REVIEW: Dynamite Headdy (1994, Genesis)

Greetings, retr0pians. During the 90’s, several video game companies had stepped up into the fray, looking to make a name for themselves. Sega made theirs with the first three Sonic games, Rare made theirs with Battletoads and DKC, and Team17 made theirs with the Worms games. But if there is one company that most gamers nowadays tend to overlook to a ridiculous extent, it would have to be none other than Treasure.

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Founded in June of 1992, this rather small-sized, but exceptionally talented group of folks have given us some of the most beloved action games of all time, such as Gunstar Heroes, Mischief Makes, Sin and Punishment, and the topic of today’s review, Dynamite Headdy.

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Released in 1994 for the Sega Genesis, the game revolves around the titular protagonist, a puppet named Headdy, who must use his wits and his (ahem) many, MANY heads to save his world from the nefarious Dark Demon. Along the adventure, Headdy will also have to put up with many other complications, such as a mysterious female puppet Heather (who is also Headdy’s love interest), and a jealous, attention-seeking cat named Bruin, who looks to snatch Headdy’s fame. Can this game manage to keep its’ strings attached, or will it just lose its’ head? Let’s find out, shall we?

THE LOOKS – If there was one word I could use describe how this game looks, it would most certainly be “creative”.  Nearly everything from the backgrounds, to the character sprites, and the bosses, all have a wacky, Looney Tunes-esque charm to them. But, not only are the graphics creative, they are also just downright beautiful. Okay, maybe not quite as beautiful as Puggsy, but still. Being a game set in a world of living toys, the game not only takes advantage of this, putting an extraordinary amount of detail into the levels and backgrounds, managing to give itself a distinct and engaging appeal similar to that of other platformers such as Plok and Yoshi’s Island. While I can’t say for sure that this is the greatest looking 16-bit game ever created, this is still seriously remarkable for a Genesis game.

THE SOUND – People always tend to commend Treasure for their ability to make engaging and challenging games, but if there’s other one thing that I think really helps to add to their reputation, it’s certainly their music. This game is nothing short of being a great example of this. The music in this game is simply a pleasure to the eardrums in all regards, utilizing a wide range of instruments and musical styles (and even the ever-so famous orchestral piece “The Nutcracker”). The sound is also quite good, albeit with a few slightly obnoxious exceptions (TARGET! TARGET!). By being varied, engaging, and just overall fun to listen to, the sound in here really manages to bring out the best in the Genesis’ sound chip.

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This is just the first stage.

THE GAMEPLAY – With all the praise and respect I’ve seen Treasure receive among the gaming community, it’s probably no surprise when I say that I expect plenty of things from this. And boy, let me tell you, not only does it not disappoint, it exceeds my expectations beyond any imaginable level. Starting off with Headdy’s controls, they are simply solid to a tee, being very responsive and making it far from a hassle to maneuver him. And while he isn’t slow, he does have a good amount of weight to him, also giving him a sense of balance to his movement. Headdy also has a wide range of power-ups at his disposal, whether it be a hammer head, a hat that makes him sleep, a metallic, strong head, among many others. But if there’s one thing that really makes this game (at least, in my opinion) shine is the sheer challenge and longevity of the levels themselves. The levels, like the graphics, take full advantage of the game’s out-there concept, designing plenty of levels (and even some bonus rounds) around the power-ups that Headdy will equip throughout his adventure. And then, there are the boss fights. Oh, sweet Commodore 64, the boss fights. Not only are these the most bizarre bosses ever conceived (yes, even more than Earthworm Jim), the fights themselves are some of the most chaotic, challenging, unpredictable, and downright exciting I’ve ever seen in a platformer, 2D or otherwise. You know, after playing this, all I can say is that Treasure really does deserve its’ reputation.

THE BOTTOM LINE – Dynamite Headdy takes a quirky and original concept, top-notch level design, a wide array of fun power-ups, great music, and blends them all together seamlessly, resulting in one of the greatest and overlooked titles to ever be released during the 16-bit era. If you’re looking for a Genesis game that’s really one of a kind, go ahead and try this one out (and maybe as a bonus, some of Treasure’s other games). You won’t regret it.

9/10

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