through a squicky chamber of horrors, Splatterhouse channeled the peaked-but-still-potent popularity of slasher film genre at a time when the American gaming industry shied away from even the most remotely gory content.
Splatterhouse served up (bowdlerized) “realistic” ultraviolence to gamers years before Mortal Kombat dragged its knuckles onto the scene. As such, it was ideally poised (apart from Namco’s choice of console) to capture the imagination and allowance revenue of a generation of tweener-teener males looking for lurid transgressive thrills. In short, Splatterhouse is a game whose contents beg to be described in hyperbolic terms around a middle school lunch table.
The facility with which the game captured the adolescent zeitgeist has — unsurprisingly — given rise to a fervent cult of nostalgia, a couple of forgotten cross-platform sequels, and a disastrously failed attempt to revive the franchise on current-gen consoles. What is universally overlooked through the gore-tinted glasses, however, is the inescapable fact that the game itself was an early single-plane example of the “beat ‘em up” genre elevated by historical context and specific circumstances.
Transgressively edgy for their era, the central conceits of Splatterhouse feel as utterly quaint by current standards as its gameplay is crudely simplistic. Contemporary action games like Gears of War or space Marine have as much gore and viscera in a single set-piece than Splatterhouse had in its entirety, and upsizing the virtual viscera to account for inflationary desensitization only leads to purile absurdity.
Recommended listening: Bauhaus – Mask (from Mask, 1981)
It wouldn’t be a true Halloween Countdown without an appearance by these seminal spook-meisters, so here we are with my least favorite cut from my most favorite Bauhaus album.
It’s not necessarily awful — though you may beg to differ, as the band is notoriously polarizing — but I think their most successfull efforts are the ones where they balance the pretentious drone with some gloriously glam (or punk or dub) pop song structures.