Headlander’s concept of becoming a disembodied head that controls interchangeable, disposable bodies took some getting used to. Many games have trained me to value self-preservation, but Headlander is the literal example of the philosophy to fight like you’re in someone else’s body. Recklessly throwing yourself into a hail of lasers is A-okay; there’s always another empty vessel to hijack nearby. It's a strange premise, but after playing the demo it's a concept with promise.
At its core, Headlander is a Metroidvania. Players explore labyrinthine levels by either rocketing through the air as the mute severed head, or by docking your head onto a robotic body. Gaining new abilities to access previously barred areas is key, and reaching such places often requires the literal use of your head. Sometimes you’ll have to send your floating noggin into narrow air ducts to find additional rooms and secrets, or plug yourself into a computer terminal to open sealed doors.
The action is satisfying thanks to its emphasis on landing tricky headshots. Lasers can be fired straight ahead, but Headlander heavily encourages players to carefully aim their shots (using a handy laser sight) to ricochet beams to hit enemies from difficult vantage points. Successfully executing a headshot by having a laser bounce off of two or three carefully plotted points felt slick and gratifying. Various upgrades help mix up the arsenal with new abilities. The power-up presented in the demo was a suction ability used to suck up and carry objects and, best of all, rip the heads off enemies.
There are also other strategies that come into play. At one point I neutralized an enemy’s attack by placing myself directly in its line of fire, then ejected to another suit on the opposite side, thus turning my previous body into an improvised barrier to block the enemy’s shots. Another fun tactic is ditching soon-to-explode bodies among a group of adversaries. There's something oddly gleeful in going "whatever!" and taking new bodies when your old ones outlive their usefulness.
Humanoid suits aren’t the only objects ripe for hijacking. Players can plug their heads into several machines to serve a variety of purposes. An example I encountered was a tiny tunnel accessible only to small maintenance droids (anything else was turned away by the sassy A.I. door control). After recalling seeing such a machine in a previous room, I returned to it and plugged myself into it which allowed me to proceed through the hatch. The full game features machines like vacuum cleaners and even a dog-like robot.
With its groovy 70’s era sci-fi (including a grainy film filter), Double Fine’s trademark humor, and a wacky approach to exploration and puzzle-solving, Headlander is shaping up to be one of the more unique takes on the Metroidvania out there. I had a fun time with it and look forward to seeing how the headless concept expands further into the game. Those looking forward to playing won’t have to lose their heads waiting forever. Headlander is planned to release later this summer on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.