There is a game that exists only in hyperbole. It is That Game, a vehicle for substanceless immorality, where blood flows in rivers and women exist mostly as sexual objects, where the primary means of human interaction is wrenching off a dude's arms. It is the platonic ideal of what your religious grandmother thinks of when she mentions "those video games": a horrific waste of time that exists entirely to shape its players into unfeeling sociopaths.
This game does not exist.
If it did, it would look a lot like Splatterhouse.
Whatever pleasures you are able to take from this game will be guilty by default. It's a deliberate attempt to reach the lowest common denominator, but is just a little bit too self-aware for that; you need a certain lack of pretense to really hit the bottom of the barrel, but Splatterhouse occasionally winks at you to let you know it's in on the joke. It's actually got some decent writing, for God's sake, and I'm not sure who allowed that to happen.
You're told all you need to know about the plot within about forty seconds of starting a new game. You're Rick. A mad scientist kidnapped your girlfriend Jennifer. You're wearing an artifact called the Terror Mask that's turned you into a musclebound freak. Go get Jennifer back. As an incentive to do so, she has scattered naked pictures of herself throughout the game's twelve levels. I am not making this up.
This begins a mad parade of violence and dismemberment that lasts right up until the first time you find a weapon. Immediately thereafter you will be surrounded by small monsters and clawed to death.
This will happen maybe six times in a row. It is a problem.
Splatterhouse actually does a lot of things I wish more 3D beat-'em-ups did. Against large enemies or bosses, your heavy attacks actually inflict a lot of damage and stun whatever you hit, so a fight between you and whatever tentacled monstrosity got vomited out of the floor actually feels like a pretty even match. Weapons do tons of damage and send smaller monsters flying, but your unarmed attacks are just as powerful. All of your various combos and moves are satisfying and genuinely if situationally useful. Somebody has put some real thought into this game.
They either didn't put quite enough thought into it, though, or they were overruled at the last minute by someone wearing their pants as a hat.
Splatterhouse's most obvious flaw is that many of the abilities that are taken for granted in a modern beat-'em-up, like invincibility frames on a dodge or useful combos, are purchasable upgrades. It takes a little time to farm up enough points - which is to say, to drain enough blood from whatever monsters you run into - before you've got the basic minute-to-minute moves you need.
Enemies do schizophrenic damage. A given monster is either going to barely scratch you or is going to tear you in half before you quite realize it's there. In a lot of 3D beat-'em-ups, getting hit will send you flying or trigger a brief window of invulnerability, so you can't get killed in a second and a half because several enemies decided to all attack at once. Splatterhouse doesn't do that. Half the time when you die in this game, and you will die, it will be because you were surrounded by small weak enemies and gutted before you could get to safety. I've gone from full health to roughly 30% after one hit from one of the little blue-clawed things.
The other half of your deaths will be caused by half-assed platforming. Every so often, Splatterhouse drops you into 2.5D for a sequence that's meant as a callback to the original games, and it's a clever idea. It is not quite implemented as well as it ought to be, owing largely to Rick having a really lame basic jump. He covers almost no horizontal distance, to the point where you have to actually hold down the right trigger and sprint to hop up onto a ledge that's directly in front of him. It complicates what little platforming there is in the game, turning what could've been a cool little retro level into a frustrating break from routine.
There are a few too many of those abysmal 2D platforming levels and way too many cheap deaths for me to really recommend Splatterhouse, but it's not entirely bad either. It's like there are two games on the disc, one of which is utter crap and one of which is surprisingly good, and they're constantly battling for supremacy.
It wouldn't be difficult to fix Splatterhouse. Give Rick more horizontal distance on his jump, more invulnerability frames on certain moves, and make it so he can't take damage from more than one source at a time. Add a few more types of basic enemies and a couple of extra executions, and you'd have a pretty decent beat-'em-up. As it is, there's about half of one, and it was barely enough to pull me through to the end.