Soufflé samurai

20210105_111555

Sega’s arcade/Dreamcast whack ’em up Dynamite Deka 2, also known as Dynamite Cop, also known as the sequel to an earlier arcade/Saturn bop ’em up that cannot be referred to by its once-official international title for expired licensing reasons, is a game determined to be the most everything it can possibly be. To a certain extent all arcade-born titles are: They’ve got to strive to be the loudest and most colourful game in a whole room full of loud and colourful games if they’re going to catch anyone’s eye, and that’s before we start talking about novelty controllers and extravagant cockpit-style cabinets. But not even that is enough for Dynamite Deka 2. This is a game that aspires not just for simple more but most, a game that decides its quietest moments will still make it the most arcade-like game in the whole arcade, a game that at home is so arcade the Dreamcast port contains two of them on a single GD-ROM: The one you bought it for – Bruno “Mr Dynamite” Delinger’s continuing adventures – and an extra one, Tranquilizer Gun, an animal-catching arcade title from 1980. Why? Because… because that’s just what Dreamcast-era Sega did, and because nobody loves Sega quite as much as Sega do.

And so as you play through this tireless assault on your gaming senses you often find yourself thinking “This has got to be the game’s limit, surely Dynamite Deka 2 can’t get any more absurd than this” as you fight off two burly men wider than they are tall wearing giant decorative crabs on their backs with a baguette or watch a mostly-naked guy holding a pair of machine guns stroll out of a sauna – and you’ll always be wrong. This is a game that lets you punch a fridge to access the tray of chilled grenades inside so you can throw them one by one at an eight foot tall chef before moving on to a fistfight against a giant octopus. And then – then! – depending on which of three dramatic entrances you decided to make at the beginning of the game you may from there go on to a pirate island that looks like it’s straight out of a pulp fiction comic from the fifties thanks to its evil island face and once you’re there you may spot one of Golden Axe‘s “Chicken Leg” creatures trapped in a crate because THIS IS DYNAMITE DEKA 2 AND there are old ship cannons you can pick up and repeatedly fire like some sort of piratical rocket launcher even though CANNONS DO NOT WORK THAT WAY.

Wow. Phew! It’s… it’s a lot, this one: an electrifying rush of arcade absurdities, one last hurrah for a genre that at the time was teetering on the edge of extinction, gaming collectively deciding around that point it was now too “mature” and “cool” to tolerate such cartoonish behaviour outside of officially designated “kiddy” games and Kirby. But as cheerily over the top as it consistently is Dynamite Deka 2 is so very serious about being so very silly: All three characters have a broad range of accessible combos embellished with an entertaining grapple system boasting some fabulously showy holds and wince-inducing bone breaks. A broom may look like a ridiculous weapon to use against modern-day pirates but its long reach combined with the ability to whirl it overhead makes it great for crowd control. Those single-use missiles capable of unleashing an explosion so gigantic everything stops for a moment so the camera can pull back a lot to show every enemy on the screen flying high into the air may be better saved for the boss that’s going to leap in during the second wave rather than wasted on the standard gaggle of gun-toting goons firing at you from across the room right now. Dishes piled high with apples or meat buns can be picked up and then depending on the button pressed every individual item on the plate can either be thrown at an enemy or eaten for a small health boost, the remaining platter at the end automatically tossed ahead and potentially causing further damage to anyone who gets in the way. Attacking a real bruiser of an enemy with a giant frozen tuna is more than a hilarious spectacle – the fish can be violently broken apart and the surviving chunk eaten to regain a little energy. So yes it’s noisy and daft and you’re never quite sure what bizarre item you’re going to heave overhead and throw at an unsuspecting member of Wolf Hongo’s pirate gang next – the manual makes it very clear that a triple bazooka, a machinegun, an iron pipe, and a little wooden boat carrying sushi are all weapons – but you can be sure there’s an intelligent and skilful use to be found for whatever you’re currently holding, even if you’re not quite sure what it is yet.

This commitment to ensuring quality lies at the heart of every visually comical decision also extends to the stage design – although it might be a little hard to appreciate when a rocket’s being fired up a staircase and you’re blown through a window or you’re busy fighting on a table covered in macarons. It’s true though: The Bermuda – the luxurious cruise ship the majority of the game takes place on – is a very carefully designed location that can only go creatively all-out on the outlandish rooms contained within because it’s so firmly grounded in its own exaggerated brand of (un)reality. It’s most obvious if you take a little time to play through each one of the game’s missions: Mission 1 has your chosen characters parachute in from above, starting the game at the top of the ship and then working their way down into the bowels of the engine room before escaping into the sea and off to the pirate island. Mission 2 sees you entering from a side deck before going up, down, then up again as the ship sinks into the ocean, ending in a battle on an upper level. Mission 3 opens with your character(s) in scuba gear, stealthily swimming in undetected and working their way up from the bottom of the ship to the top before escaping via a helicopter to the island for the final showdown, in some ways Mission 1 played out in reverse. By presenting the missions as alternative routes Dynamite Deka 2 cleverly avoids making familiar areas feel repetitive even though some areas are outright reused or very lightly redecorated versions of another: You’re not in Room 4 again, you’ve come to the kitchen. That’s not Level 3a, you’re moving down the stairwell towards the engine room. It instantly makes every instance of content recycling perfectly understandable – of course the dining room’s right next to the kitchen, where else would it be? And so when one mission has you explosively land in a swimming pool and another sees you dash past the exact same location at full speed as you successfully QTE-punch pirates into the water without stopping it doesn’t even register as a reused asset – why would it? By that point you will have already seen that area on the deck below as you were brawling somewhere higher up – that’s just where the swimming pool on the Bermuda is.

It’s 3D in a way most games in the same genre – old and new – aren’t, it’s more forward-thinking and aware of the creative possibilities a fully polygonal environment enables than just about anything other than its own prequel. You’re always going in or around or up something, and the slight auto-aim on attacks as well as the speed and simplicity with which you can start pummelling in a new direction – so long as you’re not mid-combo just pull the stick the way you want to turn and hit a button – make managing the open spaces and surrounding opponents an intuitive breeze. This is quietly assisted once again by some plain old good game design: For all the outlandish bravado and goofy furnishings to be seen in Dynamite Deka 2’s sauna, hair salon, casino, and more if you take a moment you’ll realise that whether you’re punching people while standing on a lifeboat or smashing them over the head with a vacuum cleaner every area is a thinly disguised take on a flat rectangle, and that means you have no deadly pitfalls to worry about or complex pieces of scenery to get caught on.

Like all the very best arcade titles Dynamite Deka 2 is a short, intense, and endlessly replayable game that just keeps on giving: On the Dreamcast there’s a gallery’s worth of hidden illustrations to collect, unlockable extra hard mission variants that are all challenging in very different ways, as well as additional multiplayer fighting and survival modes – and yes they’re all variations or snipped-off portions of the main game but that’s because the main game’s so darned good why wouldn’t anyone want to play some more? Throwing a forklift at someone while wearing scuba gear is not something I ever wish to tire of, and neither is straight-up hoofing a gaudily-dressed pirate through a door or getting thrown around by a screen-filling octopus, my character’s clothing becoming more tattered with every blow. Dynamite Deka 2’s a glimpse into the beat ’em up future we almost had, and a heck of a lot of timeless fun.

One thought on “Soufflé samurai

  1. Who can have anything against some silly creative chaos of nonsense? The game sounds great. Probably was a good choice to move away from that license, unless the first game’s like that as well.

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