Following on from their success with Gunstar Heroes, Treasure liberally poured their creativity into Dynamite Headdy. This is a side-scrolling 2D platformer following a puppet named Headdy on his quest to stop an evil puppet king taking over the world. His only weapon? You guessed it, his head. In an already crowded market, does Dynamite Headdy rise head and shoulders above the rest, or does it fall short?
Dynamite Headdy (Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack)
Developed by Treasure
Published by SEGA
Released: 05/08/1994 (16/12/2021)
Digital copy provided by Nintendo UK
Immediately upon starting the game you are thrust into what feels like a cut scene, but is in fact the entirety of World 1-1. Headdy and his fellow puppets are being chased by a larger, robotic enemy and all of his friends get snatched up one-by-one. This felt like a confusing intro to the game as you don’t actually have to do anything to complete this level. The backdrop then collapses and it is revealed you appear to be on some sort of stage set where you fight the first boss, a cat. Perhaps owning the physical copy and reading the manual adds a lot of context here, but picking up and playing via the Nintendo Switch Online (NSO) + Expansion Pack will possibly send the player into a spiral of confusion as to what is actually going on during the opening minutes of this game.
Shortly after the manic initiation into Dynamite Headdy and once beating the first boss, World 2-1, known as “Practice Area”, is the next stop. This is basically a tutorial level that introduces you to the basics of jumping, grabbing and utilising “Head Case”, an NPC which randomly appears on levels where you can change your head. The entirety of the tutorial stage can be skipped by going right to the end, and I recommend this to anyone playing. What could be a 30 second lesson on each mechanic of the game is drawn out into a full blown challenge which further extends the already dull experience of this game.
As mentioned previously, your head is your weapon but also your main tool. Grabbing these power ups from Head Case throughout the game will change out your head to allow you to turn invisible, shrink, create a barrier around you or transform Headdy into a vacuum cleaner to suck in anything nearby. This list isn’t exhaustive as there are many other power-ups available, mainly to help in combat. Others will help by way of giving Headdy super-speed, invisibility or even allowing him to go to sleep to heal. Perhaps my opinion had already been tainted during my experience of this game, but I once again found myself questioning a lot of the decisions behind the large amounts of different “heads” available. As they say, sometimes less is more and Dynamite Headdy would’ve benefited hugely from fewer power-ups to impose more meaning on the actual useful ones available.
Once you get into the meat of the game, some levels are genuinely fun to explore and traverse with Headdy. Generally speaking, each level is a typical 2D side-scrolling adventure with enemies and different paths to explore. Treasure has done a great job of introducing some 3D elements into the game, even though the level design itself doesn’t necessarily pay off. There is a level where you have to scale up a round tower, which will twist and give the feeling of actually circling the structure, while fighting a boss and timing your jumps correctly whilst he shaves off parts of the tower. Although a great idea in theory, especially when considering the technology of the time, the fight tends to rely heavily on luck and is one of the most frustrating points of this game. There is another level that does an equally terrible job of this by using a tilt mechanic – go too far to the near edge and Headdy will fall off. At one point during this particular stage, Headdy faces off against an aerial threat and positioning him to attack is incredibly awkward. This particular level feels slippery and added to my ongoing frustrations with the game. Unfortunately, the overall gameplay and design falls short and in my own opinion heavily outweighs the few quality 3D implementations made by Treasure. This game is certainly at its best during the more traditional platforming levels, but even then I didn’t find anything to make it stand out amongst others in the genre.
As well as the obvious need to find your way to the end of each level and fight each boss, there are “500”s that are littered around the level. Again, this may be down to the fact that there is no manual available, but during my time with the game I couldn’t work out what these were for. I can only assume they add to my point total at the end of each level and perhaps that is their sole purpose. They didn’t provide any additional benefit as far as I could tell and in my own view it would have been nice if these were disguised at least as a memorable item to collect rather than just seeing “500” scattered across levels. Perhaps for people who find fun in this game, these might be enticing for a 100% run, but for me they felt pointless and unimaginative. The backdrop in general already feels incredibly busy with a lot going on and this just adds to the headache of playing this game.
I felt the character design was generally ugly and uninspired, perhaps running with the theme of the game itself. For example, unlike other games of the era such as Sonic and Gunstar Heroes, you knew what kind of world you were in and what the general aim of the story of the game was, yet Dynamite Headdy felt like a fever dream I was so desperate to recover from. Between oddly designed bosses such as a Sausage Dog who looks like he’s made out of balloons and a baby’s head which split open to reveal an adult’s head, I could only ponder what Treasure were hoping to achieve with these outlandish and frankly disturbing designs.
In terms of emulation, generally speaking the game controls fine and, as is the case with Sega Genesis titles on the NSO + Expansion Pack, the button mapping translates well with the Joy Con and the Pro Controller. The game is very responsive and the emulation is as good as I can imagine it being with this type of game. As is the case with many games of this era, once you lose every life it is Game Over and the player must start at the very beginning of the game. Thankfully save states come to the rescue and really improve this aspect of the game. While players will have a choice to see out their actions and have to start from scratch if they wish, it’s nice to be able to take advantage of save states for those not wanting to throw away their progress.
Overall I found myself disappointed with this game following on from the fantastic time I had with Treasure’s Gunstar Heroes. It often felt like the developer had too many ideas going on at once and perhaps tried too hard to take this in a different direction whilst trying to capitalise on the popular-at-the-time method of having a crazy side-scroller with a unique mascot. I enjoyed small portions of this game but ultimately found myself wondering why I was putting myself through this over and over again, often questioning why this is considered such a classic amongst fans of the game.