When I first played Headlander at the 2015 PlayStation Experience I got the impression that it was a puzzle game, but within the first 30 minutes, I realized that I was wrong. Headlander has rich environments, a lot of useful upgrades, and a good amount of reasons to want to explore.
The first thing you’ll notice is the 1970s sci-fi aesthetic – and of course, the fact that you are just a floating head. Your primary ability is being able to tear the heads off bodies and then taking over the body. As the game progresses, you’ll encounter different colored enemies. These different colored bodies grant you access to different areas of the map. For the most part, the correct enemies that you need to progress are pretty close or will spawn within a few seconds allowing you to continue on your adventure without much effort. In fact, I found that even though Headlander touts itself as a Metroidvania style game, most of the time I was going forward and completing objectives without really having to backtrack. This sort of contradicts what I typically think of Metroidvania games, which is slightly unfortunate because I wouldn’t mind spending a little more time in the world of Headlander.
You can upgrade both your body and your head abilities by finding orbs, secret rooms, and completing side missions. By upgrading, you can increase your ability to suck enemy heads off, speed up your regeneration, increase your thrust and health and plenty more. Even if you just tried to blast through Headlander you would still find a decent amount of upgrades, which is great because some of the abilities that you earn are absolutely essential to making sure that you succeed on your adventure.
The combat in Headlander gets progressively more intense. The early bodies that you get have a pretty simple shooting mechanic that will slightly bounce off of the walls, but as you continue your laser shots will start to bounce a lot more. The bad news is that the enemies also get these upgrades. So what starts off as a cool little mechanic eventually makes you feel like you are playing a hell-shooter. Luckily, dying doesn’t punish you too much.
Headlander features a couple awesome bosses, but unfortunately, there were only two. They both require you to use both the head and body mechanics to destroy them, which I really enjoyed. The game could have easily just made you use your shooting abilities and completely ignored the power of your head. Although Headlander is not a very long game there should have definitely been at least one more boss – especially since the ones that are in the game are a lot of fun.
Now being a Double Fine game, Headlander features a quirky story and a ton of humor as you might expect. This specific game was created from Double Fine’s Art Director, Lee Petty, who was the project lead of the hilarious and brilliant, Stacking. I bring this up because if you played Stacking and enjoyed it, then Headlander is definitely a must play and if you haven’t played Stacking, I couldn’t recommend it enough.
The overall experience took me a little over five hours to complete. Because I was constantly making progress, I felt that I didn’t get to enjoy the world as much as I’d like. Also, Headlander could definitely benefit from adding one or two more boss fights.
4 out 5 stars
Thank you very much to Double Fine for providing the code.