When it comes to Double Fine Productions and the zany games they create, I’m no stranger to them. However, despite this, I wasn’t sure what to expect when it came to Headlander. Sure it combined the tried and true formula of the Metroidvania mashup genre, plenty of combat and a touch of Double Fine’s production values. Though, I never expected a company that typically creates puzzle or adventure type games to step into this particular area. And while I didn’t really doubt Double Fine, I did have my usual skepticism and cautiously approached the game.
Would it be any good? Could it measure up to other games in the Metroidvania genre?
Game Name: Headlander
Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One, PC (Reviewed)
Publisher(s): Adult Swim Games
Developer(s): Double Fine Productions
Release Date: July 2016
Reviewed On: PC (Steam)
Ok, let’s get this out of the way first. While I’m a fan of most of Double Fine’s past projects, I really didn’t know what to expect with Headlander. I have this issue where things that are too quirky, or extremely off the way that they sometimes put me off to them. This was a huge conflict for me as well since Headlander is also rooted in one of my favorite gaming genres; Metroidvania’s. Thankfully my creative and fun loving side of my brain won out here and I happily and gleeful picked up Headlander and begun my journey into the zany lovechild of Double Fine Productions.
In Headlander, as the game suggests, you play the role of a disembodied, well… head. With no explanation as to how or why this has happened, you’re hoisted onto your robotic body and sent along your way. Since you’re just a disembodied head, you don’t have any lungs, so you’re the silent protagonist of the story. But not to worry, as we do have a guiding voice in the form of “Earl” who not only narrates the game but also provides you with hints and a friendly nudge for you throughout the game. How you came to be that way is quickly explained, as is the identity of the main bad guy of the game, a fellow named Methuselah. See, Methuselah doesn’t like humans at all and feels that the only type of life that should exist in the universe is those of the robotic persuasion. You, while just a disembodied head, aren’t a robot. So you can tell where this is going and of course the only way to save your head is to stop Methuselah.
The game started off with the standard flare; a brief explanation via guided gameplay, an introduction to combat and then the exit. It went off without a hitch, that is until I made it to my escape ship. At first glance, I said to myself “Why does my ship look like a penis and a pair of balls”, thankfully not out loud. Especially during that specific time, as not only was I streaming the first few hours on Twitch, but also with my daughter present. Yep, not only is Headlander stuck in the 1970’s, but it also shares a witty yet very naughty sense of humor. My spaceship, that you ultimately end up the head off (I can’t make this stuff up) was only the tip of the iceberg.
So, how exactly can a disembodied do anything to make the game worthwhile, you may be asking? Turns out that you’re not as helpless as it may seem. Without the use of your own body, you start out with one nifty skill; You suck. Well, not as in you’re bad at the game, but you literally have the ability to suck the heads off of your enemies, as well as the NPC’s you’ll encounter in-game. This mechanic is also your main source of survival. Getting shot at? Go suck a head of off the guy shooting at you, or another robot in the area. Did you get that body destroyed or damaged? No sweat, go steal, er… borrow another. It’s basically the head-only version of Grand Theft Auto, just with heads. Though, ripping the heads off of other bodies, doesn’t mean it’s all work. Nope, as doing so will reward you with various results. Steal the head of one body and you’re able to do dances, or act like a robotic dog, a vacuum cleaner and more. There’s even a robot that once mercilessly pull off their head, will let you imitate the late Michael Jackson, complete with the crotch grab and moonwalk. It’s a total riot, I loved it and it just goes to show how much imagination has gone into Headlander. Other than being an amusing mechanic, this is also how you’re able to progress in-game.
Seeing how this is a Metroidvania-styled game, you’re going to be encountering situations that require some thought. Color-coded doors that only let you through if you have the right colored body or shot with the right cooler, to navigating tunnels while avoiding lasers are just some of the obstacles in your path. Firefights also pose some thought as well, you can’t just blast your way out of them. Well, not all of them anyway. Thankfully there are several ways to take out your opponent; Blast them until they drop, melee them until they explode or perform a pinpoint head shot. The latter is the preferred method as not only does it get your enemy out of your way, but it also provides a new body for you. Should you need it that is.
Gameplay is pretty simple, with some complexity tossed in for good measure. Sure, you’ll have to use you ability to swap bodies to progress, however, there will be times where you’ll need to fire a laser at just the right angle or have it bounce off a surface. In addition to that, there are plenty of hidden areas to find, some filled with item upgrades, others with hints and clues that help fill in the gray areas of the story. If you’re wondering if there any puzzles or something to make you think, stop wondering. There’s plenty. In fact, there are even sections where if you use your wit, you can cheat your way into a room vs going the long way around. Well, I shouldn’t say cheat, as it’s practically encouraged, it just doesn’t spell it out for you. Don’t get discouraged if there’s an orange door stopping you from getting that power-up, especially if you noticed an orange baddie just two rooms away. Hint, hint… wink, wink!
