Pure platform entertainment.
The game is sorted into nine levels, each split into a varying number of acts, the last of which holds the end of level boss. The game plays in a linear fashion, multiple paths are few and far between, this allows it to put obstacles in the form of set pieces in the way of the player, ranging from treacherous terrain or environments to the multiple mini-boss fights. Chances for respite and health giving items are few and any unhealed damage you sustain during an act stays with you until the very end of a level.
Headdy basic walking gait is not all that fast; also for a platform game his jump is barely higher than his basic standing height. A lot of this is probably due to him being a marionette puppet (sans strings) and thus not really built for fast, subtle movement. This is where his one real ability, and the game's main gimmick, comes in. Headdy's head is detached from his body and is used as a projectile weapon, head-butting the enemy from afar. His head automatically returns to his body afterwards, ready for another assault, and can swapped via Head-Case.
Head-Case is one of three helpers that aid Headdy in his mission. Head-Case acts as a multiple choice power-up, cycling through different heads, attacking him exchanges the default head with the powered-up one for a short time. The heads are varied in effect and usefulness, giving Headdy's various abilities or increasing his attack power. However not all are useful. One of the heads periodicity on offer, most commonly during boss fights, leaves Headdy with a swollen head, which slows him down to a crawl while preventing him attacking or jumping. The other two helpers are: Beau, who job is to show you the blindingly obvious weak points of bosses and Hangman, who is in effect a grappling hook which Headdy bites onto and then uses to attract his body to his head, pulling him up.
Headdy excellently responds to your commands and is well animated, strutting along the ground, aware that he's the star and proud of it. Indeed the design work throughout the game is of stellar quality. The mechanical nature of most of the enemies gives a sense of foreboding that the organic puppet world is being slowly replaced with lifeless machines.
Headdy's life energy is shown via a spotlight in the top left hand corner of the screen. The colour of the light and the size of the H change as heady receives damage. The light changes from green to yellow to red as the H shrinks to nothing. When the light reaches red it starts to flash, more hits cause it to flash more violently until the bulb blows, taking Headdy's life with it. The Key Masters, Gate Keeper and Dark Demon are the only enemies to get a spotlight; theirs is in the top right corner, with the letter E replacing H.
Level design follows the puppet theatre theme; the levels are boldly done with strong colouration and attention to detail. The backdrops look like those of a theatre that hasn't the money to replace them, a lot of them seem a little worse for wear in places, little tears appear here and there, exposing the wood of the superstructure. Pulleys and conveyor-belts move background elements around in a delightful parody of parallax scrolling. A few of the levels aren't even finished by the time Headdy arrives, with the scenery still being dragged on stage.
The game starts of very forgiving, teaching you the basics of how to control Headdy. However as soon as practise is over the difficulty increases slowly, with large peaks occurring every how and then. One section of the game speeds up the pace and signifies a quite significant spike in the difficulty, as Headdy takes to the skies for some shoot em' up levels. Unfortunately Headdy makes for a large target in these sections, with his body (which makes up his hit-box) dangling helplessly from any of the heads he uses. Otherwise the flying levels are an interesting distraction and a nice change of pace. Afterwards the game becomes much more demanding, with tougher level concepts and imposing mini-bosses, some of which require some lateral thinking (of sorts) and/or fast reactions to defeat.
Headdy is a very self-aware game. Little placards are dotted around the levels, advertising itself, Sega and Treasure as well as relaying the current level tot the player. The names of the acts are puns on film titles and much of the game relishes in its insanity, especially in the boss battles.
The Bosses on the whole are very different from each other, in both size and the methods used to beat them. The game has one or two mini-bosses per act as well as a main boss at the end of the level. The mini-bosses tend to be placed and designed to wear Headdy down for the confrontation with the next boss. The Key Masters tend to dominate the screen, their main weak points tend to be of the hit the core variety, but this is offset by the periods of invincibility they enjoy. The boss design is weird and inventive throughout, starting with the first giant mechanical dog, to the final confrontation with Dark Demon himself.
The mini-boss battles with Trouble Bruin are some of the real highlights of the game. His machines range from the downright silly to the outright ludicrous, as his attacks get more desperate. Most of the battle against him are quite fast-paced, difficult and accompanied by a kinetically paced action theme.
Sound is impressive throughout, effects and speech are crisp, plentiful and to the point. The music really shines, with memorable tracks that compliment the on screen action perfectly. Upbeat themes make way for fast action rifts when the action heats up. The game shifts the sound around, playing around with the speakers and the player's ears.
Possibly for the sake of longevity, several hidden bonus points are hidden throughout the game; the finding of which triggers a sound byte telling you you've done so. Many different criteria activate them, like surviving to a certain point or hitting things in a certain order. Some of these points are fairly easy to find, while others are more obscure.
Harder to miss is the bonus stage, which you gain access to via various heads from Head-Case that you’ll come across from time to time. The stage consists of hitting basketballs into the right nets. The conclusion of these bonus stages will give you with one of four numbers to remember for inputting after the credits. A bonus end level which is not worth the effort of collecting those numbers and waiting through the long credit roll.
There are some areas where getting hit is seemingly impossible to avoid, which may cause some players annoyance. The imposing increase in the difficulty of the game about halfway through may also be frustrating for those who might feel that the game is suddenly too hard to play, though with practise they are, like everything, entirely possible. Also the story could have been developed a little more and the game's linear nature does work against a little it in terms of its overall longevity if not for the bonus points to find. The implement of the various head power-ups could also be better, most of them haven't got much use outside of a few areas, or are superseded by a more powerful head being offered. In all these problems are needles in the haystack that is Dynamite Headdy and are in no real way detrimental in any real way to the game (or to the overall score).
Trying to find all the bonus points and vying with the varied and cliché free levels will bring you back to this game. Some of the best set pieces set to pixel are present in this game. It knows what it is, and never sees the need to lie about itself to the player and that's pure platform entertainment.