Treasure’s third platformer, Dynamite Headdy takes what was a relatively reserved approach in Gunstar Heroes and McDonald’s Treasure Land and throws it all out the window, resulting in a game that is completely and totally psychotic.
From the point of view of an American audience, many elements of the game seem distinctively Japanese. Not being overly familiar with the culture, it makes the game feel even weirder and more spastic. And “spastic” is probably a good description for the game.
You play as the titular Headdy, a character that, unlike the later Rayman and his limbless fist-tossing, actually throws his head at enemies. The head can be thrown in eight directions and can be used to latch onto hooks to ascend, pull down objects, and other such uses so as to progress through the stages. This is basically an expanded version of Ronald’s abilities in McDonald’s Treasure Land. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising at all if this were the same engine that powered that game, as there are a few other common platforming elements between the two. In addition, there are various power-ups that can be appropriated throughout the stage. These include a hammer-head, a multi-directional shot, a temporary time freeze, a speed item that adds tons of range to Headdy’s head toss, and even one that puts Headdy to sleep, a la Kirby, (although in this case, it actually restores your life).
Stages progress through what are basically theatre sets. Headdy frequently transitions between being in front of the sets to behind them, and usually boss battles are some sort of “presentation.” They are almost all universally nuts, quite possibly all crazier than the bosses in Gunstar Heroes, at least in look.
Special mention needs to be given to the game’s difficulty. It’s absolutely brutal in the last third of the game, where it goes from “tough-but-fair” to a parade of cheap-shot deaths that require prior stage knowledge to have any hope of surviving. Add to this the lack of continues in the U.S. release, and you get a game that, I suspect, many didn’t have any luck finishing on the actual hardware.
Unfortunately, there’s usually just too much going on in the game. The spastic feel doesn’t just apply to the presentation, as it seems like the level design as well is just a little too loose. The game almost feels too experimental, as if Treasure was throwing ideas out there, just to see what would stick.
This, too, ends up being typical of Treasure, whose output tends to be wildly creative. But that lack of constraint also tends to negatively impact the overall game, generally relegating their games (once again) to sleeper status. But when they nail it, this lack of restraint allows Treasure to be head-and-shoulders above the competition.
Article by Lee Hathcock
GameSpite Journal 12: Dynamite Headdy