Treasure has already secured its place in history as a purveyor of "gamers' games", encouragingly flying in the face of the accepted practice of style over content to provide such stone-cold classics as Radiant Silvergun, Ikaruga and Gunstar Heroes. Among the batch of early games developed by the company for the Mega Drive/Genesis, Dynamite Headdy tends to be forgotten… which is a shame, given the quality of the game itself.
Though most commonly known for fast-paced action games, Dynamite Headdy doesn’t quite adhere to the formula, being as it is a platformer. This should not, however be seen as a negative, since this is arguably, along with the aforementioned Gunstar Heroes, the best Treasure game of the Mega Drive era.
The game begins with an interesting premise; a world of puppets is invaded by the evil Dark Demon, whose henchmen, deeming Headdy useless after they kidnap everyone, throw him out on their way. Headdy however, will have none of it, and turns out to be a dab hand at the hero thing. The gimmick (as every platformer must have one) is that Headdy’s head can not only be used for a variety of actions such as attacking enemies and climbing, but can, when appropriate, be changed into a variety of alternate heads that imbue Headdy with new abilities. Amongst others, he can vacuum up enemies on the screen with the vacuum head, he can blow them up with the bomb head, and he can use the hammer head to increase the effect that his head has when hitting enemies.
For those who have played other Treasure games, particularly those on the Mega Drive, there is a familiar feel here, from the rightness of the controls, to the intricacies of the graphics and the colour palette. Everything in the varied stages is alive, everything in the game has the sheen of something polished to the extent possible given the hardware, from the graphics to the music to the control. For a game of its era, Dynamite Headdy holds up surprisingly well.
Downsides revolve mainly around the rather steep learning curve; there are a number of tutorial rooms that kick off the game, but they are somewhat opaque in their intentions and may still leave some players scratching their heads until the various abilities and their purpose become clear.
The game is also not easy, though like the best games, there is a constant niggling need to return to it, to finish just one more level. Despite being hard, it is not unfair or illogical, and can be beaten with time.
Does the game hold up today, and on the VC? In the face of such stiff competition as Super Mario World and the Sonic games, it’s certainly harder to recommend than if it were alone. But that shouldn’t act as a deterrent. Dynamite Headdy isn’t just a great game, and one of the best platformers on the Mega Drive, but it also has the distinct advantage of being a new experience to most people, one that’s well worth the time and effort.