DEVELOPER: Vic Tokai
RELEASE DATE: 12/15/90 (JP – Magical Hat…), 10/91 (US – Decap Attack), 11/91 (EU – Decap Attack)
Think hard, children. Would you rather play as an Arabian child who throws an egg, or a headless torso who throws a skull? Would you rather stumble around in quirky, colorful anime settings, or hobble through a series of dark, dreary worlds? Would you rather fight to reconnect islands that actually look like islands or body parts that look like islands? Your response to these three questions will determine just how much of that edgy, never-say-die 1990s spirit you still have – and whether Magical Hat… or Decap Attack is the game for you.
Magical Hat’s Turbo Flight Adventure is based on the anime “Magical Hat.” In essence, the main character, Hat, falls into the underworld known as Devildom and has to defeat the evil king, Jiark. “Magical Hat” never saw an English dub/sub in the late 80s/early 90s, and as such, its game tie-in stayed put in Japan. Developers Vic Tokai knew they had a decent game on their hands, however, and reskinned the game as Decap Attack. Gameplay-wise, both games are incredibly similar, but Decap Attack‘s story, characters, graphics, music, and level layouts are completely different from Magical Hat.
In Decap Attack, you play as Chuck D. Head, a headless mummy who has to destroy Max D. Cap and his underworld army from destroying the earth. As in Magical Hat, each world is an island that’s been disconnected, though in Decap Attack‘s case, the islands are all body parts because… he’s a mummy? Most of the beings in the game are some form of supernatural ghoul? Sure, why not.
Hat and Chuck D. Head don’t move like normal platforming protagonists. Rather than falling down like lumpy sacks of potatoes, as Isaac Newton intended, they’re able to float downwards, allowing them to avoid potential disaster. Both characters also have some slipperiness in their step, like they put Crisco on their heels. Normally, slipperiness in a platformer can equal death, but I was surprised by how rarely it caused me damage. Don’t run into the unknown or try and stop suddenly, and you’ll never have a problem with it.
While Hat/Chuck can jump on an enemy several times to take them out, punching is more effective – and more dangerous. In Magical Hat, if any enemy touches you once, you’re dead. In Decap Attack, you have a life bar, but enemies are more aggressive. The weapon you want to have with you at all times is your throwable item (the egg or the skull, depending on the game). This item has great range, kills just about any enemy with one hit, and returns to you regardless of where you throw it. If you get hit once, however, the item goes away and you have to find it again.
There’s a sense of freedom within the level design that I haven’t seen much in Sega-published platformers up to this point. The levels are mostly wide open, with multiple paths and hidden secrets. There’s no time limit, so exploration is encouraged and occasionally necessary. The only cap to this freedom are the enemies, most of which have a devious unassuming nature that makes them seem less dangerous than they are. They’re not hard to kill, but they do blend into the environments well. If you’re not paying attention to your surroundings, it’s easy to get hit.
In the third level of each world, you have to find a special item hidden in one of the level’s breakable statues in order to beat the level. Even if you’ve beaten the boss, you still won’t be able to progress unless you’ve found the hidden item. In Magical Hat, this item is located conveniently in a statue near the exit of the level. In Decap Attack, however, the item is hidden in a random statue somewhere in the level.
Breakable statues are everywhere in Decap Attack. Once broken, they either contain: nothing at all, a potion that gives you extra power, or an enemy. Nothing is stupid and pointless. Enemies are mean. The potions are ok, but I found myself forgetting about them. Depending on their color, they provide help like short-term invincibility to freezing all on-screen enemies to running faster and jumping higher. The invincibility is very helpful, particularly when you’re asked to navigate through a string of enemies, but I rarely used any of the others.
Decap Attack/Magical Hat is actually the third in a side-scrolling platforming “series” developed by Vic Tokai. While not an official series, per say, all three of these games share certain characteristics, like funky physics and throwable weapons. Kid Kool and the Quest for the Seven Wonder Herbs came first and remains a disaster of a first try. Kid Kool controls like a really bad wind-up pitch (hot garbage, basically), which makes the game almost impossible to play. Psycho Fox is a much-improved second attempt with a stronger protagonist who doesn’t move like a jackass. The game’s still incredibly difficult, but it’s playable, unlike Kid Kool.
Let’s examine, shall we? Magical Hat…‘s visual appeal has aged better than Decap Attack. Cartoony innocence rarely goes out of style, whereas trying-too-hard always has an expiration date (Chuck D. Head is a grotesque thing that could only have been created – and accepted – during the “Goosebumps” decade). However, Decap Attack does have more balanced difficulty and a stronger soundtrack that takes full advantage of the Genesis’ chunky synths. Each game has excellent level design that encourages repeat playthroughs and good controls that, while slippery, forego most of the awkward inertia-based physics of their predecessors.
For Americans/Europeans who aren’t able to experience Magical Hat, take heart. Decap Attack sure isn’t pretty or charming, but hot tots, is it satisfying. Rare is the title where I hate the main character, hate the art style and overall feel of the game, yet still walk away impressed. Y’all need to get on this if you haven’t already. So far, it’s one of the most enjoyable platformers on the Genesis.