It was a dark and stormy night. And as cliché an opening as that is, it’s exactly how Headland begins.
Nor, our protagonist, awakens during a storm to cries for help from his robot friend, Spud. Something is wrong in Headland and Spud needs Nor’s help to sort it out. The metaphysical problem, which is an excuse to plunge us into the imaginary world of Headland for an isometric action game with light RPG elements, is nothing less than the loss of imagination and creativity that young children wield so easily.
Developed by Northup, Headland is an aimed at all ages – especially the young and young at heart – action game that provides just enough challenge to keep you engaged but not enough to make you want to throw your Switch at a wall.
Headland begins without much fanfare. You’re thrown right into the story without a lot of build-up while the tale unfolds as you play. Imagination and creativity has been stripped from Headland and all of its inhabitants caged. Worse, you’re friend Spud has his imagination core, and thus his imagination powers, destroyed and the shards scattered across Headland. With Spud’s and his other robot friend’s help, you have to collect and reform the core and free Headland’s colourful characters.
It’s never fully explained why the bad guys, The Pale Guard, want to destroy imagination. However, it’s not difficult to imagine that the pressures of growing up and adjusting to the grind of the real world is to blame.
Your adventure begins proper on the Robot Raft, your headquarters which can be customised a bit over the course of the game, where you can unlock new weapons, upgrade them and access the world map.
The games levels start off small with some hidden areas before growing a bit larger with more secrets to find. The game plays, as most isometric action games do, like a Diablo-lite, just without the loot drops. Instead you’ll break objects to pick up cogs (or money, I wasn’t quite sure which it was), wood and stone which you use to unlock new weapons and upgrade them. Special keys open up special doors for you to acquire some of the games weapons at the end of an enemy wave gauntlet and can then be replayed for resources.
Nor’s repertoire of moves is small, but effective. You have a three combo melee attack and a dash. You can’t block or jump so you have to pay attention to the enemies’ choreographed attacks to zip out of danger at the drop of a hat. Finally Nor has a shield ability which, when charged to its max by killing enemies, also damages them when activated. Killing enemies nets you XP to level up with, with each level gained giving you a stat point to either increase your health or melee damage. Each weapon you pick up comes with its own stats and abilities that can be upgraded. The Golden Pick, for instance, nets you more resources while the Red Thorn lets you attack faster but comes at the cost of health.
Combat difficulty starts off easy enough, but gets harder as you progress with special enemy types and the amount that you have to deal with in a wave increasing. It’s never overwhelming though, but provides just enough challenge that, if you die, you’ll know how to tackle them when you respawn. The same strategy works on all waves with the only real thing to pay attention to is making certain you don’t get cornered.
Visually, Headland shows its status as a budget game. The graphics, while all bright and colourful, are composed of models and environments that look more at home on a last generation console than on modern hardware. The visuals do the job, and are probably aimed at the younger gamer as well, but don’t particularly stand out. If there’s any real issue, it’s that the game has a static camera and, occasionally, the environment can obscure the action.
Where Headland does succeed though, is in its gameplay. The relative ease of combat makes for an easy to pick up and play title that fills the hack and slash void you may have. Combat is solid and, coupled with the light exploration and RPG mechanics, fun and uncomplicated.
While Headland’s visuals may not jump off the shelf at you, it’s satisfying combat and light exploration make for a breezy, entertaining and, ultimately, cute adventure about the perils of losing your creative spark that both older and younger gamers can enjoy.
A Review code for Headland was provided to Gameblur by the Publisher
- Satisfying, uncomplicated combat
- Light RPG mechanics and exploration
- Environment can obscure the action at times