Dynamite Headdy review
Explodes into fireworks
*bleep* yeah, Genesis-era Treasure! This is the good shit here, guys!
Seriously, back in the days where RPGs hit their stride and Mario and Sonic were considered dominating forces, a developer by the name of Treasure stepped into the scene and released Gunstar Heroes. That game was awesome – definitely one of the finest games to have ever been released. With that momentum, Treasure released more and more games for the Genesis. I wouldn't say that they made a game that was quite that good again, but they come close pretty damn often. One such example is Dynamite Headdy. It was released at a rather bad time. The year was 1994; not only were the 32/64 bit systems on the way, but the whole animal mascot thing was beginning to become played out, complete with everybody ignoring and/or hating games that, based on their covers, looked to be Sonic The Hedgehog ripoffs. Bubsy didn't quite leave that great of a taste in our mouths, and it's not like Aero The Acrobat and other such games would taste quite as good as Sonic The Hedgehog to the gaming public. It's a bit of a shame because Dynamite Headdy was a pretty good game.
It begins with evil puppets attacking a town, nabbing good puppets to convert them into evil puppets. Headdy was rejected and nearly incinerated, but he manages to escape and now he's off to stop the evil King Dark Demon puppet thingy... No, they really went with such a Generic Geremy name like King Dark Demon. Ah well, anyway, to stop King Dark Demon, Headdy has to defeat his keymasters while trying to keep a rival puppet who wants to be the good guy off his back. So just to clarify, Headdy is a puppet, not an ant. He's going through a series of levels that look like a puppet stage, with backdrops like toy towns, caves, factories and all sorts of other areas, including the inside of a stage itself.
Hey look, there's even a demo reel showing you the robot kidnapping all the puppets!
At a cursory glance, Dynamite Headdy appears to go more for style over substance – while you're starting off with a bunch of other puppets running away from a robot, you're limited to jumping and launching your head at enemies. But the next level shows you three different things to keep in mind. One thing is that you can aim in eight different directions; another is that you can use your head to launch yourself up orange balls or pull said balls to extend a bridge; and the big one is that you have a wide range of powers at your disposal. From sucking up enemies on screen to launching your headbutt attack further, you're given quite a bit to work with. But it's not just for combat; nope, there are parts of levels that'll require a certain power in order to progress... the thing is that it usually determines what path you go down as there tend to be alternating paths. However, there are some parts where a certain head will be necessary to make progression either much easier or a possibility at all.
At first, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the heads are underutilized. They feel gimmicky, as if they're just in the game so that they could design small portions that involve using the spiky head to go up walls or tiny head to go through small passages. Eventually, the heads do gain a significant role in getting through the later levels, particularly against bosses as you have to use them effectively to beat them without getting yourself killed. Of course, there's the sleepy head that'll restore health until you decide to cancel that head, but that leaves you a sitting duck and it's placed at a boss fight because that boss does a ton of damage with one of its attacks. It gets to a point where you have to strategize a fair bit, to make sure you use the right head just right, lest you get destroyed. Even still, the heads aren't the star of the show; it's the momentum, the frantic pacing of most every level in the game. I mean, the first level has you running from and then headbutting a machine while the foreground and background scrolls fairly quickly.
Now the robot's coming after us!
If that doesn't give you an intense first impression, then I don't know what will. Most of the levels follow a similar principle by giving you mainly linear designs, always keeping you moving. Some of the sections of each level are on rails, like this one level where you're grabbed by an arm and have to headbutt its core, or the shoot em up level where you have to go through a path, shoot enemies and navigate your way past obstacles without getting killed. I'll admit that it was a bit out of left field, but as long as you can adjust to its “on rails shoot enemies with bullets” style of play, it's actually a boatload of fun. It adheres to the rest of the game's design principle of keeping you on a roll, although most of the platforming sections do allow some leeway so that you can find health pickups and such. At the end of each section is a mini boss whose sole aim is to soften you up for the main boss at the end of each level. Said main bosses are big and require you to hit them in the weak point(s) – no, I'm not resurrecting that old meme – as pointed out by your angel friend who points her spear at the/a weak point and yells TARGET. But the bosses aren't about to let you hit them as they'll swat at you, squash you and even fire balls of energy at you! They're formulaic, but it's the intensity of their attack patterns that'll give them the edge over you. Not that it matters because it's so goddamn energetic that you can't help but get into it, even if you're getting your ass kicked!
