Saturday, February 8, 2014

1987 Famicom Disk System, 'The Headmasters'

In doing my research for trying to find any odd info on my post here for the "Ancient Animal #4 Stegosaurus", I came across info for this game that I had never heard of.

Here we have the 1987 Famicom's Disk System game "The Headmasters".

Back in August last year, I briefly touched upon Takara's previous '86 Famicom game
release here with "Mystery of Convoy".

In 1987, Takara released this side scrolling shooter/platformer game. 

©Takara Co., Ltd. 1987
Release: 1987-08-28 (¥3300)
DiskCard TFC-TFH
Action/Shooter game

Transformers The Headmasters is an action/shooter by Takara and based on the '80s popular animated series of the same name.

This game was released only for the 8-bit Famicom Disk System and would stay a Japanese exclusive just like "Mystery of Convoy". 

 A Japanese Nintendo Famicom shown with the Disk System add-on.  Floppies Famicom Disk System were re-writable, that is to say that you could buy a game on disk format, but once finished the game for example, you could download a new game disk its choice via a special terminal, the Disk Writer . This special terminal was available in many malls and stores in Japan.
From all accounts that I could find, both of these games have bad reputations with the gaming community.  "Mystery of Convoy" is such a hard game that it seems like people just never gave "The Headmasters" a chance for fear of the same reason……..even if they had though, by all accounts they would quickly have found it to be an equal piece of turd.

The game starts out with a stage selection screen that gives the player the opportunity to explore three different planets - Earth, Cybertron and Jail. A fourth planet, the final stage, can only be accessed by rescuing the four Autobots first.

The game features Chromedome, an Autobot Transformer capable of changing into a heavy armed vehicle. The goal of the game is to help him rescue four imprisoned allies, namely Rodimus Convoy (known as Rodimus Prime outside of Japan), Hardhead, Highbrow and Brainstorm. Each rescued Autobot joins the party and becomes a playable character as the game progresses, and the ultimate goal is for them to combine into the powerful Fortress Maximus.
You are probably thinking that since you get to play as five playable Transformers, plus Fort Max in the final stage that this game that you must have tons of different in-game character playability……..right?  Nope……see, you can't even transform your character in this game.   All the characters have the exact same shape (except with Max) and the only way to distinguish between them is by color.   Even then, if you look at the above picture, Chromedome and Rodimus are the two on the top left and it looks like they have the exact same colouring.  Even with Fort Max having his own distinctive robot look, they made him to be the same size as the other Autobots.  He really should have been a lot more impressive after all since there should be some kind of reward or bonus in playing a  character of his calibre.

Each world is divided into two levels with the first level being an above ground, side scrolling shooter where you're in vehicle mode blasting away at lots of generic enemies. Once you beat the above ground boss, you continue on to the second platform style level in robot mode. The second level is always an underground maze for each world. The only big differences between the characters are their weapons. They shoot different patterns of bullets. 

Stages alternate between vehicle and robot modes (it is not possible to transform during gameplay) where the Autobots must defeat waves of Decepticons and their leaders.
Earth, Jail, and Cybertron all look similar which is nothing less than what you would expect from a game like this, although their backgrounds are a big improvement over "Mystery of Convoy".  One cool feature is that the two airborne Cybertrons Highbrow and Brainstorm don't fly on the same screen that the earthbound Cybertrons roll along on. When you switch from Chromedome/Rodimus/Hardhead to Highbrow or Brainstorm, the screen extends a bit and you fly up in the sky. What was the upper half of the ground based screen changes to the bottom half, and more of the sky is displayed.  The flyers are obviously the best characters to use in the above ground levels.

 The ground based vehicles have weapons that are just dumb, with Hardhead's being the worst.  Apparently, every other bullet of his dosen't go straight.  Instead, they follow a curved trajectory that doesn't go high enough to hit enemies above you, and at the same time misses hitting enemies in front of him. The enemies are the usual wave after wave of generic shapes that shoot countless bullets at you. There are cassette tapes, black balls, and other unknown characters.  While your bullets can absorb the enemy's firepower, you spend so much ammo countering their fire that the enemies fly away before you can get a bead on them. The only consolation with this is that you don't die with one shot as in Mystery of Convoy. The ground vehicles have a tendency to speed along a bit too fast, with your brakes not providing much in terms of stopping power, so your probable best course of action should be not to  stop and keep shooting at everything.

