412: Headlander

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I got really excited for this year’s PlayStation PLAY 2016 line-up. Over the past couple of years, it always felt hit-or-miss in terms of the games. Some would be brand new titles, while the rest were more or less PC ports of indie games. This year though, they are all brand new, and quite frankly, some of the most anticipated games of this year for me. I am getting review copies for two of the games, and I’ll make sure to make note of which ones I do get in my reviews, but for now, I think it’s time we step into Double Fine Productions’ newest hit game, Headlander. This is easily one of the oddest games of 2016, where you play as a head inside a jet-propelled helmet. It was published by Adult Swim Games, and is the first of the four titles released for PLAY 2016. So then, does this Headlander land successfully as a game, or should they have maybe stayed in the vacuums of space?

Like I mentioned above, the story puts you in the, well, head of the last human in the galaxy. You start out in a ship called the Starcophagus, and then you are broken out by a helpful AI program, and are sent off to stop an evil robotic overlord that has essentially made everyone transfer their body and mind to robotic bodies. The most interesting part of this game’s setting and story is the tone. It still has a lot of that great humor Double Fine Productions is known for, but it’s also a bit more serious. It’s probably one of the more serious stories they have ever done. Don’t get me wrong, I laughed a lot at the dialogue and the voice work, but it’s interesting to see Double Fine do something a tiny bit more serious.

Headlander is a 2.5D metroidvania-style action game, where the main mechanic of the game and your main form of traversal is your flying head. You sound pretty weak by that description, but the game has a fun and unique mechanic. Any time you see a robot, good or bad, you can essentially vacuum off their head and land your head on their body. You will need to do this if you are going to survive the metallic locations that you are going to be floating around in. You will need to use different colored robots to open specific doors, and be able to fight back against other robots. You will even need to use your head-hacking ability to solve some side-quests, like finding a dog, or taking down multi-colored robots. The combat is very much like the gunplay you see in games like The Fall, where you use the right analog stick to aim your gun. Along with being able to steal robot bodies, you can also gain upgrades to move faster, be able to break through barriers, and slow down time to get through tricky situations. The overall game will take you about six hours if you want to get through the entire thing, but add on an hour or more if you decide to find all the upgrades. It’s a pretty solid game in terms of difficulty, and you will probably die a couple of times, due to how hectic the game can be when lasers are hitting the fan.

Graphically, Headlander captures that cheesy, funky sci-fi vibe that the 70s and part of the early 80s brought to the table, with a lot of disco-ish style choices thrown in throughout the game with the design of the robots and the color pallet. The game, for the most part, ran pretty smoothly, with slowdown happening only once during my time playing through the game. The humor of the game is like I have mentioned above, a bit more subdued their usual outings, but when the jokes do land or the writing gets full of quips and clever, it’s all that Double Fine Production humor that you are used to, and love. The voice cast provides a lot of great talent, including the main villain being voiced by Phil Proctor of Rugrats fame as Howard DeVille, the friendly AI ERL voiced by Jon Lipow, MAPPY was voiced by Invader Zim himself, Richard Horvitz, Nika Futterman, David Kaye, and Steve Blum to name a few. The music was also well done, capturing that vibe that you would get in films by John Carpenter or the recent Netflix series, Stranger Things.

Unfortunately, a few bad circuits did pop up with my playtime with Headlander. I found the game could have used a bit more variety in terms of gameplay. It doesn’t really kick in until the halfway point. It would have been nice to see more bosses that took advantage of the mechanics given to you. You literally get two major bosses, and that’s it. The action screen can also be a bit too hectic at times, with too much visual stimulation.

Headlander definitely starts the PLAY 2016 off strong, and is easily one of my favorite games from this year. It’s funny, creative, and overall fun to play. It’s worth the price of admission. If you love the quirky Double Fine Productions-style of gaming, or metroidvania-style games in general, then you will fit right in with the company’s newest game. I guess you can say this game will cause heads to roll with joy and laughter. Sorry about the pun.

This game gets an 8 out of 10.