Re(?)Considered: Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti
Namco's video NESty finally hits the West in Namco Museum Archives
Namco's super-deformed Famicom take on its gloriously Grand Guignol Splatterhouse franchise, Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti, was never released in the West back in the halcyon days of the NES. In a sense, it's easy to see why; Nintendo's then-strict censorship of macabre content might have seen Wanpaku Graffiti turned into a shadow of its true self. Then again, Monster Party made it, so god knows.
Still, thanks to the recent Namco Museum Archives Vol. 1, it's finally available for everyone to play in all its glory. Emulation on the set is from M2, so the quality is high and it all feels very smooth and nice and Yes This Is Just Correct.
Taking control of a cute, chibi version of Rick (he of the Terror Mask), you've got to make your way through adorable environments rich with horror iconography, but... you know... in a cute way. There are references here to a whole host of spooky media, from Michael Jackson's Thriller to Alien to Cronenberg's The Fly to Jaws all the way to relative obscurities like Tony Maylam's The Burning. It's fascinating to play simply to see what's going to turn up next.
Gameplay itself is fine, nothing to write home about; that's not really a problem, though, as it's more of a showcase than a properly involved video game. You're playing this for the yuks, not the actual meat and potatoes platforming. There's nothing really wrong with it, the pacing is fast enough that you can't really get bored, but the level design is generally a little flat.
Thankfully the two Namco Museum Archives sets include numerous other games to play. I've seen criticisms online of these sets for the fact that they include NES ports rather than the arcade originals, but that's actually what makes them so desirable for me. Those arcade games have been re-released over and over again, but when did we last get the NES titles?
Volume 1 contains - amongst others - the terrific Sky Kid and Dragon Spirit, with the rest of the set comprising classics such as Pac-Man, Mappy, Dig Dug et al. There's a bonus game alongside the ten already featured; a NES "demake" of the beloved Pac-Man Championship Edition, and bloody good it is too. I think I actually prefer it to the more contemporary version. Rounding out the set are Galaxian, Xevious, The Tower of Druaga, Dragon Buster and - of course - Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti. Not a single stinker in the line-up.
Volume 2, though, is even more of a hit parade for me. Galaga, Battle City, the brilliant Pac-Land, the under-rated (and much better than the original) Dig Dug II, Super Xevious, Mappy Land, Legacy of the Wizard, Rolling Thunder, Dragon Buster II and - best of all - the marvellous Mendel Palace. The bonus game this time is a cracking new port of Gaplus, the previously unported (and very fun) sequel to Galaga.
There are some problems with these sets, unfortunately. The games here are worth having, but the collections themselves are extremely bare bones. The menus are very plain, and you don't even get the box art on the selection screen. No manual scans, but there are plain text instructions available. Excepting the new demakes, that's all you get for extras. You can rewind in-game, ala Sega Ages, but I'm not sure why exactly you would want to do that in these sorts of titles.
A lack of galleries or any kind of historical context lets these compilations down a little, but they play brilliantly and see the first releases in the West of several lesser-known Namco titles. It's a touch galling that the Japanese equivalent - the Namcot Collection - included a vastly superior interface. I wonder why it wasn't brought over? Retro fans are going to want to see this stuff.
Either way, it's still worth buying in this slightly compromised form, and the price is quite reasonable at £15.99 a set.
A review copy of this product was provided by the publisher.