There are so many Metroidvania games releasing nowadays that innovation goes a long way. Thankfully, Headlander is bursting with uniqueness from its wacky premise to its gameplay, so let's get started. Off with your head!
Headlander is an odd game indeed. You play as a jet-propelled decapitated head that has the ability to occupy any robotic body it desires. Fortunately, everyone's consciousnesses are now operating mechanical physical forms so you can have your pick of which body to control next. The protagonist is a blank slate as you get to choose their appearance which somehow manages to make the silly premise even more enjoyable. The game world takes place in a massive series of space stations. The 1970s science fiction vibe is very well handled as it offers a layer of liveliness and colour to a world that would otherwise be dark and dystopian. Goofy animation, a great sense of humour, trippy visual effects, and spacey musical rhythms round out Headlander's incredibly memorable and quirky world.
The campaign begins within a brief area that acts like a tutorial. Honestly, it doesn't leave a good first impression. However, after leaving that generic introduction stage, you're thrust straight into the lively main area of the adventure complete with a map that encourages exploration. Traversing this map is a great deal of fun as you discover new upgrades, abilities, enemy types, puzzles, and many often beautifully rendered environments. Being able to soar through rooms as a head while sucking off other folks' noggins if you like the look of their weapon then blasting away your enemies is very enjoyable. In the end, this may feature classic Metroidvania gameplay but the many twists add up to craft one exciting and impressively innovative experience.
One of my favourite parts of Headlander is learning new abilities. Although you start with a severely limited repertoire, you'll end up being a rather capable cranium by the end. The handiest ability is the bounce shield which allows you to reflect incoming laser beams. As my skills improved, I found myself using this shield as a weapon by taking out enemies with their own shots. You'll also gain boost thrusters that let you accelerate straight through weaker enemies and damage tougher ones. Besides those, you'll find yourself creating bombs out of found objects, making bodies automatically run and shoot for you, turning bodies into timed explosives, and deploying impenetrable shields. Of course, you can upgrade your base stats, too, but these abilities add so much to the gameplay.
Although Headlander is one of my favourite Metroidvania titles due to its innovative world and gameplay, it does have its issues. My biggest problem with it is that it's way too easy. Even when you perish, you regenerate at the beginning of the room and can continue as if nothing significant happened. I barely bit the dust because it's extremely easy to take advantage of enemies in so many ways that you're virtually unstoppable. Even the last boss was a pushover. That brings me to my next point, the combat lacks depth. Sure, you can punch, shoot, and suck heads off but why can't you perform melee combos and have a variety of weaponry as opposed to just laser guns? Besides that, my only other complaint is that I experienced frequent slowdown and occasional glitches. One of which had my head stuck in a closed doorway which made me quit then reload my save in order to break out.
Headlander may not be perfect, but I'll be darned if it isn't one of the most enjoyable games of the year so far. I'm happy to say that in a genre where innovation is desperately needed, Headlander sure delivers the goods.
- + Addictive Metroidvania gameplay with some very cool twists
- + Ridiculous premise and enjoyable world
- + Interesting abilities to learn
- - General lack of challenge makes the campaign less satisfying than it could be
- - Combat is quite flat and uninvolving
- - Occasional slowdown and glitches