A screen grab from Headlander.

Game review: Headlander is a fun trip down memory lane

Side-scrolling, power-up collecting action mixes with 1970’s-style sci-fi and plenty of comedy for a zany and thoroughly enjoyable game


Double Fine Productions

3.5 stars

Every so often a game comes along that reminds me of how boisterously odd the medium can be. Actually, boisterously odd could describe the house style of Double Fine Productions, the makers of the cult classic Psychonauts, which is about a kid who delves into other people’s mindscapes. The San Francisco-based developer is known for its writers’ comedic chops and the zany artistry of its visual department.

The team’s latest creation, Headlander, (for PC and PlayStation 4) makes perfect sense for the publishing arm of the Adult Swim brand. And, as with Adult Swim shows like Archer and Robot Chicken, it trades on the ironic nostalgia for the entertainment of an earlier era.

Headlander summons the look of a ‘70s sci-fi show that’s been recorded for posterity on a VCR, static and all. Set in the future, the game unfolds during a time when almost all people have been herded into exchanging their human anatomy for robotic bodies that offer the promise of immortality.

Players are cast in the role of what is perhaps the last organically structured being in the universe – a disembodied head encased in an astronaut’s helmet with a propulsion jet at its base. As the Headlander, you must try to help a faction of politically conscious robots overthrow Methuselah, a devious supercomputer who considers you an “aberration”.

Taking after its biblical namesake, Methuselah has been around since time immemorial but exactly how it enslaved the human race is a mystery. A hint might be given in its exhortations over loudspeakers that “everything is getting better all the time” or “allow your mind to wander amongst the cosmos citizen”. Methuselah wields pop psychology like a cudgel.

Headlander presents an amusing take on side-scrolling, power-up-collecting games such as Metroid. When you’re not flying through the air, you can attach yourself to an array of different robot bodies. This is done by suctioning off the heads of others with the jet engine at the bottom of your helmet and then, by pressing a different button, affixing your dome to their mechanical corpse – male, female, canine or other.

The game alternates between throwing the usual environmental challenges at you – such as requiring you to find a way to unlock a door or zap a roomful of enemies with a laser gun – and goading you into strategically hijacking different robot bodies for various purposes like participating in a madcap bastardisation of chess.

From the catchy-as-it-is-kitschy lounge music of the title screen to its magic-marker-bright environments, the production values of Headlander are generally impressive. The frame rate drops whenever a wild laser battle breaks out between more than a few adversaries, but these technical hiccups probably won’t diminish your enjoyment of the game.

The Washington Post