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Dynamite Headdy – Sega Genesis

Dynamite Headdy – Sega Genesis

1074961632-00Platform: Sega Genesis

Developer: Treasure

Publisher: Sega

Release Date (NA): August 4th, 1994

Genre: Platformer

Nerd Rating: 8 out of 10

As a child, I referred to this game as “Headdy Dynamite.” I have no idea why. Clearly the word “Dynamite” is above “Headdy.” I guess for whatever reason, young me thought Headdy Dynamite had a much nicer ring to it than Dynamite Headdy. Oh well, who cares.

Dynamite Headdy was one of my favorite games growing up. Why? Well, he threw his head, of course. And if you’ve read my Earthworm Jim review or my Decap Attack review, you’d know how much I enjoyed characters with head-weapons as a young person – and still do today.

Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 9.58.41 PM

Regardless, when I began collecting old video games again, it wasn’t Sonic, Streets of Rage, or Vectorman that gave the Genesis an edge over the Super Nintendo as far as which console I’d buy first…it was Dynamite Headdy. That’s how much I treasured this game.

Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 9.06.56 PM

Get it? Treasured this game? Eh? Eh? Alright, you get it

As always, we’re going to have to put on our exam gloves and goggles to remove as much bias as possible in order to determine whether my opinion of Dynamite Headdy is heavily slanted or if this one is truly deserving of the coveted distinction as a “Good Game.”

Just like any genre, it’s easy to see commonalities and conventions in a platforming title. And as a fan of platformers, it’s easy for me to become lost in any old game of this kind. But what is it that sets Dynamite Headdy apart? Is there anything to set it apart, aside from its incredibly unique art design?

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The game is unique alright

I asked myself this question before I fired up the ol’ Genesis, expecting to find the specimen in question covered in nostalgic goo. As I donned my critic hat, I found myself quite surprised by my final impression.

Let’s talk about the concept and style for a second before we delve into the good stuff.

Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 9.15.10 PM

The “Opening Demo” is a creative device used to introduce the player to the “Cast”

Treasure delivers a presentation unlike anything I’ve seen before in a video game. Dynamite Headdy unfolds as a bizarre puppet show. The characters are all creatively designed, set against a self-aware, 4th-wall-breaking backdrop. The backgrounds are sets/stages, complete with backstage visuals, exposed wood, “intermission” signs, and even in-game advertisements for Sega and Dynamite Headdy. It really puts you in another world – one you’re not quite sure how to define, but is engaging and enjoyable nonetheless. It also has a way of showing, not telling, as cutscenes contain minimal dialogue. Such a factor lends a sense of mystery and mystique to a game already strange beyond description. You’re never really sure what’s happening, but the world is brimming with life.

Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 9.19.11 PM

The Getaway

The action begins at full throttle with a story driven in a somewhat cinematic way. From the “Opening Demo” introducing all characters to the action-packed first level (The Getaway), the unique training stages, and even the organic means of progression, you will find yourself heavily invested in this game.

Where most platformers give you standard level progression, Dynamite Headdy breaks the mold. This game isn’t afraid to throw a boss (Keymaster) at you. Not only does it offer a nice variety in gameplay, but you may find yourself fighting three Keymasters in a row. And no two battles are alike, so you never know what’s coming up next. The developers of this game really pushed the limits as far as how you fight a boss.

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A backstage altercation with the main villain

The best way to sum up Dynamite Headdy’s structure is atypical. In fact, that’s really the best way to describe the game overall.

Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 9.21.35 PMThe Protagonist, Dynamite Headdy, is quite unusual. He’s a puppet, but he sure doesn’t look like one (aside from his muppet face). He has a floating head – similar to what we’d see a year later in Rayman – and throws it at his enemies as a weapon. He can switch out his noggin, courtesy of the character/power-up HeadCase, who supplies him with numerous abilities. Some examples include a tiny Headdy, a powerful hammerhead attack, invincibility, a spike head (which allows him to cling to walls as a way of scaling to higher platforms), a vacuum head (which sucks up all enemies and power-ups around him), and a few more you’ll have to discover on your own!

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HeadCase gives Headdy the “War Head” power-up, which sends a stream of sparks spiraling outward from his head

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Trouble Bruin

The other characters are just as strange. Headdy’s arch enemy is “Trouble Bruin,” a weird cat/bear/thing who takes on many creepy/bizarre mechanical forms. You’ll also face off against a large wood artist’s manikin, a giant baby head that progressively ages matryoshka doll-style, a puppeteer, and more. Another character you’ll run into is Bino, a big-eared being who awards you a secret bonus point upon his demise. And though dialogue is minimal, you’ll hear echoey voice clips such as “You got a secret bonus point,” which deepen the game’s esoteric vibe.

