During the 1990s, the platformer genre saw a huge boom in popularity. After Sonic the Hedgehog struck it big, it seemed like every developer was trying their hand at making a mascot-based platformer. None of them saw the same success as Sonic, of course, but not all of these would-be platforming heroes were as abysmal as Bubsy. Case in point, the oft-forgotten Sega Genesis title Tinhead which, while flawed, showed enough potential that it’s a shame it never took off as its own franchise.
In Tinhead, players control (as you may have guessed) Tinhead, a charming robot whose cute design was a refreshing reprieve from all the “animals with attitude” that were inspired in Sonic’s wake. Tinhead can run and jump, like most of his platforming kin. But Tinhead differs from other genre heroes with his attack.
Tinhead can shoot little bullets out of the top of his head, and can change the trajectory of his shots (forward, upward and downward) by pressing the A button (C jumps, and B fires). Additionally, the bullets can bounce off walls, leading the player to get creative with how to take out enemies.
The method of attack is what helps make Tinhead a bit more creative than a lot of the other platformers of the time. Unfortunately, where Tinhead’s control stumbles is in his jumping which, being a platformer, can become bothersome.
Tinhead manages to take to the air well enough, but once his jumps reach their maximum height or length, he comes crashing down as though gravity suddenly has a vendetta against him. The jumping mechanics aren’t terrible, but they certainly are less fluid than you’d hope they’d be, as the rapid descents mean you have to be incredibly precise when it comes to the trickier platforming segments.
Yet another problem with the game’s physics comes in the form of going down slopes. Normally in a 2D platformer, the character will only slide down a slope if yo press down on the control pad. But in Tinhead, the poor robot will automatically slide downhill unless you are actively moving him upward. If you let go of the D-pad for even a split second, Tinhead will start to go downhill. It’s not a major complaint, but when you’re also fighting an enemy or trying to grab an item when going uphill, it can prove problematic.
By now I probably sound largely negative, but in all honesty Tinhead is a fun game. The story involves an evil intergalactic goblin who has stolen the stars, trapped them, and scattered them across the cosmos. The goal of each level is to find a star, and then head for a teleporter to clear it.
The game hosts four worlds, each consisting of three stages, and each stage being separated into two segments (each segment containing its own star and teleporter). There are colorful enemies who look like they wouldn’t be out of place in Sonic 3D Blast, and Tinhead can even ride on a weird dog/pogo ball hybrid for some extra distance in his jumps, as well as a propellor and jetpack.
One area in which Tinhead differs from other 16-bit platformers is that its titular character can have up to five hit points (grabbing a battery refills one hit point, while grabbing a lightning bolt refills them all). It’s a small change, but it does take away some of the stress out of the equation. I’d hate to think how difficult this game might be if Tinhead died in one or two hits along with the overly-precise platforming bits.
It’s simple stuff, but it’s charming and different enough to make it stand out, at least in regards to the other Sonic wannabes of the day. The visuals look nice and colorful, and the music is pretty darn good. Though there is one more notable complaint to be had with the boss fights, which can be incredibly tedious (just dodge their occasional attacks and keep firing. They don’t change patterns, and there’s not much in terms of strategy).
Tinhead may not have been a classic, as it’s a capable but unspectacular platformer with notable problems in its physics and boss fights. But it’s charming, and provides some solid fun. Who knows, maybe if Tinhead had been allowed a few sequels, he could have found his stride and became a full-on platforming star. If Bubsy was allowed to have sequels, I don’t see why Tinhead should have been denied them.