Because man, this is quite a hard game! You wouldn't think so at first because it starts off easy enough. The first few levels aren't all that demanding and the bosses aren't quite as dickish as they could've been. But then you get to the second half of the game and it basically throws the kitchen sink at you. The bosses are more durable, they attack faster, their weak points are a bit trickier to reach and health restoration items grow increasingly rarer. That's fair enough, but this isn't - if you have an English copy of the game (the NTSC or PAL cartridge/ROM), then you're out of luck because you don't start with a single *bleep*ing continue! Yep, you lose all of your lives and you're heading back to the beginning of the game! Thankfully, there is a way around it without the need to get the Japanese version which gives you three continues. Want to know how to earn continues? When you kill a boss, you have to get a lot of its debris. Weird. You'd think you get it via the bonus game where you have to headbutt basketballs into hoops, but nope, that gives you a code to the secret final boss... weird. The final nail in the coffin is the spike. At first, it gradually gets harder, but then it suddenly jolts the difficulty up about three or four times what it was in the level prior and, well, your reflexes better be sharp at that point... we're talking “slice people up without them realizing they got sliced up until their bodies fall apart” levels of sharpness here, folks. That's at least what it felt like, anyway. This spike in difficulty is the only real flaw to be found here, but the rest of the game is so well done that it doesn't hurt the game too much.
The kitty bear looking puppet is charging up for a charge attack while midget army soldiers pull the old background away.
Genesis-era Treasure wasn't just about pushing the envelope in terms of gameplay; they also served up excellent graphics. Seriously, this is a Genesis game? You could pass this off for a Super Nintendo game, it's that rich and full of life in its color scheme! The animations are also very smooth without being a detriment to gameplay, so it's definitely clear that Treasure put quite a bit of effort into the technical aspects. But there's more – the designs work really well. The colorful graphics combine with the setting – while you see backgrounds like valleys, towns and clouds, you have to remember that it's a puppet show, and it'll help you remember by showing you an audience sometimes! The highlight has to be the boss designs – look, I don't know what inspired them to come up with even half the stuff that made it to the final game, but I'm sure those of you who love the good stuff will definitely want some. A dog made out of round objects? A large marionette with different heads and other such body parts? A giant baby head!? That's some crazy stuff, man!
Another surprisingly well done aspect of the presentation is the quality of the voice samples. While there is a little bit of graininess, it's also pretty clear so you can tell what they're saying. Given that most other Genesis games are a lot grainier, this is pretty cool. The only other game I know of with such clear voice recognition is Awesome Possum Kicks Dr Machino's Butt, but where its advertisements touted it as its crème de la crème (mainly because the game itself is a piece of shit), Dynamite Headdy just so happens to have that going for it. Besides, it's the soundtrack that gives it its oomph. Like the rest of the game, it's upbeat, frenetic and energetic, inspiring you to kick some ass. It's not all that memorable, but it's meant to feel more like an adrenaline rush than anything else, and hey, it works out quite finely in that department. As far as I'm concerned, it's a winner!
Dynamite Headdy receives a 9/10 for being a boatload of fun! Besides the difficulty's abrupt ascent into madness, it has the hallmarks of a great platformer. The gameplay is often fast and frenetic, which is complimented by the vibrant graphics and energetic soundtrack. That's what this game exudes; energy. It's a blast to play through, even if you're getting your balls rocked, all because it radiates such positive energy into any room that it's played in. That's the kind of thing Sonic The Hedgehog claims to have, but Headdy doesn't need to run faster than the speed of light and thus be impossible to control while taking frequent breaks for some mid paced platforming and boss fights; nope, he just has short-ish linear levels with mini bosses at the end of each section, culminating in a boss fight at the end of a level to put his reflexes to the test. As a result, this game just flat out rules.
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