Headlander is one of the finest Metroidvania games I’ve ever played, and certainly one of the smartest. Not only does it create a gorgeous and rich world for you to explore, it has some of the greatest writing I’ve had the pleasure of listening to. I’m a big advocate of science fiction, especially when it involves spaceships and aliens, and Headlander gets it right in every way. The main gameplay mechanic has you vacuuming stuff and connecting to things, trying to solve puzzles and unlock new areas. It’s simple enough and just the right amount of difficulty to keep you playing for the duration.
In a vibrant utopia gone awry, you play as the last known human in existence, or at least the last known human head in existence. As you awake from a slumber, you’re left piecing together what’s left you in the hands of a robot coup d’état, led by a super computer called Methuselah. It’s a retro-futuristic throwback, feeling very much like a love letter to the 70s and how they were beginning to get sci-fi right with shows and movies like Logan’s Run, Battlestar Galactica, and Buck Rogers. Even though it may share similarities with these properties, it still stands on its own, feeling fresh and unique.
You play the game as a human head, but you’re not restricted in the slightest. You are preserved in an airtight space helmet with built-in boosters and a vacuum drive. Most of the game is spent sucking the heads off of the devious shepherds and taking over their bodies. Each enemy is a different colour and each colour represents a different security level, occasionally varying on the type of blasters they have. You can also shoot off the shepherd’s heads with these laser guns, giving you a safer way to shut them down. There’s plenty of cover and there are many different vantage points with chances to ricochet your blaster fire, so it pays to be smart about your method of attack. It’s so easy to shoot of the head of an enemy as your line of fire is represented by a coloured line, but incredibly useful to plan the perfect attack.
Your head is also used to break into areas, hack terminals, recover upgrade points, speed through compression pads, reflect lasers, and solve puzzles. As you play through the game, you’ll be able to upgrade your head to give you new skills and attain improvements to existing ones; by collecting physics cores from certain areas and plugging your head into specific terminals, you’ll gather upgrade points to use at any time and many are necessary to progress through the game.
There is something very special about Headlander and the way its gorgeous world flourishes. One of the earlier locations is called Pleasure Point, a place where robots can take part in many acts of euphoric naughtiness. Not only is the main area rich and effervescent, the background has some of the finest detail I’ve ever seen. There are ships taking off and huge planets glistening in the sky, making the locations come to life. Things only go from strength to strength, with future locations really making the most of Double Fine’s talented team.
The writing of Headlander is some of the best I’ve ever heard. Almost every NPC you walk past can be spoken to and many of them offer some real zingers. ‘I feel like I’m cupping eternity’ and ‘Look at them go, they’re gonna wear out the rug’ are a couple of my favourites, but there are plenty more. As for the story, it’s pretty good – a bit obvious, but still enjoyable. The only issue I had with the characters is Earl: your AI assistant. It may be a bit picky, but hearing ‘y’all’ in every single sentence gets annoying. For starters, he’s talking to one person, not a group so why would he say y’all? Why?! See, it’s only minor, but it’s still enough for me to get annoyed about, mainly because I’m a grumpy git, but there y’all go.
There’s plenty to love about Headlander and I haven’t been this impressed with a game for a while. It reminds me of playing Abe’s Odyssey for the first time and how much I fell in love with it. Double Fine has taken everything it’s learned from Broken Age and Psychonauts and created something great. If you love sci-fi, great writing and laughing, Headlander is for you.
Funny, smart writing
Great balance of difficulty throughout