There’s also a skill tree in the game, that gives you access to various abilities. This is handled by finding hidden nodes, that unlock abilities and then those are awarded once you have enough points to assign them. No, you can not avoid using this, why would you? Some abilities are mandatory, suck as the sucking ability that lets you pop off the heads of the robots in the game or the shield ability that lets you deflect laser beams. You’re also able to upgrade any ability that you’ve unlocked as well. It’s not very deep, then again it doesn’t have to be as what you have access to is more than enough.
As with most PC games I review, I tend to test out the controls with both the keyboard / mouse combo and gamepad. Seeing how this is a Metroidvania title, I expected that the gamepad would be my preferred control scheme. Sadly that was not the case as the controls were a bit twitchy to the point where performing pinpoint headshots were more akin to being lucky instead of skill based. Once I changed back to use the keyboard and mouse, that all changed, however. While this may seem unnatural for this type of game, it definitely works. That’s not to say the game isn’t playable with a gamepad, I just liked having more control over my laser blasts.
The entire look and sounds of Headlander are stuck in the 70’s, so get used to it. From the psychedelic death screen, giant lava lamps, enemies with outfits straight of movies from that area and that’s just the beginning. They’re even areas with shag rugs, though you aren’t able to lay down on them, but at least they sway as you brush past them. Everything, and I mean everything, feels like it was influenced by those Austin Powers movies that you all secretly adore. But it isn’t just the looks either, as we’ve treated to plenty of throwback-themed music and cheesy sound effects.
While it may be fun to absorb that vibe, eventually it does wear off, leaving you with a very solid title. Sadly, there are some flaws with the game, nothing that shouldn’t keep people away from checking out Headlander, but they must be addressed. OK, here we go. First up, this game is short, there’s no beating around the bush with this. Most gamers will finish this affair in around 8-9 hours, hardcore Metroidvania lovers will breeze through even quicker, I found myself just at the 8-hour mark once I completed the game. Adding to the disappointment is the lack of longevity. With most games in this genre, you would at expect to have a handful of boss encounters and a driving story. Sadly, you can count the number of boss figures on one hand and the story, while seemed interesting at the start, eventually starts to cave-in and remains so-s0 until the end. That being said, however, this is truly a shame as the game has some rather aesthetically pleasing properties to it.
As with every PC title I review, I dive into what options is offers and performance. Let’s start with the latter. I’ve had Headlander ran on three different PC’; High, Medium, and Still Medium. Resolutions were set to 1920×1080 and 2560×1440, with max settings. Needless to say, the game ran just fine on each system, so I don’t have any doubt that most PC gamers will have the same experience. That said, I’m tossing in my typical cautionary YMMV warning. Aside from that, there isn’t much to talk about regarding PCcentric options. You got access to, Vsync, multiple Anti-aliasing options, graphical presets, and monitor resolutions up to 3440×1440, which was the extent of my maximum resolution. It does NOT support ultrawide screen 21:9 ratio, so if you play at full screen and at 3440×1440, it defaults to 16:9. You’re also able to change your keyboard and, gamepad / controller mappings.
*Headlander was reviewed using a Steam key provided by Adult Swim Games. You can find additional information about our review policy here.
Ready or not, Head I come!
Still for all the shortcomings addressed, Headlander is an enjoyable title. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, as evident by all of the tongue and cheek humor, nor is it really difficult (Not completely anyway). As a Double Fine Productions game, It’s right up there with some of their best, I just wish it was a tad longer and didn’t spend too much time focus on slapstick comedy and included more gameplay content. For the asking price for $20, Headlander is a great choice for enjoying 8-10 hours of gaming fun. Perhaps the game would have been a tad better if it didn’t stick too close to the tried and true Metroidvania gameplay and swam a bit more in the deep end. Still, at the end of the day, I enjoyed myself and I’m sure you will as well.
And if that ends up being the result of Double Fine’s lasted adventure, then it reached its destination, despite missing a few stops.
- The humor is a little over the top at times, but enjoyable
- Plays great on the PC
- Easily one of Double Fine’s best titles
- Too short!
- NPC’s say the same stuff over and over
- Controls are a bit too twitching on a gamepad
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