Headlander proves that metroidvania games can be wacky
Headlander is a "metroidvania" game with style and an interesting new twist on the genre. In it, you play as the last human in existence - and to be honest, the term 'human' may not even really apply anymore, as you are just a head. You, sans body, must escape the ceaseless persecution of Methuselah, the leader of a new robot society who is bent on destroying you.
Developed by Double Fine and published by Adult Swim, Headlander exudes style with a retro-futuristic aesthetic and punchlines everywhere. "Everything is Fine" one terminal, flickering in the flames of a section of the starship Starcophagus, reads. Next to it: "Intruders Detected."
It wouldn't be the future without AI, either, and the fine starship Starcophagus does not disappoint, sporting ROOD, an AI with a snarky attitude that never quits. Early in the level, as the game teaches you what life without a body could be if your head was in a rocket-powered helmet, you take over the body of a red robot (called a Shepherd).
You then approach a locked door where ROOD informs you that Red Clearance is required to proceed. Your character looks down, mute (because you have no voicebox, of course), then gestures at the door - your body is clothed in red and a red laser is, literally, your right hand. "Well that's more of a dusky rose" ROOD says before you fire at the door with your obviously red laser and it relents.
In the quick ten minute demo available (we played at the Playstation booth at E3), there are tons of little jokes. "Opening A-Hole," ROOD says as you pilot a roomba through small access holes. There are also tons of fine details and polish that make playing the demo an enticing teaser of what's to come when the game launches in July, for both PS4 and Steam.
The controls of your body-less head are loose, but not in a frustrating way. In fact, piloting the head alone feels as though you're able to drift around corners and toss items you vacuum up with a flick of the thumbstick. While attached to a body, the controls are about as responsive as you'd want them to be, with quick rolls available as well as a precision aiming system for lopping the heads off other bodies without damaging said bodies.
There is no healing in Headlander, just switching out bodies. Later in the game, robot dogs and different colored Shepherds appear, each with their own unique abilities. In addition, there is a progression tree in the game that you can use to unlock further abilities, both as a head in flight and while attached to bodies. Chris Johnston, Senior Games Producer for Adult Swim, explained:
"For instance, the enemies you encounter in this demo are Red Shepherds, but there are other colors later in the game. Each time they move up the color scale, their lasers gain an extra bounce." As it stands, the enemies I'm fighting in the demo have red lasers that bounce once off the walls before fizzling on their next impact, but towards the end of the game there will be purple-clothed opponents whose lasers bounce 5 or 6 times, leading to a technicolor chaos.
And while the demo was impressive, Johnston reports that the build on display is already out of date. "The newer builds look even better," he said.
Aiming for a total campaign length of 10-15 hours, Johnston says what he looks forward to most are the potential speedruns in the future. "I love things like Awesome Games Done Quick and would love to see us support speedrunners with a special mode, something like a timer and no cutscenes." He clarifies that this isn't currently on the feature list, but is something that he'd like to see in the future.
Headlander is out in late July, 2016, on both Steam and PS4.