When I first heard that their was a new game out by indie mega developer Double Fine which was also published by Adult Swim games I got incredibly excited. Having developed so many games that I’ve absolutely loved; Psychonauts, Brutal Legend and Stacking just to name a few. I was pumped to see what the studio had come up with this time. In concept Headlander should have been a game that I loved. Unfortunately after completing the game it failed to live up to my expectations.
Now that is by no means my way of saying Headlander is bad. It isn’t. Headlander is an interesting experience, to say the least. Headlander is a 2.5d platforming adventure centered around you, the player. At the start of the game you can choose one of four or five different heads to play as. Once you make your choice the story begins, and the story is Headlander’s biggest strength. Humanity is all but extinct with you, the floating head being all that remains. Why this is the case is explored throughout the story and so I won’t spoil much more, however I will add that all supporting characters and background characters are robots, who have had human minds and consciousness’ uploaded into them. While I found this central plot point to be incredibly interesting I also felt like it never really was explored to the point I expected them to. Similarly while Double Fine games are usually known for their comical dialog having a silent protagonist really put a damper on the, almost expected, humor. The game does have hidden references and names which are laughable however and the supporting cast does have their share of jokes, but overall I was expecting way more laugh out loud moments than we received.
Headlander’s game play isn’t overly unique and was actually somewhat bland. As a head your goal is to find a new body that you can use to progress to new areas. Additionally you’ll need to find power ups to level up your heads health and power as well as to acquire new skills. You can use your heads vacuum suck to pull heads off of a robot to get yourself a new body, which may come in the form of random robotic citizens, the enemies known as Sentinels, or even little vacuum bots or robo puppies. The enemy Sentinels appear in different color variants with each growing in power. Red Sentinels are the weakest while Purple Sentinels are incredibly powerful. Most of the game is spent with your head on a sentinel shooting at other sentinels to proceed as each sentinel can only move through doors of their power level or lower (red Sentinels can move you through red doors, where as purple Sentinels can move you through any door). Combat unfortunately wasn’t overly exciting and was played out rather quickly. It was much more entertaining playing as a head trying to clear as many areas as was possible without using a Sentinel body than it was playing as a Sentinel. A large portion of the games’ puzzles revolved around trying to get you from point A to point B. This meant that it was often a lot of running around as a Sentinel then abandoning your body to fly to a new area or over a gap (because Sentinels can’t jump) and then repeating the process. This also may sound worse than it actually was however. The puzzles weren’t overly complex but also never felt boring or bad as they flowed in with the games pace and movement rather well.
Though the regular combat was somewhat dull it never felt annoying or frustrating like some of the boss battles did. I found the boss battles to be not only dull but also rather frustrating. In multiple instances the boss battles consisted of you playing as only the head having to use your shield skill to deflect the boss’ own attacks back at it. While this doesn’t sound like it would be a problem having only a few seconds to figure out what the correct angle was to deflect their attacks back was much tougher and more annoying than I’d expected. I suspect however this is because I was playing on PS4 using my controller joysticks and I can assume that playing on PC would have yielded a much easier time. That said playing on PS4 these boss battles were more bothersome than enjoyable. Which leads me to another point: At the time of that first boss battle it was entirely luck that I had already taken on the shield skill. The game really had no hand holding and lacked in tutorials. For me I didn’t have much of a problem but I can see instances where someone can get to those battles and not have the skills to actually win them which would force them to go back and traverse the game to find enough points to get the skills they need.
Overall, while it sounds like I’m complaining a lot the game was still an enjoyable experience. Visually, the game is absolutely beautiful, the voice acting that is present is spot on, and the games platforming puzzles flow really well for the duration of the games 6 to 7 (or so) hours. Outside of the main mission quests there are a few side quests which are also entertaining and well designed, however it does feel like they built an awesome side quest system but never took full advantage of it adding only a handful of side quests. Headlander does feel have that unique Double Fine feel however and if you’re a fan of their past titles you’re likely to enjoy Headlander. Just don’t expect it to be as great as some of their bigger hits.
I’d give Headlander a 3 out of 5.
Headlander is available now on PC and PS4.
Headlander was reviewed using a PS4 copy of the game provided by Double Fine