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Best Game Ever – Dynamite Headdy

posted on May 1st, 2006 by jay

Developer: Treasure
Publisher: Sega for the Genesis
Released: 1994

Our hero soon escapes…

A few days ago while looking for a game to force my girlfriend to play I popped in Dynamite Headdy. I knew it would be too hard for her but figured she may appreciate how strange and creative it is. It was and she did, and more importantly I was reminded of how great the game is. That very night while surfing game forums I read of the Treasure Box for the PS2, which was a collection of Gunstar Heroes, Alien Soldier and Dynamite Headdy. Wait, what ever happened to it? I remembered reading about the collection months ago but then forgot about it. Did it come out already and if so why wasn’t it out here? It turns out we got the shaft and only the Japanese are able to enjoy Treasure’s best Genesis games (or as they would incorrectly refer to it, the Mega Drive).

It seemed Dynamite Headdy was everywhere I went. Time to do a search for it, I figured. Before the search I wasn’t sure I’d do a best game ever write up. Then I found a Treasure fan page that doesn’t drool all over the game and I knew I had to. How dare a fan page call Dynamite Headdy “nothing special,” or say “there’s not much to set this game apart from other games of its time.” The bosses “aren’t anything special,” are they? And the music in the game is just “not very good”?

I was outraged. The game deserved a write-up before my outrage but the outragedness is what actually drove me into action. Ignore the self proclaimed Treasure experts, Dynamite Headdy is amazing. I should explain this more clearly: the developer was Treasure, a mighty team if there ever was one. These guys brought us Gunstar Heroes, Guardian Heroes, Radiant Silvergun and Ikaruga. Maybe you’ve never heard of most or any of these games, they tended to put stuff out on Sega consoles which as a rule are doomed to failure, but take my word for it that these titles are all classics.

but is then chased down along with his rebel puppet friends.

Headdy is not a game from my youth, which is a sure sign it was pretty obscure since I rented about 200 different Genesis games. I first played it a few years ago on an emulator and then rushed out (to my computer) to buy it on eBay. Since then I have shown it to every friend I can convince to sit down and wait while I blow into the cartridge. Most have been almost as impressed as I.

The gameplay mechanics aren’t radically different from any other platformer. Headdy jumps from ledge to ledge avoiding pits and spikes while smiting his enemies…with his head. Using your head as a weapon may not change the gameplay dramatically, but it is one of the many small things that make Headdy a very original game. Mario wears suits, Sonic wears things he gets from TVs, and Headdy changes heads. There are 18 heads in all; each has its own power.

Boss battles in the game are often very creative as are the bosses themselves. The first boss is a giant hotdog-dog that lands in front of a symphony playing the Nutcracker then releases deadly caterpillars. The next boss is a giant wooden doll that changes costumes and with each new outfit gains different powers. Between donning new clothes, the doll dances like a robot and/or an Egyptian, of course. The reoccurring boss, Trouble Bruin, attacks Headdy in all sorts of robotic contraptions. Perhaps my favorite boss is the Gate Keeper, who prances lightly around when you first meet. Simply dodge his skips and hops by not allowing the overwhelming amount of pink in his outfit to break your concentration. After defeating his first fancy free form, however, the world crumbles around Headdy and the Gate Keeper returns. And god damn is he evil and hard as hell the second time around.

White puppets can’t jump, but they can still play basketball if they have detatchable heads.

Dynamite Headdy is a Treasure game so it looks great. Everything is very bright and colorful, which was reportedly hard to do on the Genesis due to its limited color palette. In addition to standard good graphics, Treasure likes to pull off graphical tricks. I don’t think there is any real 3D in the game (though I’m not certain) but it has a good share of simulated 3D. Rotating platforms, spiraling cylindrical towers and a whole boss fought on a spinning battle field make you question that you’re playing a Genesis game.

The music isn’t always amazing, but there are a number of good tunes. Since I’m a video game music junkie, it’s only fair I post some of my favorites. Here you go:

Song 1 – This strange track is laden with sound effects and is one of the first songs the player hears upon starting the game.

Song 2 – I don’t usually like happy music unless its absurdly upbeat. This is.

Song 3 – Super metal boss track.

Song 4 – Love that walking bass line.

These guys pull the next set on screen while Trouble Bruin prepares to smite Headdy.

Ultimately, what makes Dynamite Headdy one of the best games ever is its atmosphere. The setting is a stage and backgrounds are all visibly props. New ones come into view as scenes change, carpet is rolled out in front of you before battles, Headdy climbs above stage through the lighting, and there is a boss battle behind the stage. The attention to the graphical design is impeccable and really makes the game so much more than a standard platformer. Also indispensable is the game’s sense of humor. At one point you enter a bosses arena and on the wall behind you reads “Welcome to the Battle Show. Special guest puppet tonight.” It’s a tongue in cheek game that really puts on a show for the player. I can’t think of another 2D platformer that was so amusingly aware of itself.

If you haven’t met Heather, Hangman, Headcase, Beau and Headdy yet then you’re missing out.

Stop missing out.

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