Splatterhouse did not have the greatest graphics; in places the graphics were downright awful. Splatterhouse did not have the greatest gameplay; control was always a little clunky. Splatterhouse did not have the greatest story; it was something about a guy named Rick and his girlfriend and a house.
What Splatterhouse did have is two things: 1) gore and 2) a killer (no pun intended) main character.
Let’s start with the gore. In Splatterhouse, you pummel all sorts of Lovecraftian creatures with your bare hands, 2x4s, meat cleavers, and shotguns. When you do so, you smash them against the wall, leaving a oozy stain, or spill their guts upon the floor, leaving a pool of goo. The house you walk through is piled high with intestines and organs. Body parts are everywhere. The “splatter” in Splatterhouse is a reference to splatter horror movies, and the title font looks suspiciously like that of the seminal horror film Suspiria. The game has a parental warning on the cover, the greatest parental warning ever: “The horrifying theme of this game may be inappropriate for young children…and cowards.” Even your life meter is measured in hearts; not cutesy, valentine, Legend of Zelda hearts but actualy hearts with valves and arteries. Apparently, the TurboGrafx version was significantly tamer than the arcade version, and I can’t remember actually seeing much red, spurting blood, but it was more gore than we had ever seen in a console game, and we loved it.
Then there was the main character. According to the story, he is Rick and he is wearing the Terror Mask which will empower him to rescue his girlfriend from the evil house. But let’s be honest. The mask looks just like the hockey mask from a certain horror franchise, and Rick has the build of the killer in that franchise. Yeah, he’s wearing what look to be insanity ward robes, and those kind of hearken back to a different branch of horror films. Nonetheless, it’s pretty clear who he is supposed to be. He is Jason Vorhees. You play Jason Vorhees in this game and you take it to all kinds of freaks who are more messed up than you are.
And those two things are enough to earn this game a permanent place in my heart, enough to make me feel giddy any time I hear the name Splatterhouse. That, together with the weird sentimentality the game seems to have (there are portions when the action stops and Rick hears the sound of a wistful organ, for example) and the fact that the game is fairly easy to play through, makes Splatterhouse a good game if not a great one.
Side Note: Many consider Splatterhouse to be a beat ’em up game. While the sequels which were released on Sega fit more into this category (particularly Splatterhouse 3, which is definitely a beat ’em up), I consider Splatterhouse to be a platformer as most of the regular enemies only take one or two hits to kill and as there are several places where you need to jump obstacles.