SPLATTERHOUSE 3 / Namco / Sega Genesis

Splatterhouse switches formats here from side-scroller to beat-em-up, but it's still just as aggravating, repetitive and packed with cheap hits.

Rick has put the horror of the two previous games behind him, fathered a little boy named David with his perpetually-in-supernatural-trouble wife Jennifer, and moved into a Connecticut mansion after becoming a successful Wall Steet yuppie. Of course, when you hit it big, people from the past always come around to mooch, and this dude named Evil Being (seriously) comes over and rudely crashes in Rick's basement. Not only that, his whole army of zombies, mutant freaks and other assorted gory monsters comes over on the weekend, trashes the place, tries to insert brain-eating worms into his wife, etc.

Each level of the game constitutes a floor of the manor, and Rick has to work his way through to the boss. It's somewhat non-linear, though - you proceed on a room-by-room basis, and when you clear a room of monsters, you get a choice of which direction to go in. You get a map of each floor to help decide, and the direct path to the boss usually contains more and harder foes, while side paths may contain extra lives and weapons.

The thing is, you're also laboring under a time limit in each level. You usually get somewhere between five and ten minutes, and if you don't clear the level within that time, either David or Jennifer meets some disgusting fate in a cut-scene. This doesn't stop the game, but you'll get a shit ending calling you a "failure" when you finally beat it.

The time limit is the biggest problem with the game. It doesn't render the game unplayable, but it's depressing (and a little gross) to see David and Jennifer getting their brains eaten or something else unpleasant while you struggle with a timer that is just way too stringent. It's nearly impossible to get through some levels by the most direct path in the time limit, let alone go explore off the beaten trail to find some of the fun bonus stuff. The timer is also often shorter than indicated - for example, in the second level, it says you have six minutes, but after five minutes you see a cut-scene in which Jennifer gets killed.

The gameplay is totally stock, repetitive beat-em-up. It's smooth and fairly fluid, standing up well next to Streets of Rage and such, but there's a very limited complement of moves. You have a punch combo, you can grab foes to headbutt or throw them, and you have a jump kick. That be it, except for a really cheesy power move - a silly-looking whirling spin kick that is way too powerful and has no restrictions on its use (other than that it's a little tricky to pull off.) If you want to complete the game without having your family morbidly devoured, you basically are forced to abuse the spin kick to quickly clear your way through the levels. The time issue is made worse by the fact that later enemies often spend more time dancing around dodging and blocking than they do trying to fight you, and the bosses actively try to waste your time by jumping off the edges of the screen, running away and using tons of annoying projectile weapons. Plus, whenever Rick gets hit, he has to go flying backwards with some messed-up beast roar, and it takes him a good five seconds to shake his head and regain his feet.

The graphics are probably the best bit here - the Mask has its best design yet, the backgrounds of the rooms in the mansion are very detailed and varied, and the sprite work is pretty good with enemies gradually falling apart into piles of puke and maggots as you beat on them. The music and sound are a different story. There are some passable digitized screams and moans, but the music roundly kind of sucks. The title screen, which is otherwise rather creepy, is accompanied by some totally inappropriate generic boppy anime music, and the in-game tunes tend to be short, repetitive and uninspired. As with the other games in the series, it does manage to be at least a little creepy and disturbing, but the gameplay is just too problematic to be really enjoyable.

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