Headlander: Review

Metroidvania’s are a subgenre of gaming that spawned after the wildly massive success of both the Metroid series and the Castlevania series. This particular genre has spawned hundreds of games and has gone on to influence countless others. It’s safe to say that the gaming landscape, and more specifically, what we began to expect from games was forever changed with these two mega franchises. What makes this genre of gaming so special is the core gameplay loop. For all intents and purposes, Metroid and Castlevania created the typical progression system we have come to expect from modern games. As you progress through a seemingly complex level filled with both enemies and environmental obstacles, certain new features will be appointed to the player to make what was a seemingly monumental task or obstacle seem trivial.

It’s a very simple progression to follow:

Make progress
Hit obstacle
Find a tool to help you get past obstacle
Rinse and repeat

It is a very simplistic formula but the fact that it has been a genre that has grown in both quality and quantity since it’s use over thirty years ago, it’s fair to say that it has been time-tested and approved.

Headlander by Double Fine Productions is, by far and away, the finest example of a Metroidvania in recent memory. Headlander retains the heavy focus on combat and exploration that is commonly attributed to a Metroidvania and couples it with a delightful style and wickedly funny sense of humor. The concept behind Headlander is at first and second thought ridiculous, it proves to be one of the most ingenious and clever mechanical implementations I have seen all year. The core gameplay is fascinating since the familiarity of the full body controls is directly at odds with the versatility of your head. Combat encounters have an added level of depth to them since every physical body on screen is another vehicle for you to destroy the opposition with. As the complexity of the mechanics opened up to me, I found myself more compelled to treat every combat encounter as if it were a puzzle game, slow and methodical. But, I will say that jumping from head to head as I executed headshots may be up there as one of my most satisfying gaming moments of the year.

Visually, Headlander is absolutely stunning and quickly captivated me from it’s early moments. The game is heavily influenced by 1950s Science Fiction TV shows and films like Rocketship X-M and The Day The Earth Stood Still while still using the unique visual cues and effects of the 1970s (the heavy usage of neon, pelvic thrusts, and moonwalks helped me pick up on that one real quick). Headlander is dripping with a style that is independent of any other game that I have seen. Everything from the levels, to the menus, to the UI itself feel so singular to the completeness of this package that you can’t help but smile along with the game.

Arguably the strongest feature of Headlander is the phenomenal writing and voice performances. Headlander is able to balance the overall ridiculousness of it’s story and environments with an undertone of sardonic quips and gags that help make this implausible scenario seem somewhat natural. Double Fine has always had a very distinct sense of humor, although it can sometimes be hit or miss, yet the ridiculous humor being a core feature of the gameplay is what really sets Headlander a part for me more than any other Double Fine game. The rare ability to have every aspect of your game working in tandem with one another is very special and should absolutely be praised when it occurs. The music was probably the weakest part of the game, even though it’s not terrible. It fits perfectly well in-universe but when I judge the music in a game, I like to test it’s real world applicability. It’s along the lines of “can I listen to this music while sitting around or jogging or something of that nature?” After trying a few times, I can safely say that the Headlander music, while good for the game, is not necessarily great for outside of the game.

Overall, Headlander is an excellent Metroidvania style 2d platformer. Every aspect of the game is at such an extraordinary staple of quality that I can’t help but gush over its greatness. Visually, mechanically, and narratively Headlander is one of the best games that I’ve played this year. I encountered zero graphical issues or bugs throughout my time with the game which was a very nice change of pace after playing through No Man’s Sky this week. I honestly can’t recommend this game enough if you’re looking for a fantastic 2d game inspired by Metroid and Castlevania.

4 out of 5

+ Excellent Writing & Humor
+ Superb Visual Aesthetic
+ Great Style
+ Silky Smooth Controls
- Music?