Double Fine Productions is often known for their quirky, yet low-key releases. From the popular Costume Quest to the awesome recreation of Grim Fandango, what really sets them apart is that their whole library of games has something for someone. Headlander continues that tradition with something a little unexpected. Headlander is a Metroidvania title. Now, Metroidvania games are about a dime a dozen these days, which honestly had me worried for Double Fine’s newest game. However, Headlander manages to set itself apart in so many unique ways, that it certainly deserves any attention you could give to it.
In Headlander, you control the very last human head in existence inside of a rocket helmet. In this universe, all human consciousness has been transferred into machines. People live their now infinitely long every day lives in the bodies of robots. However, resistance fighters have been searching for the bodies to regain their humanity. That is where our unnamed protagonist comes in. Awoken aboard the Starcophagus (I know, I know. Best name ever), you must remove your enemy’s heads any way that you can and take over their bodies using your helmet’s universal connector so that you can discover who you are, and save humanity.
Being a Metroidvania game, the obvious gameplay element here is through the various character upgrades that you find. However, this is where Headlander begins to differ from other games in the genre. There are only four abilities to find throughout the game. However, each ability has its own skill tree that unlocks various other abilities associated with the base skill. For example, you first unlock the ability to turn your floating head into a super-powered vacuum that can suck and remove the heads off of enemies (Being partly an Adult Swim game as well, you can guess that this leads to plenty of jokes). However, through this ability, you also unlock different ways of taking over enemies, ranging from a simple upgrade to the vacuum to literally headbutting your way to control.
While you may be thinking, “That’s cool and all. But, I enjoy collecting things in my Metroidvania games. Four abilities to find seems a little low.” Well, fortunately, every area has a slew of collectible upgrades to your head’s health, energy, and speed, many of which are actually pretty cleverly hidden away. If that weren’t enough, you can also interact with certain robots to collect and complete side quests. Beyond that, there’s also a color-coding system to unlock snarky, talking doors that, while somewhat arbitrary at first, definitely makes gaining new different colored bodies exciting. Even when not considering the colors, finding and using new bodies is a very rewarding and fun experience.
If there were one complaint I had about gameplay, it would be that the game is pretty short. There are only a handful of areas for you to explore, and not a ton of reasons to back track. You generally find or have access to all of the abilities needed to collect everything as you reach new areas. While most of the areas were exciting to explore and interact with, there are a few areas that feel tedious. Though, even in those areas, there is still plenty of fun to be had.
The aesthetics behind Headlander are also certainly worthy of note. The game screams late 70’s Sci-Fi. It parodies the genre perfectly with little jokes like shag carpet being every where, or every non-combat robots having their own disco dance in lieu of an attack. However, while marketing for this game seems to have banked on the way the game looks, there are plenty of other wonderful parts to the overall presentation. For one, voice acting is top-notch. The cast features the talents of cartoon veteran Phil Proctor, Robot Chicken’s John Lipow, and the generally awesome Richard Horvitz just to name a few. Music manages to stand out as well. From the loading screen’s elevator jingle to a musical set piece possibly on par with the legendary Saint Row 4’s “You’ve Got The Touch” ending, your ears will definitely thank you for playing this game.
Overall, Headlander is just an amazing game. I went in expecting something kind of generic wrapped up in a unique and quirky setting, and ended up with side-splitting, hair-raising adventure. Even if the game is a little on the short side, I can whole-heartedly recommend Headlander to just about anyone who likes video games.
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