Halloween is unquestionably my favorite holiday of the year, and just about anything with a Halloween theme catches my eye. Video games are certainly no exception to this rule with interesting titles such as Demon’s Crest, The Haunting, and Monster Party paving the way for today’s genre of horror-themed games. However, one game in particular did an excellent job of mixing good gameplay with sidescrolling action and a unique, dark theme. Decap Attack is a fun romp with a horror feel that is more concerned with fun than taking itself seriously.
Decap Attack(Sega Genesis) Developer: Vic Tokai Publisher: Sega Released: December 15th, 1991(amb) Best deal: $5.00 on average(eBay)
Not an original title, Decap Attack was first developed as Magical Hat Flying Turbo Adventure by Japanese developer Vic Tokai. Magical Hat was published by Sega for the Master System/Genesis in 1990 and features a very colorful, cheerful world featuring vibrant graphics and a gameplay scheme that was later transferred over to Decap Attack. However, the license for the Magical Hat anime was unavailable outside of Japan, so the American and European release of the game was transformed into a darker, drearier – but still cartoonish – contrast of itself, thus creating Decap Attack. The yin to Magical Hat’s yang, Decap Attack strays as far away from the cute, the cuddly, and the adorable as possible – depending on one’s taste and definition of “adorable.”
Story is not a strong point for Decap Attack. It features protagonist Chuck D Head, as he takes on Max D Cap with the help of his creator, Dr. Frank N Stein. Max D Cap has returned from the Underworld with his evil army, has scattered the islands, and threatens to leave Chuck’s world completely shattered. Chuck springs into action to end the tyranny of Max D Cap and bring peace back to his ghoulish world. This rather cookie cutter story is likely the product of story taking a back seat during Magical Hat’s redesign. It does, however, follow the design and visual presentation very well. Despite the simplicity of the game’s story, it fits.
Tried and true platforming mechanics are what shape the bulk of Decap Attack’s gameplay, but there are also slight tweaks to the classic platformer approach to provide a refreshing experience from the norm. As with most platformers of the time, Decap Attack allows for backtracking throughout the present level, various objects and challenges for level differentiation, simple ways to defeat enemies, and the chance to collect powerups and special attacks. The concise difference between Decap Attack and other platformers comes in the form of the ability to collect and store powerups to use when the player chooses and a reanimated skull that the player can toss at enemies like a one-trick boomerang. Players are also given the chance to collect coins throughout stages. These coins are used during bonus stages at the end of each world. Chuck also has arguably the strangest natural attack in the world of video games. He uses his face that is kept in the middle of his chest cavity as a protruding, fist-like weapon.
The atmosphere in Decap Attack isn't exactly sunshine and rainbows.
Pace is an ever-important factor when it comes to a platformer, and Chuck D Head does not slack in the least. Decap Attack certainly doesn’t share the same speed as Super Mario Bros 3 due to the lack of a running feature, but the natural pace of walking, jumping, and attacking does not slow the player down in the least. Chuck is even equipped with an ability to “slow fall” which is especially handy to correct any mistakes the player may make while breezing through a level. It is not at all difficult to speed through levels if the player doesn’t care to find any secrets or powerups, providing plenty of freedom for the player to make his or her own decisions.
As with most platformers, the game presents a boss battle at the end of each world. This traditional cliché, for me, has far too often worn out its welcome, and this feeling is even stronger when I play Decap Attack. I find it annoying that boss fights are simply led into rather than built around. There is no fundamental difference in a stage with a boss battle and any other stage in a particular world. Certainly this seems like a tradition in design when one thinks of classics such as Golden Axe, but it’s fair to say that Super Mario World showed that game design can go far beyond that mindset.
One of the biggest draws for the game is the unique atmosphere it provides in a genre that is normally filled with the colorful, the bright, and the cheerful. Skulls can be seen in the background’s dead, withering trees, many of the enemies are either dead or monstrous(like the werewolves wandering around), and the hero of the day is a headless mummy. All of these creatures reside in what appears to be a dead, barren wasteland where undead life can be found romping across the plains, dwelling on hilltops, or occupying the surprisingly blue bodies of water. Chuck's world is as strange as Halloween town and even has dead, angry fish.
Animations for the game are smooth, crisp, and rather refreshing for a Sega Genesis title. The cartoonish graphics coincide nicely with the game’s dark theme, and the frame rate is fast enough to provide the speed necessary for an excellent pace and enjoyable gameplay. Small easter eggs like Chuck’s look of shock when running off a cliff give even more life to an already lively game. However, not all animations are enjoyable and awe-inspiring. The animations for the many potions and powerups the game offers are rather trite and forgettable. What could be a dazzling experience fizzles into a moment of mediocrity.
I must admit that I am very responsive to video game music from this era. The music has to be catchy, it has to be entertaining in its own right, and it has to fit. The scores presented in Decap Attack have no problem with accomplishing this goal. The early levels are accompanied by an interesting rock theme, the title screen’s theme is outright awesome, and I dare argue that the theme used for Chuck D. Head’s death sequence is the best death theme in gaming. Analyzing each theme presented is unnecessary; it’s best to say that they are all gems and are each appealing in their own way.
Despite some rather odd sound effects that don't seem to tie in to what is happening, the game has plenty of 16-bit charm with its sounds. I was originally going to criticize how oddly placed the sound effects are, but it simply isn't fair to call Decap Attack out for its cartoonish, wild effects when other oldschool greats have done the same thing. The truth is that the game continues a time-honored tradition of ensuring that the sound creates a fun, attractive ambiance that draws the player in – even if they don't entirely make sense. I praise this game for keeping the tradition going in such great fashion.
Overall, Decap Attack is a great classic that deserves to be played over and over again. It has been a personal favorite of mine for years, and not a Halloween has passed since that doesn’t remind me of this gem. I have included this game in various lists consisting of Halloween-themed games or the best games to play for Halloween, and it deserves the attention I give it. Dust off your old Genesis and give it a try. Or you could always find it on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection.
The Verdict: 9/10