Headlander really surprised me; I went expecting a fairly run of the mill platformer with the polish befitting a Double Fine production, with the team’s trademark wonky humor. It looked weird, funny and polished, so I figured I’d give it a try.
What Headlander ended up being however was a 70’s Retro Scifi homage to Metroidvania (specifically Metroid) games that was a better homage to the genre than anything that has come out in recent memory.t
Headlander is a fantastically polished, well paced, and hilarious game, equal part homage to the artistic style and gameplay of the past and it’s own perfection of the Metroidvania game.
Game Version: Final
Review Copy: Provided by Publisher
Available on Steam
The basic concept in Headlander is that you’re a head. Just a head. Well, a head in a helmet. Okay, a head in a helmet which is rocket propelled.
Yes, this game can get weird.
You awake of a retro-futuristic space ship, find out you’re the last known human head in existence, and you need escape. You’re being pursued ruthlessly by Methusilah, a rogue AI intent on destroying you.
To do this, you’ll need to dock from robot body to robot body, using the different tools these different robots have to unlock doors, discover power up, or solve puzzles. Robots come in a handful of styles, from Security bots, to cleaning bots,to robot dogs, and almost all of them need to be used from time to time. Mechanically, this can be a little bit frustrating at times, when you can quite suction off the head of an enemy robot without it destroying you, but the upgrade tree give you plenty of options, from more powerful or longer range suction, to the ability to simply charge into and enemy and take over.
It’s remarkable how superbly well the Metroidvania style of play is executed by Headlander. Doors operate of a color coded system that’s easy to understand, without removing any challenge. You’ll very clearly know that you need to be on a orange robot, or shoot an orange laser, to get through that door, but how do you get an orange robot there without it being destroyed?
This is what Headlander does best: it presents the Metroidvania style of game, where backtracking, upgrading and exploration of a gigantic map are essential, with none of the ambiguity and confusion of the original games that founded this genre. Where as in Metroid, it might be very unclear how to get through a locked door you don’t have the proper power up the get through, in Headlander, if your AI guide doesn’t tell you exactly what you need to do, it’s going to be painfully obvious. The upgrade nodes that will help you unlock these areas are scattered liberally throughout the environment,and it was always exciting to find one. Headlander is the Metroidvania experience refined and honed to a very groovy edge.
Aesthetically, Headlander is a wonderful mix of 70’s colors, retro-futuristic robots and visual puns. It can get a little samey at times, but I always found that just when I was getting bored, a new visual style would pop up. The best example of this was the transition from the main space station down into the archives. I’d spent about an hour treking all over to cut power to the main locks on the turbo lift of the space station and let me descend into the archives area. I was getting a little bit bored of the industrial look, and was a bit concerned it was all going to be the same in the archives.
Instead I was greeted to a bizarre futuristic chess board themed gladiatorial arena called Grid Clash, with all the pieces having appropriately chessy-abilities and styles. It was bizarre, fun and different enough to keep thing fresh while I was there.
Every time I was getting to a point of near frustration or my interest was starting to wane, something happened. Maybe it was a change of scenery, maybe it was the introduction of a new mechanic, or maybe it was a slow motion musical number, but the combination of exploration, humor and puzzles in Headlander felt perfect to me, and kept me coming back for more and more. I was always engaged, interested, or at the very least in a stunned stupor due to some amazing sequence I could have never seen coming.
Headlander is fantastic on a lot of levels; the humor, the art style, the pacing, but more that anything i think its a superb example of how sometimes, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Headlander is a classic Metroidvania action platformer of yesteryear given a new coat of paint, and that’s okay, specifically because Double Fine and Adult Swim Games have executed it perfectly.
*Disclaimer: This review is based on a Press Review Copy given to us by the publisher. All opinions are the authors own, and the objectivity of the piece may be influenced by any of the authors own biases as stated in the article or in this disclaimer.*