Rediscovering: Magical Hats

| #16bit | #megadrive | #rediscovering | #videogames |

This is a repost from 2012. I remembered writing it and dug it out of the old forum database, and here – for your suffering – it is!

Back in the day, c.1989 or so, I was on the cutting edge of video game technology. Around the same time North America was receiving its first real look at the future by way of the release of Sega’s Genesis console, I worked my ass off for a few weeks to earn enough to import a Japanese MegaDrive, and was one of the very few to experience the awesome.

(This is part of a series of rediscovery, for the rest click here)

Or, rather, I experienced a boatload of suck and tried to pretend it wasn’t all awful, a job that became so much harder when I picked up a PC Engine and, later, looked with envious eyes at the Super Nintendo and its stellar library.

Anyway, I had a MegaDrive and a local video rental place was keen to keep me happy with local and imported 16-bit cartridges, and one of them was this game:

Magical Hat’s Flying Turbo! Great Adventure

Isn’t that a great title? It’s as garish and ridiculous as its graphics and premise. Actually, to this day I don’t know what its premise is, you’re a kid in a turban who throws a smiling egg at stuff. That’s basically all I know for sure (Oh, and apparently it’s based on an old anime).

I was blinded at the time by the smooth parallax graphics and the sheer number of colours, which blew away anything Nintendo’s NES could offer. Stubbornly I played it to completion, but that was 34 years ago now, and I wonder – how does it play now?

It’s a mixed bag. The first level, and most of the subsequent ones, are drab, multi-directional mazes where you just sort of assume you head in one general direction and find the exit. This is complicated, of course, by strange enemies and lava and the usual platform shit.

But let’s get one thing out of the way: the graphics are bizarre. Consider your main character: when standing, he’s a cute kid in a hat, with an egg. When he crouches, he looks a bit like he’s been stepped on. And if you crouch on a hill you are treated to a demonstration of the most amazing strength and leverage, as most of his body virtually hovers into thin air… And then, if you jump while crouched, your pancake’d body floats high into the sky without moving a muscle.

It’s first-gen 16-bit from two companies (Vic Tokai and Sega) not really known for quality home conversions. It sort of reminds me of Alex Kidd, with the punching and very primitive platform dynamics.

Some parts of this game are quite enjoyable, but I really feel it would have benefitted from some more considered level design.

Most of these levels can be raced through, often by simply flying over large portions, skipping all of the bonus items and enemy confrontations in favour of a very short path straight to the exit… And there’s no real penalty for doing so. In fact, there are few penalties at all – it’s tremendously generous with the extra lives, I had 33 in reserve by the time I reached level three.

Now granted, a lot of very excellent games can be milked for 1ups. Even Super Mario World’s third stage allowed you to get a handful of 1ups every time you played it, and you could go back as often as you liked. But SMW forced you to go through a carefully crafted path on each stage, and the difficulty was always being steadily applied. Magical Hats doesn’t have this – the levels adopt a scattershot design philosophy, so that the relief you feel at the end of each stage isn’t because you conquered a challenge, but because you managed to avoid some interminable drudgery.

On the other hand, it’s not without its charms. Like a good-natured neanderthal, without social graces but carrying a good heart and sense of humour, Magical Hats is sort of endearing. This image sort of says it all for me:

NFG notes: This was originally written in a serialized fashion, with updates as I played further into the game. There was a break here.

At some point the disappointment sets in, and it hits pretty hard. When the Genesis was new this game delivered the promise of 16-bit power, with fancy scrolling and huge levels and, at a certain point later in the game, a terrifying full-screen machine that would grind up the level behind you, leaving blackness in its wake.

It was, at the time, amazing. I was playing with friends and we were astounded, and we loved it, and I always wanted to see that again all these years later…

Well, I’ve seen it, and… Well, it’s a bit weedy if I’m being honest.

So this game, which occupied a fairly warm and fuzzy part of my brain these last twenty thirty plus years, sort of sucks, and all the things I remember so fondly sort of suck as well. I’ve reached a point where I just don’t give a shit anymore. It’s a game for children, based on a children’s show, and it’s easy and scatterbrained and I think it damns the people who thought this was all they needed to do.

The graphics are random and mostly boring, the levels are starting to grind – if you don’t happen to chance upon the one thing you need in a stage, you’re sent back to find it, and fuck that. There’s a shop full of bonus items but I just can’t be bothered to find out what they do (it’s all in Japanese, of course, but ultimately I don’t care anymore).

If it has one redeeming feature, it’s the slot-machine bonus level, where the coins you gathered in the stage can be gambled for bonus prices. It’s not optional, and you can’t spend some of your coins. You pump them all in and you almost never win, and it’s probably the best way to convince Japanese children that gambling’s for suckers.

So, I’m done, I’m moving on.

UPDATE: It may be that I’m finding it painfully easy because I’m using emulators and save-states to cheat my way through it, but I did the same thing with other games and didn’t find them easy, nor did they bore the shit out of me so soon after getting started, so… I think the rose-tinted glasses are off and this is a mediocre game at best.

I’ve read a lot of praise about it on the intertubes, and I’m guessing that they’re still wearing said glasses, or just comparing it to the North American version, made ugly and even more boring, and called DecapAttack. Instead of a kid in a turban throwing an egg, you’re a mummy throwing your head.



Download the ROM right here.

[ Apr 6 2024 ]

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