The Game Tutor Grades Headlander

Headlander is a 70s style sci-fi Metroidvania game from “Double Fine Games” and published by Adult Swim.
During the current indie renaissance we are currently seeing a decent amount of Metroidvania games none of which from Castlevania or Metroid but that’s a conversation for another time.

A few videos ago we looked at the rather excellent Ghost 1.0 and actually Headlander is in many ways very similar so is it worth jumping in for some more Metroidvania loveliness yet again?

Headlander sees you in a futuristic Dystopia where mankind have replaced their bodies with robotic ones. The main premise of the game is you are the last human awoken from cryogenic storage and thus only your head has survived. So you find yourself as a floating head in a jar which can float around and attach yourself to other robots. The setting of the game is vaguely reminiscent of something like Logan’s Run in terms of style.

As you attach yourself to different robots they gain you access to different weapons and more importantly different security levels that allow you to progress. Now don’t get me wrong Headlander is a good quality game but I can’t help but feel a few small changes would have made it one of the best Metroidvania out there.

In terms of Metroid-i-ness this game is Metroid Fusion as opposed to Super Metroid. There is very little in terms of exploration which is a bit of a missed opportunity. Every door is coloured or a hatch and almost all sections are really clearly marked on the map. There are a few hidden secrets that involve jumping down gaps or smashing through walls but these are definitely in the minority. My first play though not going out of my way to find secret yielded a 92% completion rate with the 100% doable in little over an hour extra.

The game is split up into a number of zones which each have a specific challenge to the zone. My personal favourite was the Chess Zone which sees you take over robots that work in the same was as chess pieces that lead to the game’s most memorable boss… even though there are not that many bosses.
One thing that I did really like are the angle puzzles. In Headlander lasers generally bounce off of walls and this is used in a number of puzzles where you have to shoot multiple mirrors at once. The few of these puzzles that there are which tend to appear in the later stages of the game are fun and well thought out of these… An iOS game containing just these puzzles would be a welcome mini game.

Each zone has an extra quest that involves killing a mob or finding something specific but these are generally low key and definitely could have been made into so much more and that really sums up the game. It’s a fun, interesting and competent Metroidvania that is well worth playing through but it feels like everything could have been so much more. Maybe a little more development time, maybe a little more money who knows but as it is Headlander is a pretty good game as opposed to a jewel in the indie game crown. If you love Metroidvanias then this is a good one but it isn’t the absolute best of the genre.