Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Decap Attack (GEN) Retro Review

Being October and all, I think it'd be fun to focus on some Halloween-themed games here and there throughout the month. Not only that, but we have our first Retro Review in quite a while, too. It's SEGA's Decap Attack, a game with an interesting story in how it came to be compared to what it originally was. Here's SuperPhillip Central's review.

A macabre platformer that doesn't push that far a-head of its contemporaries

How do you take a game that is heavily tied to a Japanese anime and rework it for Western audiences? Well, look at SEGA's Decap Attack for the answer. The original Magical Hat's Turbo Flight! Adventure launched in Japan in 1990 and was based on the anime series Magical Hat. In order to bring the game to the west, a wholly unique, slightly macabre theme was given to the game. While the gameplay remained relatively unchanged, everything from the story, to the visuals, to the levels themselves were altered to fit the new approach designed specifically for the Western Genesis and Mega Drive audiences. The end result is a game that nails the fundamentals and makes for a spooky good time.

Decap Attack stars Chuck D. Head, a mummy who is tasked by his creator Dr. Frank N. Stein to stop the evil demon Max D. Cap. (Have enough play-on words with the names yet?) The latter has brought his underworld monster minions topside to conquer the world, as well as split up an island reminiscent of a skeleton into seven pieces. It's up to Chuck D. Head to travel to each island, beat the boss of each, bring the skeletal series of islands back together, and beat down Max D. Cap back into the underworld where he belongs. 

There are 21 levels in Decap Attack, spread out among seven worlds. Each level sees our mummified hero Chuck run and leap his way through enemy and hazard-filled areas (with lava pits being instant death to our bandage-covered friend) as he finds his way to the goal. Some levels are standard left to right affairs, but other times they take you right to left, or straight up vertical, whether going upwards or downwards. 

Chuck doesn't really have a good head on his shoulders; 
It's merely a powerup that goes away as soon as he takes damage!

Levels aren't too lengthy in the game, but exploration is encouraged. Breakable statue idols are scattered throughout levels, hiding all sorts of goods (and the occasional bad thing like an enemy) inside. Such goods include health, potions that when used bestow temporary effects to Chuck, and coins, which are used at the end of each world to participate in a bonus game for extra lives and items alike. 

One of the things I don't particularly care for in Decap Attack is that when you die, the stone idols that you break don't reset. This means their contents don't reset either, making it so if you pillaged all of the health pickups in a level and die, you have to play through the level from the beginning with no means to heal yourself. There are no checkpoints in levels either, and while I said levels aren't lengthy, they are rather difficult with pesky enemies thwarting your progress every step of the way.

Occasionally, Chuck will have to get his bandages wet and do some swimming.

The third level of each island concludes with a boss battle of some sort. These have Chuck taking on foes of all shapes and sizes. He'll encounter a baby frog-spewing bullfrog, a mischievous mole, and an incensed yeti, to name but a few. Each boss's pattern is simple enough to learn and far from complicated, but as they take more damage (and their color and complexion literally changes to show how close they are to their demise), battles with them become more dangerous. 

Mo' levels completed, "mole" problems.

It's not just enough to beat the boss of an island and get the third level's goal. No, that's not good enough in Decap Attack to clear an island completely. You're forced to collect a hidden, special artifact found somewhere in that level. If you failed to pick it up and reach the goal, you're told to go back through the level to find it. Each is hidden in a stone idol statue, and many are in out-of-the-way locations. Thankfully, if you do die after beating a boss as you return through the level to find the necessary artifact to help restore the skeletal isles to their former glory, you need not refight the boss. 

Which is great, because Decap Attack is already a hard game. It by no means reaches the level of something like Contra or something hard because of poor design like various "NES Hard" games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but it will give you a run for your mummy--er--that is to say, a run for your money.

Here's looking at you--up close and personal!

Fortunately, Chuck has a helpful assortment of moves to tackle levels and bosses. For offense, he can jump on normal enemies multiple times to bury them into the ground, utterly defeating them. He can also launch his face forward to attack enemies directly in front of his gaze. You can't just keep Chuck's face out, though, and there's a delay in it retracting back in. Thus, there's some tricky timing to be found in properly attacking foes without taking damage to Chuck himself. There is a powerup that Chuck can discover in levels that places a skeleton head on top of his body that serves a function similar to a boomerang. When launched, it shoots forward and regardless of where it's thrown or where it lands, it will return to Chuck. The only caveat is that once Chuck takes damage, this highly beneficial boost to his attack gets taken away.

Meanwhile, platforming in Decap Attack is responsive, and while it's not necessarily the tightest around, making precision jumps on platforms is helped by Chuck's ability to slow his descent. This is performed by repeatedly pressing the jump button upon Chuck falling. It's a heaven sent maneuver to have due to the fact that without it, Decap Attack would be a much harder--and much more frustrating--game. 

The required platforming in Decap Attack isn't as punishing as it might have been
without Chuck's ability to slow his fall.

Decap Attack is a bit of a looker running on the SEGA Genesis. Environments are pronounced and look suitably dreary for the type of world the game plays out in, but no doubt well detailed. That said, one of the worlds was an assault on the eyes with the painful combination of hot reds and oranges. Regardless of that lone midgame world, when it concerns the character sprites, they look absolutely fantastic. The amount of detail is great on Chuck himself, and the bigger boss sprites are tremendous to gaze upon. Just don't get totally preoccupied staring at them, or you might end up having Chuck die on you! Musically, there are some catchy songs using the Genesis' signature soundfont, though I'll always argue that said soundfont and soundchip does get grating after a while.

It was a thrill (in more ways than one) returning to the macabre world of Decap Attack and once more taking control of Chuck D. Head in his adventure to save the world, defeat Max D. Cap and yes, get the surprise ending of him becoming human as reward for his good deeds. While there isn't too much here that pushes the platforming genre forward--and it would otherwise be lost in a sea of similar platformers without its unique atmosphere and vibe--Decap Attack remains a solid 2D platformer right down to its bones. 

[SPC Says: B-]

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