Don’t lose your head. You might need it.
I’m a pretty big fan of the Metroidvania style games. I know people for some reason dislike that term, but when I say it, you know exactly the style of game I’m talking about. Well, Double Fine has decided to make their very own Metroidvania game in the form of Headlander. This 1970’s futuristic game has some pretty good ideas going for it, and for the most part, it works. In some areas though, it does have its frustrations.
Players take on the role of an unnamed head. Literally, I was playing as a floating head. Apparently the only one left in the universe. In this world, humans have abandoned their bodies and uploaded their consciousnesses to a mainframe where they are then uploaded to robot bodies. This is all part of a rather evil sounding overlord who really doesn’t like the fact that there’s a human head floating around his base.
Platforms: PC, PS4
Price I’d Pay: $19.99
The game is a 2.5D perspective, where players will move their floating head around, suction heads off robots, land on the body of the robot, and then control the body. This is the main game play mechanic of Headlander. Certain doors can only be opened by certain bodies. So a red guard can open red doors, a brown guard can open brown doors; at least the robots are color-coded for convenience.
Certain bodies have different attack methods, and paying attention to where I was aiming was actually very important. Sticking my head out (hehe funny) would end up getting me shot far too many times, essentially exploding my body and leaving my floating head vulnerable. Staying in cover and using certain objects and walls to bounce my shots to hit the enemy robots was the best strategy. Going for headshots would be a much faster kill and would leave a nice body ripe for the taking.
The layout of the world is very familiar to any Metroid or Castlevania fan. Moving left and right, up and down, and sometimes even leaving the body I was piloting would be essential for exploration when looking for secret areas that would lead to upgrades for my character, both in head form as well as body form. Many of these upgrades are in a skill tree in the menus that can give more health, alternate a type of attack, and generally make my character better.
One of the biggest issues I had with Headlander was the camera itself. I get they are trying to make it look cool and stylish for the players, but when you zoom out that far when entering a room and you’re controlling a red guard body and have to fight other red guards, trying to figure out which one was me became a chore, and all the while this is going on I’m getting shot up to hell and back.
While there aren’t that many, the boss fights scattered throughout the game felt like they were out of place when they required me to do things I wouldn’t do while playing the game normally. It’s just a strange feeling rather than a bad mechanic. Since there weren’t that many, I can usually look past them.
The humor is a bit hit or miss with me. There are some pretty funny lines scattered here and there that had me chuckle more than once, but then there were obvious jokes that kind of made me roll my eyes, especially towards the later part of the game where I just wanted to progress. Although, the classic 1970’s future look and vibe it gives off is fantastic, and one that I haven’t seen used in a game. If anything, this game has a lot of style going for it.
Headlander has a few faults, but when getting into a flow of this style of game, it turns out to be a pretty well made Metroidvania game. Filling out the map is addicting, and seeing a room I can’t enter without having a certain body usually always had me backtracking to see what exactly was in it. I still enjoyed my time with Headlander, even if the camera and combat got in the way a few times. I think everyone else will feel the same way. Give it a shot. It does have a lot going for it.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.