In 1994 Treasure released a 16-bit platformer for the Sega Mega Drive called Dynamite Headdy about a heroic puppet with a detachable head. He was born in a time when every games company felt that they needed a lovable little mascot like Mario and Sonic and with this being a platformer he also had to compete with them. A big task to undertake. Unfortunately as it was released late into the 16-bit console era he wasn’t able to pull it off in the long run and the game never quite reached the heights of Treasure’s other titles but the game is still one of the best games available on the system.
Before getting too wrapped up in this games review I thought it might be worth noting who exactly was behind this forgotten platforming gem. You may not recognise the game Dynamite Headdy but maybe you’ve heard of the developer Treasure? No? Well this game came to us from the same people who gave us titles such as the Mega Drive’s Gunstar Heroes (1993), the Sega Genesis’s Radiant Silvergun (1998) and Sin and Punishment (2000) for the N64. Fast-paced action-games known for their high difficulty.
Now then back to the game and its story which starts in peaceful ol’ Puppet Town. Well peaceful until it’s invaded by the evil puppet king Dark Demon and his cronies. His goal? Seek out puppets that he deems worthy of becoming his personal minions. Enter Dynamite Headdy who is unfortunately captured and sent away to be incinerated along with the rest of the rejects. After escaping, Headdy goes on a mission to defeat D.D. but not before overcoming his many minions, his most elite guards the Key-masters and a puppet jealous of Headdy named Trouble Bruin.
The whole game concept is a bit of an unusual one as its all set up as one long puppet show. Headdy, the local inhabitants and all of the enemies he must face consist of a range of different puppets and toys from windup dolls to marionette figures. Backdrops look like stage sets with people working behind the scenes and even Headdy’s health display is a stage light hanging down over the left of the screen switching colours as he takes damage. Visually it’s all rather impressive as there’s always something going on. The games level construction is also built around this theatre premise. Levels are referred to as scenes which are then broken down into acts. The stages follow the general platforming setup of level exploration, culminating in a boss fight with one of D.D’s elite Key-masters. However Treasure mix it up the pattern a bit by throwing in unexpected boss fights, grudge matches with Trouble Bruin and forced scrolling levels, the best (and toughest) of which has you swapping heads with planes and other such flying things.
The distinct little gimmick that set Dynamite Headdy apart from other characters at the time was that his weapon was his head. Being fully detachable allowed you to fire it in eight directions to attack enemies, retrieve items or pull him over ledges. With the help of his friend Head-case he can also swap out his brainbox with a number of heads with unique abilities. These included the Slammer head to boost attack power, War head to spray fire all around him and the Vacuum head allowing him to suck in nearby goodies and enemies. Just remember to avoid the dreaded Head Trip item at all costs! The controls are very basic with a jump, attack and cancel special head action but they all feel very slick which is just as well as boss battles are unforgiving.
So then what are the negatives of this game? Well it’s tough. Very tough. Dynamite Headdy has a huge learning curve. It really throws you into the deep end with the first act ending with a boss fight to introduce Trouble Bruin who would then mercilessly pursue you through the many scenes. It doesn’t really let up as sometimes you’ll be walking into multiple boss fights. Scene 3 is a perfect example of this as its made up of 4 acts and three of them will have you duking it out with a range of wacky enemies. Scene 2 act 1 acts as the tutorial level in which you entering through stage doors to greet the multiple characters that will help Headdy along his journey. This way of introducing characters and controls was a nice touch as it tries to bring you up to speed with the basics but it still doesn’t fully prepare you for the fast frantic action that is soon to come.
The game can be very intimidating for newcomers but just give it some time. You can get through the initial stages with relative ease but the later ones are particularly taxing for players, so much so that so that you can find yourself getting easily frustrated and wanting to snap your controller in two. However the game is at no point unfair. It’s all beatable given enough time and you’ll always get pulled back to the games plucky charm. Treasure really went all out in terms of both visuals and soundtrack to give the game a nice polished finish. The game has nice, bright colour palate with stages, enemies and characters all being well designed and varied which really make it stand out from other games on this system. Animation is top quality and there’s plenty of it, enemies can burst into the scene through the back drop, boss attack techniques are ranged and the short sequences with Heather (Headdy’s love interest) after each boss fight are adorable. The soundtrack is impressive, incredibly catchy and fits perfectly with the tone of the game. A special note should also be made for the fact Dynamite Headdy has small snippets of voice acting which was incredibly rare for the Mega drive due to the systems limitations.
After all of these years Dynamite Headdy’s is still a charming little platformer with its solid visual quality, memorable soundtrack and slick control scheme. Yes at times it can be overly frustrating but if you can manage to get over the steep difficulty the game throws at you then this is one forgotten-gem that is definitely worth the time.
This Retrospective Review was originally published on the site GamersFTW which unfortunately has now been taken down.