Various items are available to collect throughoutt the game and range from Energy Capsules, Power-ups (each Autobot comes with four power-ups levels) and Speed boosts.

The bosses that you have to fight at the end of the above ground levels all have different attacks, but their patterns are pretty easy to figure out and you should use the flying characters against them. The three bosses for the above ground levels are Dinosaurer/Trypticon (Cybertron), Menasor (Jail), and some colored guy I couldn't figure out for (Earth).  

The below ground parts of each world is where this game appears to really shines in sucking ass.  Each underground maze is boring to the point of falling asleep. All you do is go from room to room shooting the enemies until one of them leaves behind a Destron insignia. You pick it up and a door opens leading to the next room where, guess what… do it all over again.  Some of the enemies underground, like the black balls, can only be defeated by punching them, but all enemies can be stunned by first shooting them which renders them harmless. Needless to say, high dexterity control is not required for this piece of filth.

Interestingly, the robot sections are usually made out of closed rooms and Decepticon crests must be discovered to proceed, either by killing all the enemies on screen, or in some cases, by shooting specific pods.

Game control is, as to be expected, bad.  Character hover around each room a bit too fast, and if it wasn't for this bad control that continuously keeps you flying into the bad guys, you'd hardly ever get hurt.  In the boss battles for the underground levels, you fight Bruticus (Cybertron), Abominus (Jail), and Sixshot (Earth). The game designers made it so that they stay on their side of the room and you stay on your side, with both of you shooting bullets that bounce all over.  Everyone's projectiles go bouncing around the screen. You can only fire three bullets at a time, and you must wait for them to dissipate before you can fire three more. The boss gets a seemingly unlimited burst of ammo. Abominus is the toughest one to defeat because there is very little by way of barricades to protect you from his onslaught of bouncing bullets. These underground bosses are very tiny, unlike the towering giants in Mystery of Convoy.

I thought I was playing Transformers….not Power Rangers.
After all the bosses have been defeated and all the levels cleared, the final stage opens up and you get to see a quick cinema of the Headmasters and Rodimus Convoy flying in space and then jumping into Metroplex.  

Immediately after all five Cybertrons have gotten in Metroplex, he starts flashing and the final battle between Fortress Maximus and MegaZarak begins. 

Aren't Metroplex and MegaZarak supposed to be bigger than the buildings behind them.   It turns out MegaZarak/Scorponok can transform-he's the only Transformer in this whole game who can. He's also pretty tough to beat.   Once defeated, a lame ending screen pops up and all the Headmasters and Rodimus jump over Metroflex one at a time, disappearing in a twinkle over the horizon.  When Mystery of Convoy ends a 'Congratulation' screen appears…..well, guess what…. same here. 

At least Congratulation was spelled correctly, unlike a lot of other games from the 80's

In some ways this game is better than Mystery of Convoy, but in many way, it appears to be much worse. The small bosses, the repetitive and boring levels, and above all not being able to transform all is just horrible. Mystery's only big flaw was that one shot kills you.  If I had to pay for Headmasters as a kid, I would have been terribly dissapointed as a consumer and I'd probably hate Transformers. I remember being envious of the Japanese when I was young because they got all the game systems before us in North America.   In the case of this game though, I would say that I had nothing to be jealous about.


  1. Holy crud. As a kid, I always wanted a Transformers video game for my NES. After reading this, I'm glad I never got one.

    1. I agree. Even the newer TF games have been lacking in most capacities. FOC was definitely a big turning point but I still stayed away from it. Hopefully the next game stays away from anything to do with the movies...maybe they could start to follow the comic lines in some way.


  2. man, this think looks so classic, I'd give it a shot if i had the game system.
    I'm sure there's some emulator out that that can allow us to play this game!

  3. I know there are a ton of emulators out there but in the brief research that I did while writing this post up (and I should have included it), the emulators seem to be running on the older operating systems., or not on a MAC which is what I use.

    Nice hearing from you HD.


  4. I actually picked up Mystery of Convoy (or, "Comvoy" on the front of the cart) when I was in Japan years ago and I'd occasionally break it out to show my friends how awful it was. Strangely, I had a friend in college who was from Tokyo and he would sit down and play that game for hours! I think the overwhelming challenge kept bringing him back.