Headland by Northplay
As frustrating as it can be to review games that are outright bad, that’s not the hardest part of this gig. For me, it’s when you get something that comes really close to being good. It’s something you can see the quality of trying to shine through, but a few key things hold it back. You love it in principle, but you can’t praise its execution.
What I’m trying to say is, I’m bummed out about the review I’m about to give Headland.
Head In The Clouds
Headland casts you as Nor, a young boy drawn into a world of imagination by a sarcastic robot who needs you to save his people from evil. While a bit of a bog-standard premise, I actually found myself drawn into the game’s colorful vistas and decent writing immediately. That said, for a world supposedly built off of imagination, it definitely falls into some pretty standard video game tropes.
Gameplay-wise Headland feels familiar, but in a cozy way. Its top-down levels made up of floating islets reminded me of old PlayStation curiosities like Croc: Legend of the Gobbos, while its combat is straight out of 2D Zelda titles like A Link to the Past. Each level has you finding colorful items like keys, gems, and imagination fragments to advance, and there are plenty of secrets to be found.
These secrets often relate to the game’s hub world. Here, Nor can use special keys to participate in battle arenas, most of which award new weapons. The weapons can then be upgraded via materials found throughout the levels. It’s a simple but tried-and-true reward loop that really encourages you to dig through each level.
In a lot of ways, Headland is the kind of game I think there should be more of. Simple to pick up, immediately colorful, and appealing to kids and adults alike. It’s the kind of experience I miss from the days of the PS1 and N64. Unfortunately, its problems far outweigh its positives.
For starters, despite Headland’s whimsical appearance and simple gameplay, it often throws you into combat situations that are shockingly brutal for all the wrong reasons. Enemies come in massive swarms that dogpile Nor relentlessly, and there are often few ways to heal during most combat encounters. Worse still, some enemies can stun Nor in place, something the player has to shake off by inputting a sequence of buttons. Unfortunately, the enemies are often so densely packed together that seeing the button prompts is nearly impossible. It turns what could be simple and fun combat into a massive slog.
Worse still, the game runs terribly on Switch. Almost every level features copious amounts of slowdown, especially when the aforementioned swarms of enemies show up. On top of all of this, aspects of the game are flat-out broken. One of the battle arenas would consistently not spawn enemies when I attempted it, making unlocking its treasures impossible. Resetting the game, and even reinstalling it, did nothing to fix this.
If I’m being harsh with my score, it’s because I could see a lot of potential in Headland. Unfortunately, between its major design and technical issues, there are far better trips into imaginative world to be taken.
Headland is available via the Nintendo Store, Steam, Apple Arcade, and Google Play Store.
Watch the trailer for Headland below: