Headlander – Review
Follow Genre: 2D-side scroller
Developer: Double Fine Games
Publisher: Adult Swim
Platform: PC, PS4
Tested on: PS4

Headlander – Review

Site Score
Good: Humour, Puzzles, colourful environments
Bad: Shooting Mechanics, repeatedly attaching and detaching
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When we saw the first glimpses of Headlander, we were curious fo find out what Double Fine had cooked up, to say the least. Since the studio brought us a bunch of original, out of the norm games, which didn’t rake high scores from critics, but were generally highly praised by the fans. For those who don’t know what the heck we’re babbling about: Double Fine has brought us Brütal Legend, Psychonauts, Broken Age and so much more. We could say their latest project had big shoes to fill, so let’s find out how this turned out.



In Headlander, well… We basically take control over a head that has to land on other bodies to takes control over them, as the title already gives away. It’s not as simple as that of course, but we’ll get into that later on during the gameplay part. We’re also the last survivor of the human species, which drops a load of responsibility to carry on our shoulders… Which we don’t have, since we’re nothing but a big head in a helmet.

Of course, there is a story in this Metroidvania styled 2D side-scroller. Since we’re the last known survivor of our race, we have to uncover where all the other bodies mysteriously disappeared to. Not the easiest task, since all other life forms exist in the cloud and are downloaded into bodies which aren’t their own. With no real allies to speak of and of course, many enemies who’re under the control of the AI overlord Methuselah, we’ll have our non-existing hands full. We won’t say more than this to avoid spoilers, what we can say is that it contains a lot of humour, which Double Fine Studios is renowned for.



On the graphics side, Headlander is set in a bright and colourful futuristic world, which bathes in a seventies flair. It’s got disco balls, flashy light effects, bright halls and more. All the characters have their own look and style, and literally none of them looks rushed. There’s also a lot of variation in the environments, thanks to the use of many colours and the many different stages, which are all very distinguishable from each other. The presentation of a side scrolling 2D game might never have looked as vivid as this one does.


Since the visuals are futuristic and inspired by the 70’s, the only way they could go was with full-on synth grooves, which they did and they certainly nailed it. The music literally carries you through the game and never gets boring. The voice work is simple, yet effective. The biggest star on this front is the narrator of the game, named Earl, who guides us with a funny cowboy accent, which never seems to get old. A lot of the NPCs greet us with some kind of a surfer dude accent, which also adds to the quality and of course the humour department.



In this 2D-side scroller, gameplay wise we start out with a few options, like a vacuum pull, which we use to pull of heads of other bodies, so we can land our head on them (what did you expect?) and use these to our advantage. Once we managed to do this, we can access more areas, since a floating head can only go so far. We will of course have to switch between the use of different bodies, and our detachable head, since we’ll do a lot of tracking back and forth, puzzling our way through the game. While you need a body to access doors, some areas will only be reachable when you’re in head only mode, like tunnels or tubes which are too small to fit a human (robotic) body.

We’ll also have to face enemies who come in different colours, whose bodies will be necessary to access certain doors. Let’s say we face an orange door: In this case we’ll need an orange suited body to get through and it will not always conveniently be hanging around near the door we need to pass. So we’ll have to search for enemies in the colour scheme we are facing at that time. Like all the other types of puzzles in this game, it will give you headaches, but it will be all the more satisfying once you manage to solve them. This is really one of the strong suits of this game. The downside of the repeated head landing through the game gets a bit too boring after a while.


We’ll of course also be doing some fighting and that’s where the game could’ve used more tweaking, mostly in the shooting part. Firstly, with no distinguishable colour between our lasers and the ones of our enemies, they’re will be a whole lot of red laser beams flying back and forth on the screen. The lasers also bounce off walls, ceilings and floors, which would even be too much to bear for a well trained ninja. We also missed the option of crouching, and/ or jumping to avoid these lasers.


Double Fine has done it again, yet a bit rough around the edges, they managed to bring us a unique game that will, of course not be one for the masses, but a great work of love for the fans. It’s got the humour the fans of the developer have always been fond of, a bright and vivid world, challenging puzzles and a synth soundtrack to take us along for the ride. The biggest downside are the shooting mechanics, which will frustrate many of us repeatedly. We also got a bit bored with attaching and detaching our head from body to body to advance through the game. All in all it’s an enjoyable title, although it’s an acquired taste.


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