Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Bit of Brainpower: Dynamite Headdy

Originally released for Sega Genesis and designed by Treasure, Dynamite Headdy is a creative platformer which requires you to use your head. Literally. While there were many platformers around this time, it being the main style of game used in 8- and 16-bit games, this one took the typical tropes and skewed them, making for an incredibly unique experience.

The main character of this game is Headdy, a puppet-type creature that is able to detach and use his head to accomplish various tasks needed inside of the game's world. At the beginning of the game, Headdy arrives in a small town and discovers that King Dark Demon is trying to turn all of the inhabitants (puppets and toys) into a legion of evil minions. Headdy is captured by the king's workers, determined to be unworthy of becoming part of the evil team, and is put into a cargo ship bound for the incinerator. Luckily, he escapes, which brings us to the beginning of game play and the motive for the game. The player, controlling Headdy, must play through a series of scenes (in a landscape that looks similar to early Sonic games) ending, usually in a battle against on of the Keymaster bosses. In total there are 9 stages, each with numerous scenes and bosses to defeat. Killing the Keymasters helps the player progress in the game, and collect pieces of keys to help unlock levels at the end of the game. The player is also able to unlock bonus codes in each level by achieving certain tasks like killing a certain enemy, or destroying objects in the terrain. There is also, thankfully, a level select option—this isn't a short game, and starting from scratch would probably be pretty frustrating.

While this plot sounds pretty basic, and it is, it is the game mechanics that really drew me in to this game and have kept me as a stalwart recommender over the years. As previously mentioned, Headdy's head detaches from his body and can be shot in all different directions to get items, hit enemies, and achieve goals throughout the game. While that is cool in its own right, you can actually replace Headdy's head type to gain different tools. There are tons of different heads, and their purposes can range from providing health regen, providing better armor, multiple "bullets" and even one that doesn't allow for the game to be reset upon death. This means that the player ultimately has pretty strong control over how they want to play the game and what they deem important. For me, this was something that was lacking in many games of the time.

Along with the pretty basic plot, but amazing mechanics, Dynamite Headdy sported a sense of humor that, while I didn't understand it at the time, is now very appealing to me. Many of the section titles are punny references to popular movies at the time—you can see some here:

  • Toyz 'n the Hood is a pun on the movie Boyz 'n the Hood 
  • Clothes Encounters is a pun on Close Encounters of the Third Kind 
  • Terminate Her Too is a pun on Terminator 2, the second movie in the Terminator series. 
  • Stair Wars is a pun on the series Star Wars 
  • Spinderella is a pun on the Disney classic Cinderella 
  • Fly Hard and Fly Hard 2 are puns on the movies Die Hard and its sequel. 
  •  Headdy Wonderland is a pun on the book Alice in Wonderland
  • Illegal Weapon 3 is a pun on the movie Lethal Weapon 3
All of these make for a unique, interesting and enjoyable gaming experience that is a solid representative of platformer games from the early 1990s. If you are interested in playing this game, and haven't before, you can find an emulator here. Happy hunting!

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