Dynamite Headdy's Horrors

Dynamite Headdy has a secure yet easily sidelined role in Treasure’s catalog. It’s not unfairly maligned like Advance Guardian Heroes or Light Crusader, and it’s not unfairly obscure like Bangai-O Missile Fury or Rakugaki Showtime. It’s well-liked but simply just not discussed as often as Gunstar Heroes, Radiant Silvergun, and other classics that defined Treasure’s reputation as masters of the action game. 

Like all Treasure games, Dynamite Headdy deserves more mainstream attention. This website is as far from the mainstream as one can go, but I'll still look at one weird minor moment from the game.

One could call Dynamite Headdy a standout of the Sega Genesis, but among side-scrollers of any period or console it’s spectacular: a surreal, theatrical frolic through a world of sentient marionettes and other toys, starring a neckless hero who tosses his noggin around. It’s packed with enough colorful vistas, clever stages, novel power-ups, and memorable boss battles to make it a great platformer, though that may apply more to the Japanese version. The American release excises almost all of the dialogue and makes everything both harder and more tedious, but even then it’s a good time. 

All is not lighthearted and wondrous within Dynamite Headdy’s world, though. There are some typical Treasure jabs of dark humor, of course, but the opening of stage 4-1 gets surprisingly gruesome.

Halfway through the level Headdy encounters a large and helpfully labeled drainpipe jutting up from the ground. Small spherical creatures jump out of it; they’re smiling little things called Happy Campers (or Browny Bon-Bons) and they resemble pleasant Pac-Man characters or perhaps South Park Canadians. They don’t damage Headdy, apparently wishing him no harm.

There are large spikes near the pipe, and Headdy must proceed in the level by pecking at the Happy Campers and impaling them there like the prey of a shrike. The Campers go limp and turn blue once speared, and only after Headdy’s filled the spike with their corpses does he have enough of a platform to jump upon and move forward. 

Cute video games have spread cheerful patinas over somewhat grim elements since before Mario even stomped his first Goomba, but this little encounter from Dynamite Headdy ventures past such minor pangs of conscience. Most of the enemies that Headdy butts out of his way stay toylike in their mortality: even if they explode to pieces, you never have to see their lifeless forms hanging in midair. It’s not as horrifying as, oh, the wind-up donkey dismemberment scene from The Mouse and His Child, yet it’s still an odd and unsettling display in a game that’s mostly charming and reassuringly cartoonish. 

In fact, it makes me re-examine Headdy himself. He’s an interesting design, a Fraggle-faced creature who resembles at various points a bird, a turtle, or a misshapen humanoid like Graggle Simpson. His default pose has him glaring out in determination or annoyance, commiserating with the player as they face a giant porcelain-doll robot or a level of bizarre cows and countryside. 

Yet after watching him craft a morbid shish kabob of joyful, innocuous creatures, I see a definite look of menace in the allegedly heroic Headdy.

He knew it was wrong.

He did it anyway.

And he’ll do it all again the next time you play. 

Well, at least Dynamite Headdy has a level-select code, so you can skip that stage, the carnage within it, and the resulting uncomfortable realizations about Headdy’s true nature.