August 9th, 2016 - Jason
Double Fine is one of those companies where you tend to pick up their products regardless of what you know, because they are known to be innovative. If nothing else, you can usually count on them for a laugh. With Tim Schafer leading the charge, it was hard to not be excited about their first game: Pyschonauts. Next on the large scale was the heavy metal inspired Brütal Legend, and a slew of smaller games that pushed the bounds of quirkiness with Costume Quest, Stacking, and Iron Brigade. With several more original titles and remasters of old LucasArts games, we’ve come to their latest in collaboration with Adult Swim: Headlander.
The first time I saw the game was at PSX last year. I didn’t really know what the game was going to be, but I liked the advertising. The week before launch I watched a trailer, and perhaps I just wasn’t paying attention, but even then I didn’t know that the game was going to be a metroidvania type of game. All I saw was the bullethell aspects of it, mixed with the HEADLAAAANDER announcer, who I found amusing. When I started the game and realized what it was, excitement bubbled up from my insides and manifested as – uh, nevermind.
Starting the game you get to pick from a couple different heads that will serve as the HEADLAAAAAAANDER throughout the game. You start off in a ship becoming conscious of the fact that you are merely a head and are instructed to leave the ship that you are on by utilizing the bodies of those around you. You can manage this multiple ways, though the most common are shooting the head off another body or flying over to a body as just a head and sucking it off with your vacuum ability. This is one of the main mechanics of the game, as each body will serve as a gate key based on their color, and also boosts your life as you take no damage to your head when they damage the body. Think of it as a vehicle in games – the vehicle takes the damage for you, and a lot more of it than you can take as a mere human. When it blows up, you survive (assuming you get out of it – the head launches by itself when the body explodes).
In addition to bodies serving as card keys with either their body or their gun fire, their weapons can also be utilized in the latter part of the game to unlock stuff by hitting buttons within a certain amount of time. Initially I thought these puzzles had to be completed with a single, strategic shot. But the second or third one of these I encountered taught me that merely shooting like there was no tomorrow worked better. And sadly, that can be said for the majority of the game. While there are large fire fights that allow for taking cover and precision shooting, the only time I ever took cover was the part of the game in which it was introduced. After that was balls to the wall action, and if it ever got dicey, I’d throw up my head shield that deflected lazers in almost 360 degrees and just suck the heads off guys. The game never got difficult with that strategy. In the unlikely event you do die, each room is a checkpoint, and if there is any punishment, it’s a loss of experience (which the game has a huge abundance).
The game also lacked a large component I’m used to in Double Fine titles: humor. The game isn’t completely devoid of humor, of course. Show your friend a head that flies around and uses the bodies of others and I’m sure you’ll get a laugh. Mappy is a standout, being voiced by Richard Horvitz (you may recognize him as Raz from Psychonauts or Zim from Invader Zim) – I believe he has my favorite line in the entire game, which is your last encounter with him after playing a game of Simon Says. There are some funny lines of dialogue from the other NPCs, but comedy felt like it took a backseat in this one. There were also parts of the game, especially about halfway through at the Chess portion, where you think there will be more strategy or use of game mechanics. Not really, as the game even acknowledges by saying that this version of Chess is just a bunch of pew pews and bang bangs (I don’t remember what they said, but that was the gist of it). And it’s not as if the humor was sacrificed for a great plot, as it’s predictable and wholly uninteresting.
Based on all that you would probably think I hated the game, but I did enjoy it. The art style, while not the nicest looking game, had a slick 50’s future look to it that really resonated with the rest of the atmosphere. The game, despite being simple, is fun. It has that addictive collecting aspect that I love. It has upgrades for your character (most of which I never even tried using), and upgrades on top those upgrades. If nothing else, it had those checkboxes I love to check off. Filling out the map, figuring out some of the harder puzzles, and playing through was an enjoyable experience overall. I just wish it had stuck with some of its decisions more than leaving it wishy washy and allowing you to more or less cheese the game.
Headlander is a fun romp through a fictional 1950s future space age that isn’t quite sure what it wants to be. It has elements of bullethell games and offers precision gunplay with ricocheting ammo, but gives options that makes strategy and taking cover pointless, and trades it for mindlessly hitting buttons like it’s Street Fighter (for those of us that are unworthy to play fighting games properly). It has a lot of neat ideas, but never fully realizes most of them.
- You’re a Flying Head
- Progression Stats
- Many Mechanics Go Unused
- Feels Unpolished
- Not Enough Horvitz
Headlander was developed by Double Fine and published by Adult Swim Games. The game launched on PC and PS4 July 26th, 2016 for $19.99. The game was provided to us for review on PS4 and PC. If you’d like to see more of Headlander, check out the official site.
Here at FFoP we use a rating method that you may be unfamiliar with, so allow us to clarify. When we review a game, we see what sort of BRA fits. Buy, Rent, or Acquire is the rating we give out – we’ve boiled it down for simplicity. A Buy is worth the full retail value; a Rent is something you may want to try before you buy, or grab at a discount; an Acquire is something you can play, but we’d suggest borrowing it from someone, grabbing it in a game bundle, or some other means. If you want further clarification, please feel free to get in touch.