PSX 2015: Headlander Preview – Ahead of the Competition

It’s hard to say no to a Double Fine game, which is why I knew I had to check out Headlander in some time between appointments at PSX 2015. It’s also part of the coming lineup of Adult Swim Games titles, now that the network has their hand in the video game publishing scene. Double Fine and Adult Swim on the same title card? Things are about to get weird. 

Alright, so in Headlander (apparently all one word despite the logo having the word “head” stacked on top of the word “lander”) you are a human head in a rocket powered space helmet. Just a head. You then land that head onto other robotic bodies with varying abilities to get through a maze of levels. I’ll give you a second to figure out how the game got its name. Done? Let’s move on.

It’s Quite Simple, You Know?

In the demo I played at PSX 2015, it appeared to be the beginning of the game. You wake up as nothing but a head, and of course with no lungs, there’s nothing to vibrate your vocal chords, so you can’t talk. But you can rocket around on a seemingly endless fuel supply and take over those other robots in an effort to escape this ship that you woke up on. It’s all fairly simple really. You. Head. Trapped. Escape. Figure out what the hell’s going on.

Headlander preview 1

It’s certainly one of the more unique metroidvania style games that I have played, with abilities not being collected, but rather equipped depending on which body you choose to land on. Need to get through a stubborn red door? You’ll want to take over the red android, and then of course just shoot the door with a red laser. And watch out, the door is quite literally stubborn and initially refused to let me through. 

Some of the rooms I encountered were quite puzzling and took a bit of thinking to figure out how to get through. The benefit of a game like this is the ability to offer multiple solutions. In one portion where I attached myself to a little robot vacuum unit and made my way through some small doors in the floor, I watched other players go a different way entirely to get to their objective.

Headlander preview 2

Of course, there’s a ton of humor layered into every step. Sorry, is saying “step” insensitive to someone without a body? The hilarity is what I can only describe as the most highbrow of lowbrow humor. It’s delivered in a completely deadpan way that never indicates Headlander is trying to be funny. In many cases, I nearly missed the jokes because they blend into aesthetic of the world, both in audio and visual format. 

The Lost Art of Hidden Humor

As I was cruising through the maintenance ducts as the vacuum bot, a monotonous robotic voice announced my presence going through each doorway. “Opening A hole… Opening B hole…” I had to do a double take after I had gotten through them. Hidden within the sequential order of the alphabet labeled  were references to certain orifices on the body. Was it just a coincidence? I glanced at a dev with the realization in my eye and he chuckled. Nope, no coincidence here. 

Talking with him afterward, he also told me that some of the humor is more obvious than others. He then pointed out that the escape shuttles at the end of the demo were phallic in nature, shaped like giant pe- well…you get the idea.

I’m quite excited for Headlander. Blending puzzle solving, Metroidvania, and irreverent humor, this will be a game to watch for. And if it’s any indication of the types of games that Adult Swim will be publishing, there’s certain to be a slew of unique and interesting games right behind it.