Getting into your head
The weirdest thing about Headlander is that you can't jump. Can you imagine completing a Castlevania without jumping? Bionic Commando didn't let you jump, but it had the bionic arm. There is no bionic arm in Headlander. There are short range teleporters, but otherwise your legs are simply for moving left and right. Except, at any point in time, you can pop your head off of whatever robot body you're currently inhabiting and fly around. I guess that's pretty weird too, now that I think of it.
In Headlander, you are a disembodied head. You have a little thrust rocket and not much else at the start. You progress in the game by attaching yourself to headless robot bodies with varying abilities. There's an experience point system, and you can upgrade your head's abilities. By the end of the game, you'll have more abilities than you'll know what to do with. The story kind of gets a little lost, but the gist of it is that you might be the last surviving human after everyone has uploaded their brains to robot bodies, but an AI named Methuselah has taken control of them and you have to stop him.
Headlander does this all within a beautifully realized 70's sci-fi style. Funk. Rooms with shag carpeting all over. An early area known as "the Pleasure Port", which is full of sexual overtones without ever doing anything get in trouble with a ratings board. Every enemy shoots lasers, and they bounce around the room. Trippy colors everywhere. Every non-combat robot body can dance. I didn't grow up in the 70's but it all seems very spot-on. It's a fun to explore world with a lot of what we expect out of a Metroidvania.
Where it loses some shine is that there's a real lack of enemy variety. It's mostly humanoid robots that stand still and shoot bouncing lasers at you. After you learn how to aim for their heads as a reflex, they don't offer much challenge. You also get the ability to pop the heads off of enemy robots while disembodied early on, which is a quick way to disarm them if you're not actively being shot at by other robots. There are a couple more enemy types that show up late in the game, and some with defense against having their heads immediately removed, but they're rare. It's also a fairly short game, but that's less of a complaint and more of a welcome sight that the game won't overstay its welcome.
However, beginning to end, Headlander is good, weird fun. There's a moment halfway through that I won't even begin to spoil that literally made me laugh out loud and it reminded me that these moments are what Double Fine does best, even if the gameplay has a few kinks. Headlander's a pick-me-up for a boring weekend.
Baseline Assessment: 8/10
Bonuses: +1 that moment, +1 having a colorful fun world
Penalties: -1 not enough variety of enemies, -1 navigating the Power Dome area is a pain
Nerd Coefficient: 8/10 (well worth your time and attention)
POSTED BY: brian, sci-fi/fantasy/video game dork and contributor since 2014
Reference: Double Fine Productions. Headlander [Adult Swim Games, 2016]