Dynamite Headdy
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Developers:
    • Treasure (GEN)
    • Minato Giken (GG/SMS)
  • Publishers:
    • Sega (GEN/GG)
    • Tec Toy (SMS)
  • Released:
    GEN
    • US 08/04/1994
    • JP 08/05/1994
    • UK 1994
    GG
    • JP 08/05/1994
    • US 1994
    • UK 1994
    SMS
    • Brazil 1994
Score: 90%

This review was published on 07/18/2013.

Dynamite Headdy is a 2-D, side-scrolling platform game developed by Treasure and released for the Sega Genesis in 1994. It also got a stripped down port on the Game Gear and Sega Master System, but these ports don't hold a candle to the Genesis version. Treasure's main claim to fame was Gunstar Heroes, but they also made other fantastic games. This is one of them. Dynamite Headdy is a unique and interesting creation. Back then, Treasure had a tendency to create a lot of one-offs; games that wouldn't spawn a series. I'm not certain if this was a deliberation on their part or if it was due to poor sales, but it was different from how most other game companies operated. While Dynamite Headdy received rave reviews from publications of the time, not too many people knew about the game back when it came out. Thanks to the wondrous wonders of the Internet, however, that has changed. Today, Dynamite Headdy is a fairly well known game among retro gamers, many of whom discovered the game well over a decade after its release. I'm one of the few people who bought the game back when it was new, and I don't regret it one bit. Dynamite Headdy is an awesome game.

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This game stars Headdy, a strange, disembodied being that has a mighty good head on his shoulders. I'm sorry, but I just couldn't resist. This review is going to consist mostly of head puns. Headdy sort of looks like Rayman, though Rayman came after. There are many unique things about Dynamite Headdy, and the premise is one of those things. The whole game has a theater motif to it, with all the characters being toys or puppets that are merely playing parts of a grand play. It's slightly similar to Toy Story in that it revolves around toys, but the theater thing is the main focus. All the background and foreground objects are actually stage props, like the clouds are pieces of cardboard that are painted white and are held up by very visible ropes. The game begins with an evil puppet known as the King Dark Demon terrorizing a town of peaceful puppets. This Demon of Darkness has built machines to select which of the toy denizens of the puppet town will be converted into its minions or brutally disposed of. Headdy gets caught up in this, and is thrown into the trash because he didn't meet the Dark Demon's incredibly high standards. Like dynamite, Headdy escapes and begins a heroic quest to thwart the terrible Dark Demon. In order to actually reach the Dark Demon's domain, Headdy must travel the land and defeat several Keymasters. These Keymasters hold the keys to the Demon's lair, making them the key to success. Dynamite Headdy's premise, besides being fun and original, lends itself really well to a video game. I like it.

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As already established, you control Headdy in this game. It's your job to make sure he gets ahead in life. Headdy can run and jump like any good platform hero can, but his primary ability is to use his head. The main mechanic of this game is that Headdy can throw his head in all eight directions as a projectile attack. Once thrown, Headdy's head will quickly return to him, much like a boomerang would. That's using your head. It's possible for Headdy to use his head as a sort of grappling hook, too, by his head biting onto grappling points as it's thrown. Somehow, Headdy is able to pull his body towards objects his head is attached to. It's almost as if there's an invisible force tethering his head and body together, kind of like a rope. Besides these innate abilities, Headdy can also augment his head with an assortment of power-ups. Frequently throughout the game you'll encounter a little guy named Head Case. You see, even the game can't restrain itself from head puns. Head Case will slowly cycle through a variety of power-ups, which are shown on his body. You hit him when the desired power-up is shown to literally exchange Headdy's head. There are quite a large variety of powers here, almost all of them really useful, sometimes to the point of ruining the game's balance. It's for this reason that almost all the power-ups are temporary and only last for a short period of time. Power-ups can do all manner of things, like increase Headdy's damage output, range, and mobility. The hammer head power reinforces Headdy's head with a strong metallic substance, greatly enhancing his damage output, as well as allowing him to break certain barriers he normally can't. Another cool power-up is one that gives Headdy three heads, which increases his attack radius and also enhances total damage output. Three heads are better than one. The small head is one of the few power-ups not restricted to a time limit, and it shrinks Headdy down to size, so he can fit through tiny spaces. I'm sure you get the gist of it by now. Dynamite Headdy has spectacular mechanics, tight controls, and awesome power-ups.

