GDC 2019 Spotlight: Levelhead

GDC 2019 Spotlight: Levelhead

At GDC 2019, I got the chance to try Levelhead, a colorful platformer by developer Butterscotch Shenanigans created in a similar vein to LittleBigPlanet and Super Mario Maker, but with plenty of its own distinct style and flair.

In Levelhead, you take control of a robot under the employment of the Bureau of Shipment, an intergalactic shipping which sends packages. As a robot, you have to pickup the package from where it landed and take it to its final destination, while avoiding obstacles and defeating enemies along the way.

Unlike some other level creation focused games, Levelhead has a single player camapaign as a way for players to learn the mechanics. Standard mechanics include running after walking a certain distance, jumping between platforms and on top of enemies, and activating switches to get past obstacles. What puts more of a twist on this familiar formula is that the package you’re carrying can also be used as a tool to activate switches, give you an extra boost, defeat certain enemies.

As of right now, there are also three different power-ups available: The zipper, which allows players to teleport through walls. the tiptoe, which essentially turns the robot into a ninja, giving players the ability to climb walls and ceilings and also pass through enemies as a shrub, and the waylay, a heavier power up which turns players into more of a tank and is similar to the charge attack seen in Warioland games. This single player campaign can also be played cooperatively with up to four players  where they can either help or harm each other and need to make sure to use teamwork (or not) if they want to make any progress, While this campaign provides a way for players to learn how Levelheads mechanics work, the level editing mode is where things get really crazy.

Levelhead has the typical terrain, item, enemy, and obstacle placement one would expect, but has a couple of distinct features up its sleeves, giving players more freedom and adding variety to the levels. Level editing players can make obstacles activate once certain conditions are met, rather than just always being activated, which for some can help them have more levels centered around puzzle solving rather than just straightforward platforming. While enemies all have a standard size, by combining multiple enemies of the same type, players can “scale pop” these enemies and create a bigger version of that enemy up to three times the regular size, offering a great alternative to just adding or stacking a ton of enemies.

Levelhead also features context aware terrain, so items will match the color better and look more aesthetically pleasing. Players even have the ability to create hidden secret areas for other players to find as well. Another distinct feature is being able to edit the cinematic elements withing levels, so level editing players can have the camera pan to a new room and create challenge levels or have the camera constantly move in one direction effectively creating a chase level.

What interested me about Levelhead the most wasn’t just that it had a co-op campaign, but it even has a co-op level editing mode for players to create levels together. Levels can even be created to be multiplayer specific, meaning they won’t show up in a search of just a single player.  I was told that at times this could become even more chaotic than just playing a level with multiple people, so the team is still trying to work many of the kinks out.

Like other games in the genre, Levelhead has an online mode where players can check out and play each others levels in the marketing department. These levels are sorted by the amount of exposure bucks they have, which players gain by playing levels made by others and in turn giving players more agency. Once a level has gained a certain amount of exposure bucks its quality and difficulty are evaluated and it graduates into “the tower,” an area with five floors consisting of different difficulty tiers. Additionally, there are tags players can use to help others find their levels players and be able to find levels which appropriately match their skills, as well as player profiles which can be subscribed to. Besides “the tower,” there’s also the Unbeaten Basement, an area where levels that have yet to be beaten by anyone —besides their creator — are sorted, which is great for more hardcore players looking for extra challenge.

Levelhead seems like a game that is it’s willing to go above and beyond to set itself apart from the rest.  I’m excited to see the variety of levels players create both by themselves and together, whether they be single player or multiplayer. If you like games that feature level editing but always feel like they’re just a little too limited, than Levelhead is a game you should definitely keep a close eye on.

Levelhead will be available in Early Access in April for $19.99.

It also is planned to launch on Nintendo Switch, as well as Android  and iOS devices later this year.

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