A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Headlander is a downloadable side-scrolling action-adventure game that's just as focused on blasting and shooting as it is on solving environmental puzzles. It's set in a retro-futuristic world where people's consciousnesses are uploaded to their heads and stored in jars, and they can opt to sit atop any new body whenever they want. It's a world where automation has taken hold, and yet things go astray when suddenly you find yourself as the sole survivor of the human race and facing down an evil AI. It's a visually prettier take on your standard run-and-gun video game fare, with a couple of recurring puns that may arch eyebrows but otherwise is completely fine for teens and tweens on up.
What's it about?
HEADLANDER puts you in the head in the jar of the last remaining survivor of the human species against the backdrop of a retro-futuristic spaceship that has been commandeered by an evil AI named Methuselah. Methuselah controls not only the ship but also every robot on it, leaving you to get creative to save the day. You can eject from your given body at any time you wish, jetting around the high ceilings and ducts of the ship to find hidden nooks and crannies to throw switches, redirect lasers, and generally do whatever it takes to let you continue on your way to set things right.
Is it any good?
Although this game is bursting with a gorgeous '70s retro-sci-fi aesthetic, what's underneath is a solid but not extremely deep action-adventure game. The title has lots of creative touches such as fireplaces on big round TVs, funky dance moves for nearly every robot you can find, huge bold colors, and bigger collars. It's a refreshing change from the typical browns, grays, and blacks one usually sees in an action game set in outer space. This is definitely a "Medtroidvania" game, adhering heavily to the conventions of two game genres. Like Metroid or Castlevania, you must explore an expansive map and from time to time backtrack to different areas, which will suddenly open different paths based on actions you've taken elsewhere. The standard criticism against games like this is that backtracking is employed to pad the total time it takes to play through the game. Fortunately, Headlander takes full advantage of the sci-fi world and allows you to transport from one area to another, far-away one fairly often.
But that doesn't change the fact that everything else you're doing is fairly repetitive. A laser sight on your gun is meant to help aid you in combat and sometimes puzzles but more often than not can be confusing -- especially when you wield a gun that blasts in three directions simultaneously -- and you wind up shooting frantically in every direction before your gun overheats and then you duck into cover. It's fun and exciting, sure, but somehow even with that laser-sight concession in place, the controls are just too imprecise while on a body for you to engage in skilled gunplay. As you progress through the game, you can power up different components of your head (stronger shields, the ability to zoom along faster and for longer periods), but the most fun in the game is typically found in exploring and finding different paths to go through. Fortunately, that's where most of your time is spent, meaning Headlander is easy to recommend or at least poke your, er, head in on to try.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about automation. What parts of your day and life are already automated by machines? Can you remember a time when that wasn't the case or it wasn't possible? What does that mean about our idea of progress as a society?
What are things you think should never be automated? Why not? What if a product was available that automated it and lots of people seemed to love it and couldn't imagine life without it?
- Platforms: PlayStation 4, Windows
- Price: $19.99
- Pricing structure: Paid
- Available online? Available online
- Developer: Double Fine Productions
- Release date: July 26, 2016
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Adventures, Cats, Dogs, and Mice, Space and Aliens
- ESRB rating: T for Fantasy Violence, Suggestive Themes
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.