Impressions of Double Fine’s Headlander

I came into Headlander completely blind. I had no idea who developed or published it, I had no idea what the aesthetic was, I didn’t even know what type of game it was! However, I didn’t let that deter me from accepting a code to check it out; a decision I’m very happy I made.

Just to fill you in, Headlander is developed by Double Fine and published by Adult Swim. Aesthetically, it’s 70s sci-fi, including space stations and robots galore. Some are categorizing Headlander as a “metroidvania” style game, which I can understand, but also feel like that can be limiting or possibly even misleading from the experience that is offered. It is true the gameplay does require you to clear rooms on a map, continuously upgrade, as well as some backtracking. However, there is more to this game, so hear me out as I dive into what really makes this game great.
Spoiler warnings from this point on. The primary mechanic of the game is to control a flying sentient head that is in a jar and comes equipped with a jet pack. You’ll move the head around the world until you land onto robot bodies to assume control of them. You have a moderately sized upgrade tree that impacts both your head and the bodies you pilot, but unlike your typical metroidvania game, you get to unlock upgrades as you see fit. Also, you’re typically on a space station with color coded doors that interact with the color of the robot body you have. Be warned, these robot bodies can be destroyed by other hostile robots. In past experiences with other metroidvania style games, you permanently get what you need to access prior rooms. But the folks at Double Fine have added a twist with backtracking in Headlander, as again, your robot body may be destroyed.

pubd686fd640be98efaae0091fa301e613-1467296286-9643873-screenshot-originalIt should also be mentioned that Headlander has a lot of platforming and puzzle solving. Due to the fact that your robot body can’t jump, the developers have forced you to find other ways around the map. But don’t let this turn you off on the experience, as there are often other alternative methods of getting around the map. While challenging, the game never feels tedious in this regard.

Headlander offers a linear narrative that is present but not overburdening. Gameplay is fun with innovative mechanics, and the dry humor throughout the experience rarely misses. Imagine my surprise when I went from stepping up to this game completely blind and walking away with such a positive experience.