The game that never dies!
(or: How the past and the present meet in the middle of mediocrity)
Some say good games never die; they just get a new coat of paint put on them and get rereleased. Well, the same saying applies even to bad games, as we shall see.
There are two separate storylines and four games involved, so I guess I should begin with the game in the title. I've known about Magical Hats ever since 1991 or so, when I saw a preview of it in EGM's Super Gaming magazine. (Short-lived; don't ask.) It looked like a cute and fun mario-style platform game. Sega obviously thought so too, so they changed all the graphics into a ghoulish horror theme, and released it in America as "Decap Attack starring Chuck D. Head." I wasn't impressed.
I had always wanted the original Magical Hats, just so I could have a cutesy platform game for my Genesis (other than Sonic). Flash back a little bit more to 1989, when a game called Psycho Fox gets released for the Sega Master System. For years afterward, it is hailed by those in the MS camp as the answer to Mario, and the salvation of Sega. (So to speak). Well, flash forward (a lot of flashing!) to 1999, when I bought an SMS for very cheap, and came across Psycho Fox for a reasonable price. I say, "Why not?" and buy the game to see what everybody was raving about.
Well, upon playing Psycho Fox, the game started to feel verrry familiar to me... In fact, it reminded me of an NES game that I had played some time ago on the NES. When I came to think of it, in fact it WAS an NES game called Kid Kool, which was released by Vic Tokai some time ago. Strictly speaking, Kid Kool stunk as a game, and Psycho Fox was no different in the way the player inertia and enemy placement were poorly programmed and annoying. The way you punch enemies looked terribly cheap in both games as well. I had to laugh. The game hailed by Master System owners as their Mario was no better than an awful NES game (with more colourful graphics).
Okay, we're flashing forward for the last time to the end of the year 2000, and I find this game (actually, 5 copies of this game) in a game shop in the U.K. I say, "Definitely gonna get that," and take the game home. Upon starting up Magical Hats, I get a familiar queasy feeling again... Oh, no. Why, this game is no more than a 16-bit version of Psycho Fox, a.k.a. Kid Kool! Well, at least it is a better game than the previous titles. The jumping is improved, you can float, the graphics are great, and the levels are much less linear. However, there's still that cheesy punching action, and the first boss that I encountered was ludicrous. He attacks you with shots, moving forward and backward, but he is always pointing to the right, even when walking backwards (to the left)!
I have always wondered if, like studio musicians who play uncredited on multiple artists' albums, or like movie script writers who fit a standard script template around a movie actor's vehicle idea, video game templates existed somewhere, ready to be sold to fit any mascot and any system. This series of games has let me know that they do exist, and this is a fine example of a poor example. Ho hum.. what can one do?
Below are pictures from the box, instruction booklet, and cartridge. That's a cheerful way to give kids a lecture on proper cartridge handling. And, look! The Game Gear! Ahh.... 1991...