The North American box-art features the protagonist as well as a later boss in the background. (www.vgmuseum.com)
The Sega Genesis had no end of great exclusive platform games besides the blatantly obvious Sonic the Hedgehog trilogy (&Knuckles). Decap Attack, which launched the same year that the blue blur got his first outing, has found its way onto Sega compilations time and time again since 1991- and for good reason.
The game’s opening cutscene introduces the antagonist, Max D.Cap, as he announces his typical-supervillian-plans-for-world-domination. Prior, you see the game’s world being split into several different chunks, which Chuck is tasked with restoring to its natural state.
The game stars a headless mummy by the name of Chuck D.Head (which, given his main method of attack, is a pretty clever pun) created by a mad scientist and his Frankenstein-esque assistant. Chuck is tasked with defeating a demon from the underworld, Max D.Cap, who has split the protagonist’s skeleton-shaped homeworld into several different chunks (and yes, their names revolve around puns too).
The gameplay structure is no different from that of any other action/platform game of the time. You get from point A to B, defeat a set of bosses at the end of each set of levels and move onto the next.
The game’s first set of levels does a fantastic job of introducing the player to its not-so-traditional physics, saving its more demanding moments for later.
One factor that sets this game apart (aside from its horror/cartoony theme) is the inertia-based controls. While not exactly like Sonic the Hedgehog, Chuck still picks up momentum and his running speed will greatly affect the arc of his jumps. Turning around after gaining momentum works similarly to how it works in Sonic games, with Chuck skidding about for a moment before stabilizing and going in the direction pressed on the D-Pad. Given that Chuck is a headless, clumsy character, this approach to an age-old formula is actually quite fitting.
In addition to his primary attack of stretching his stomach as a sort of punch, Chuck can pick up a skull head for his body by breaking tombstones throughout the levels (which also carry power-ups and coins for the end-of-world bonus game). Once obtained, Chuck can use his head (last pun, I swear to god) to defeat enemies by tossing it into them. Be careful, though- the skull is gone once Chuck takes a hit. If neither attack will do, you can still bounce on the heads of your adversaries and crush them into the ground.
Chuck can lunge at enemies using his stomach, and this serves as his primary attack. It does have a short reach, however. So your best bet is to snatch up a skull head to toss at foes from a distance.
Vic Tokai, the game’s developer, used the same engine and gameplay style for Psycho Fox (Sega Master System, 1989) and they really fine-tuned it here. I’ll be perfectly honest- I didn’t care for Psycho Fox. Far too many times, the game demanded blind leaps and because you can’t see too far ahead once the protagonist picked up speed, you’re likely to run smack dab into an enemy (and die, since it’s one of those “one hit kills” games). Not only does Chuck have a life bar that can be extended through careful searching in some levels, but he manages to stay in the center of the screen even at top speed. This gives the player plenty of time to react to what’s ahead and as a result, I felt that nearly every death through to completion of the game was my fault and mine alone. Don’t get me wrong, the controls do have a learning curve, but Decap Attack eases you into it gradually. You should be good to go by the time you take down the first boss.
Chuck takes on a number of goofy bosses, and while they all have simple attack patterns, they’re still pretty charming.
The action is complimented by a charming mix-up of horror and cartoon visuals. The Saturday morning cartoon charm is definitely here, as well as a fairly good soundtrack full of the twangy instrumentation that the Sega Genesis has become known for. A few backgrounds could have done with more detail, however.
My only gripe with the game is that it is sorely lacking in replay value. Once you’ve cleared the game’s stack of seven words and see the ending, there really isn’t incentive to go back and play again (unless, like me, you just really enjoy this game or platformers in general). There’s no scoring system, no other endings or secrets to discover (other than one or two additional heart pieces for your lifebar, which are in fairly obvious locations)…just an option to reduce your life bar if you want that added challenge. This is a game that definitely left me wanting more after I finished it.
Lack of replayability aside, Decap Attack is an enjoyable title for fans of the action/platformer genre and is easily accessible to those who don’t have a Sega Genesis nor bother with emulation. It is on practically every Sega Genesis compilation disc (most recently, Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for the Xbox 360 and PS3) as well as the dedicated mini Genesis units that AtGames has produced year after year. It’s a pretty cheap game for the actual hardware if you still own a Genesis- a loose copy should run you under $10. If you like this kind of game at all, you’d do well to give it a look if you’re willing to adapt to its not-so-traditional controls and physics.
A print ad for the game featuring Chuck D.Head and a few of the game’s enemies. (www.hardcoregaming101.net)
*Decap Attack is an intense revamp of a Japanese title known as Magical Hat no Buttobi Tabo! Daibōken (まじかるハットのぶっとびターボ！大冒険 Magical Hat Flying Turbo! Adventure). This game, in turn, was based off a Japanese anime series. The latter is probably what prompted the drastic changes in plot, art, and even level design.
*The U.K Sonic the Comic series briefly featured a mini-series based off Decap Attack and its cast of characters.