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The greatest thing about Dynamite Headdy is the stage design. Most platform games adhere to a strict formula in their stage design, usually sticking to a structured design that consists of long stages with a boss at the end. Dynamite Headdy totally defies convention by not having any discernible structure to its levels. Maybe it sounds like I'm knocking the game, but this is actually fantastic design. Instead of being divided into worlds, the levels are comprised of "scenes." These scenes could consist of just about anything, and they're not logically assorted in any particular manner. The length of any given scene also varies wildly, with some scenes lasting the length of an average platform game level, and some scenes being a single boss fight. You really won't know what to expect from this game on your first time playing it. The first level starts off with a chase sequence that quickly transitions into a boss fight, and then it just ends suddenly. I didn't exactly do it justice here, but this intro sequence alone is better than some entire games. It also demonstrates perfectly the game's complete disregard to structure. There is a scene a short bit into the game that starts out like an average level from any platform game, but out of nowhere, you're whisked away to a gauntlet of bosses. No, this isn't at the end of the game, and this isn't a lazy case of fighting recycled versions of previous bosses. The developers just felt like putting a string of cool bosses in the middle of the game, for no particular reason. Other notable levels is this bit where you climb a tower while fighting a boss, and the boss literally removes large sections of the tower as you're climbing it, in an attempt to obliterate you. Another big section in the game is a Gradius styled shooter segment, complete with its own power-ups. Dynamite Headdy challenges the notion of what constitutes a stage in a platform game, in addition to having incredible stage design.

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Treasure really treasures its boss fights. Dynamite Headdy has a ton of bosses, sometimes dedicating whole stages to nothing but boss fights. As one would expect from a Treasure game, all the bosses in this game are superb. Most of them are really big, often taking up a large amount of the screen, pushing the Genesis hardware to its limits. The bosses are pretty unique, too. There is one boss that's really two bosses in one; a puppeteer controlling a puppet. You fight these guys at the same time and it's up to you which one you decide to take out first. Depending on which of these guys you take out, the fight will change, as the attack pattern differs when only one of them is around. Immediately after that battle is another cool boss fight that consists of a huge puppet that puts on different costumes. Each costume has its own attack pattern to avoid, and the objective is to slowly knock away pieces of the costume to reveal the core, which you then attack for massive damage. In a normal game, these awesome bosses would be spaced out more evenly, giving you time to recuperate from the awesomeness. Dynamite Headdy, however, never gives you time to rest from its awesome factor. A particularly nice touch that goes a long way is that almost every boss is accompanied by its own music, pushing this game's soundtrack as one of the best on the system. Games back then typically used one or two boss themes for every boss, but Dynamite Headdy had much higher standards. When it comes to bosses, Dynamite Headdy has the dial set to awesome.

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Dynamite Headdy is a unique and unusual creature. There is almost no other game out there like it, in terms of its premise and general art style. I find that interesting, because it's a cool theme for games to explore. Dynamite Headdy is typical for a Treasure game, which means it's exemplary. The game excels in all categories, such as music, graphics, control, game play, etc. It's also really challenging, though it can be too challenging, at times. The insanely high difficulty level might be one of the game's only downfalls, as most players won't be good enough to make it to the later levels. It's a shame, because the later levels are just as awesome as the early ones, and this game is worth experiencing in its entirety. Even though Dynamite Headdy was sort of an unsung hero in its time, I don't really need to sing it any praises now, as its reputation is well known. If it's all new to you, though, then know that this is one of the best Sega Genesis games ever, and one of the best 16-bit games of all time.

Word Count: 1,681

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