Decap Attack (Vic Tokai/Sega, 1991)
Hey, RetroFiends! I can’t be the only one who’s pumped that Halloween is coming next month. I get excited about the impending fright-fest around mid-September every year, and since we’re also talking about Genesis games this month, today’s selection seemed all too appropriate.
Decap Attack has so much to love. While it got nowhere near the attention it deserved, it is still one of the best platform titles for the Genesis console, even though it is a recycled game engine. You see, in Japan, this game has completely different graphics, a different plot… you could say it wears a whole different skin. The Japanese game is based off an anime TV show called Magical Hat, which I have never heard of and honestly didn’t bust my ass reading about. In fact, we’re done talking about it. The licensing to release the game was never done in North America, and anime wasn’t hot here yet in 1990 anyway, so Vic Tokai and Sega made a plan. They revamped the entire game using the same programming code and released it to the Western world in October of 1991 as Decap Attack.
The plot of the game revolves around Chuck D Head, a living mummy created by the maniacal Dr. Frank N. Stein (I know). A horrible tyrant named Max D. Cap has risen from the Underworld and split apart the islands these fine folks live on, and it’s up to Chuck to send Max right back where he came from and save the day. Thankfully, Chuck is no spring chicken; he was built with a face in his chest, which he can fire out like a battering ram to beat on anything that gets in his way. If he’s lucky enough to find a “real” head to put on his shoulders during his adventure… well, things get even better.
As Chuck, you wander through seven “areas,” each consisting of three separate stages. Each area has a boss, the final one being Max D. Cap himself. Movement is a lot like you’d expect from a platformer, with a couple of little twists. Most notably, if you tap the jump button in midair after jumping, Chuck can do a little skippy-foot dance that makes him descend more slowly. If used cleverly, this can get you to a lot of places. There are also level-specific ways to move around; sometimes you can bounce off special walls to slowly move upward, and sometimes there are little bendy poles in the ground for you to jump on and then launch yourself from once you’ve built some momentum.
Chuck must navigate this landscape while constantly under assault by Max’s cronies. These include goofy ducks, little ghosts, arrow-launching monsters, and other cartoonish (but very legitimate) threats. Some of the monsters are easy to avoid, but their sheer numbers will make up for their lack of prowess. Thankfully, there are little dog-headed statues everywhere, and they aren’t just for decoration. Most of them contain powerups of various kinds. Another neat thing about Decap Attack is the powerup menu. When you pick up a powerup, it doesn’t activate immediately; instead it goes into an inventory that you can access in a menu hosted by your friend Frank N. Stein. He and his assistant kindly explain what the various goodies do as you scroll through them, and you activate them right there. This allows you to conserve resources and even come up with some strategies… especially with boss fights. Another thing you’ll find is a skull. Chuck immediately plops this sucker between his spacious shoulders when he finds it, and it can be thrown kind of like a morbid boomerang in lieu of his regular face-launch. The skull has far greater range, but takes a moment to return to you, and can be lost if you are hit. you can also find coins, which give you chances at a bonus game after each area is completed. Lastly, you can find hearts to replenish your life meter. They look just like the ones on the life bar, in fact… not cartoon hearts, but beating, organic-looking ones.
The graphics are pretty cool, with a very Saturday-morning-cartoon feel to them. The sound effects are both humorous and well-polished, with my favorite being the sort of synthesizer-yell Chuck lets out when he’s hit. The music, composed by Fumito Tamayama and Hiroto Kanno, is among the best ever done for the Genesis system, period. My personal favorite is this track, but the entire soundtrack is fantastic. It fits the game perfectly, with a good mix of silliness and horror-style minor key stuff. At times, it gets VERY rock & roll, like the introduction sequence music, and all of it has a lot of backbone. The Genesis’s beautiful sound chips are put to good use.
Decap Attack’s Difficulty level is moderate but approachable. I remember playing it as a kid and being impressed at how far I could get, but still feeling challenged by the game as it progressed. I was sucked in visually and by the music, and it has remained one of the titles I think of first when I talk about the Sega Genesis system. I give it 8 out of 10 stars.