Headlander is a delightful mishmash of retro-futuristic sensibilities and a handful of previous Double Fine games.
There’s a fair bit of Stacking in the game’s DNA — a traditional adventure game where the interface is completely encompassed in the game’s world. There’s a touch of The Cave in its “looks like a side scroller but it’s really a puzzle game” structure. And the whole thing looks and feels a bit like Milla’s Dance Party stage in the beloved Psychonauts, with a lovely retro disco vibe and colorful presentation.
Headlander is a puzzle-adventure game with a little bit of Metroid stuffed in. You play as a head — possibly the last flesh and blood person in a universe of minds gone to AI robots. You use your head (which is upgradeable a la Metroid-style power stations) to float around and take over various robot bodies, all of which allow you access to higher levels of the space station.
There are some shooty bits – blasting off security robots’ heads to take over their bodies. There are some floaty bits — steering your head through zero-G mazes. There’s even some dancing! But the mix and match approach doesn’t feel willy nilly or poorly designed.
Like many Double Fine games, there is some roughness around the edges. The controls feel ever-so-slightly floaty, and there were times I wasn’t sure what I could interact with, and what was just part of the rather active scenery.
But the overall package, stuffed as it is with humor, warmth and style, feels complete.
I thoroughly enjoyed my explorations of the 60s-fantastic space station, complete with plush carpets and funky robot dogs. I enjoyed the breezy nature of the early puzzles, with solutions that felt organic to that exploration. And I never stopped loving the weird little pop of pulling off an enemy’s noggin and taking over its body.
Headlander is light and sweet and colorful. Like a little rainbow sherbet on a hot day – and sometimes, that’s exactly what you need.
Disclaimer — I have a personal acquaintance and friend who works at Double Fine.