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Bino, the maintenance guy/bonus point guru

Secret bonus points are everywhere in Dynamite Headdy. At the end of a round/stage/whatever you want to call it, these points are tallied to let you know what you missed. Still to this day there are tons of secret bonus points I have never found.

In many levels, HeadCase will rotate a basketball minigame in his case of goodies. This puts you on a court where you must knock basketballs in the air with your head until they land in aScreen Shot 2016-06-05 at 9.33.19 PM basket, all while avoiding the Keymaster hoop. This bonus round is a lot of fun and earns you a number. You’re supposed to write it down, but I never do because Dynamite Headdy is hard as shit and I absolutely cannot beat it to save my life. I’ve made it far, but I just can’t do it.

Yeah, this game is hard. Too hard? Maybe. Just don’t go in thinking you’ll beat it on your first try…or your second…or your 100,000th…

Seriously. Damn this game is hard. And long. (Not in the way you’re thinking, though this game will fuck you over and over again)

So the concept and presentation are obviously stellar. Do the graphics measure up?

For the most part.

Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 10.17.42 PM

The entire stage rotates around during this boss battles, showing off one of several pseudo-3D effects

Everything on screen is bright and colorful, however, from a technical standpoint the graphics are not too impressive. It’s the art style and overall design that really make this game excel in the visual department. There are some nice pseudo-3D and background effects implemented, though. I guess the best way to sum it up is to say the character sprites do not challenge the Genesis hardware, but the design is wonderfully alive and cartoony, while the backgrounds do showcase some incredible effects that really flaunt what Genesis does (And what Nintendon’t! Sorry, couldn’t resist).

I think at this point it goes without saying the game has style. But does it have substance?

How does Dynamite Headdy stand out in a sea of platforming clichés? For one, the game uses physics to its advantage. A lot of the conventions are indeed present, but it’s the little things – having to hit fish onto poles to create a platform, the swinging lights, and grabbing onto HangMan – Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 4.01.01 PMthat really set this game apart. You have creative boss battles at every turn, shooter stages to help break up the monotony of platforming (if such a statement could be deemed appropriate for this game), and every level plays differently, often with multiple avenues to progress depending on which power-up you choose. And with some unique abilities and a character who’s fun to control, I would say this puts Dynamite Headdy above your typical platformer. At the very least, it’s a platformer that does everything right, providing a highly engaging experience.

And yes, the controls are very tight. Jumping and aiming are all on-point, allowing you to really feel like you’re the small puppet hero. Your head fires in eight directions, always returning immediately to your body for quick, precise attacks. This is the type of game where you can only blame yourself…and challenging level design, for your failures.

Dynamite Headdy features a delightful and energetic soundtrack that helps to carry the story along. It’s charming and whimsical – so fitting for the overall tone and style of the game. Really, it sounds exactly like you’d expect, and it’s quite jovial.

If I had any complaints, I’d say the game is maybe a little too hard. At the very least I think you should start off with continues. Earning “another try,” as the voice synth proclaims, requires you to collect a certain number of “debris” icons after thwarting a Keymaster. This is no easy feat, and thus one or two built-in continues should have been in order.

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Even earning an extra continue is hard!

So did I accomplish what I set out to do? Have I dispelled the notion that my fondness for the game is pure nostalgic bliss?

It’s impossible to give you a completely objective review of a game I grew up with, but I have torn down childhood favorites in the past. And I was pretty convinced this would be another “it’s good, but nothing special,” kinda game. I was wrong.

Playing it again, I was absorbed. This is a platforming fan’s wet dream. It’s a shining example of – nay, the perfection of a genre. It’s a fun and exciting game that pulls out all the stops and then some. You will have fun playing Dynamite Headdy. I’d venture to say you’d enjoy it even if you don’t love platformers. If you are a Sega fanatic, you owe it to yourself to give this game a try. You may find yourself on a lifelong quest to conquer the game – a path I still walk to this day, after nearly twenty years of being a dedicated follower.

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Written by ZB

ZB

Since the tender age of four, I have been playing video games to occupy my free time. Raised on Nintendo and Sega Genesis, I have an extensive knowledge and enthusiasm for the classics. Also an avid collector, I have accrued such consoles as the Atari Jaguar, Super Famicom, Odyssey 2, Sega Nomad, just to name a few.

Got any questions, comments, concerns, or threats? Feel free to email me at zb@nerdbacon.com. I am happy to hear your feedback!

 
 

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