To Boldly Go Where No Head Has Gone Before!
By Richard Jewell
Reviewed on Playstation 4
Released on July 26th, 2016 on Playstation 4 and PC
Developer: Double Fine Productions Publisher: Adult Swim Games
Just a word of warning before you, the wonderful reader, dives headfirst into this review of Double Fine’s newest eccentric adventure Headlander. There may be a few head puns involved. As a matter of fact, there may be many head puns involved. Whether few in number or many, sneakily subtle or glaringly overt, one thing is for sure; they will be corny, sometimes painfully so. As long you don’t let them go to your head, you should be able to finish reading the review with all your mental faculties intact (or at least leave with whatever brain cells you came in here with). Now, let us forge on ahead. *Ahem*
Double Fine has a history of making games full of quirky humor, odd situations, and memorable characters. Headlander is no different. Taking place in the future as it might have been envisioned back in the olden days of VHS and rainbow power, the game manages to feel both sci-fi and retro at the same time. The story begins as the unknowing protagonist wakes up from cryogenic storage, short of a body. No memories of the past, either. Not the best way to start off your day, but I’ve had worse happen to me. Ok, not really. Anyhoo, before you have the chance to clear your head, a friendly voice pops in through the speaker of the special helmet your noggin is nestled in. He announces in a classic southern twang( Dr. Phil is that you?) that his name is Earl and for some reason an AI named Methuselah is after you. As it turns out, humanity has taken a horrible turn, and you are the last known human in the universe. Humankind has left their fleshy bits behind by uploading their consciousnesses to robotic bodies so they could live forever. Unbeknownst to them, however, is that the AI Methuselah planted control chips in them so he could put them to work. It seems like he was thinking one step ahead of them the whole time. Now it’s up to you to set things right by confronting Methuselah and putting an end to his tyranny.
Headlander is sidescrolling “Metroidvania”-style game, as people like to call them these days. It has all the trappings that are usually associated with the genre, such as a large map that fills out as you explore, hidden rooms, collectibles, and upgrades, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. First, we’ll start off with your most useful skill in the fight against Methuselah and his minions (or any other things that get in your way that you want to make go boom). The protagonist’s helmet comes with the ability to “headland” into other robotic bodies as well as a variety of other useful terminals. What’s that you say, dear reader? “How can I dock onto the body of another robot if they already have a head of their own in place?” Simple! Your helmet has a powerful suction ability that can tear the dome right off of those lousy bots, leaving their metallic remains as prime real estate just waiting for you to take up residence. Don’t feel bad, though, no human minds are harmed in the process. The consciousnesses of all of humanity have been uploaded to the cloud, so whenever a body breaks down, they can be downloaded to a new one. You get a new body to help you out with your mission, and they get a new body eventually. Everybody wins!
Color plays a huge factor in this game. While traveling throughout the space station you will encounter color-coded doors that will only open if you are in control of a body of the same color. The doors are governed by a super intelligent, pun-slinging AI that takes his job very seriously. I always get a chuckle when he reprimands you for trying to pass through a door without being the proper color. There are many instances throughout the game where you will either need to find a certain color bot to get past a door, or else find another way to circumvent it. There can be quite a bit of backtracking, but there are a few good game mechanics in place that make it easy enough without losing your head. The map is perfect for easily keeping track of where you have been and marking off important things, such as the color of the doors and other important locations. The map fills out as you progress through each area, but sometimes you will come across a series of bots who call themselves Mappy. You can headland into them and download a complete scan of the immediate vicinity, which also marks off points of interest on your map. Finally, each major area has at least one teleporter you can find, so it makes traveling back to an earlier area less of a headache.
Now let’s get to the nitty-gritty. There are a bunch of collectibles in the form of upgrade nodes. Headlanding into these babies can increase your vital stats. Health nodes are self-explanatory, as they increase your health. Thrust nodes increase the speed in which your melon flies gracefully through the air. Power nodes increase your power meter, and your power meter determines just how long you can activate your special abilities for. Energy nodes give you extra energy points to spend on your special abilities, which I am going to explain now. As you progress through the game, certain nodes will give you access to powerful new abilities, which can then be upgraded with energy points. Collecting glowing balls of energy that can be found throughout the game will slowly fill up your energy bar. Once it is full, you gain one skill point. Finding energy nodes and completing the optional sidequests that some NPCs offer you are the best way to rack up major points. Some of the more useful abilities you can unlock include a directional shield for your head so you can deflect lasers, a powerful thrust boost that can damage enemies, and my personal favorite; the ability to headbutt a robot so hard his head pops off and you take over its body. Sometimes you just need to enjoy the little things in life, ya know?
Overall, Headlander is another fine edition to the Double Fine catalog. The graphics and overall aesthetic design fit in perfectly with the retro sci-fi theme they were aiming for, from the clunky looking robots, the brightly colored laser beams, and the crazy tie-dye special effects you sometimes encounter during the course of the game. The electronic synthesizer-laden music soundtrack that accompanies it fits the bill perfectly as well. My main gripe with Headlander is how many times it crashed on me. During my 100% completion playthrough the game crashed a total of 3 times on me. It doesn’t sound like a very high number and the game autosaves after every room, but for a title that was released over two months ago, I expected that any game-crashing bugs would have been worked out by now. I also find that spending too much time per play session can seriously lessen the fun. Sometimes it just feels like matching color after color and it gets pretty boring. It definitely isn’t the best game available from Double Fine, but anyone who enjoys a good Metroidvania-style romp should check it out, you won’t be disappointed.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purposes of the review
Final Score: 7.5/10
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