STAFF REVIEW of Airhead (Xbox Series X)

Saturday, March 9, 2024.
by Adam Dileva

Airhead Box art One of the perks I love about reviewing is that sometimes games that I would have never taken a look at happen to fall in my lap to play. This is the case with Airhead, something I probably would have glossed over in the Xbox store and not really given a second thought. I’ve managed to play a handful of memorable indie games that, like Airhead, just happen to fall come across my desk. While not without its flaws, Airhead is certainly a unique platformer that has you exploring an odd world as an even odder character, yourself.

You play as Body, a literal body without a head. You fall from quite some height to the bottom of a cave, and this is where your adventure starts. Where did you come from? Why are you headless? What are you? These are questions that you’ll soon forget once you start to explore this mysterious world. Shortly after your harsh arrival to the cave you start to look for a way out, pushing and pulling some rocks to be able to leap up to new heights.

This is where you’ll find a head. Once you place this on your shoulders you somewhat become one entity, though you’re still holding it with your hands and can place it down when needed. Head needs air to live though, and you’ll notice that you’ve already passed a handful if air tanks along the way. Take a moment to fill Head with air and you’re off to explore new pathways that open up. When you move though Head’s air slowly depletes, thus starts your journey of finding a constant stream of air tanks so you can survive as you try and find a way out now as one entity, Airhead.

Body and Head may be two separate entities, but now their fates are intertwined. Body can’t survive long without Head, and Head needs to be carried everywhere, constantly resupplying the air gauge. Slowly leaking air, you’ll need to find a way to not only survive, but a way out, trying to find the machine that stole Head’s air source. While there’s no text, dialogue or cutscenes, there’s a story that plays out in a way for you to interpret on your own.

A 2.5D platformer at its core, you’ll be running, jumping, and dashing as you gain new abilities, allowing you to reach new areas in this Metroidvania as you complete puzzles. Where you once couldn’t reach, you’ll eventually be able to pass or find another way through when you earn these new abilities.

You’re able to place down Head at any time, but doing so also depletes its air gauge slowly, so you can’t be apart for too long. Sometimes this will be needed though, as when Body is holding Head, you’re unable to use your arms to climb ledges since your hands are occupied. This is where some of the puzzle elements come into play, as you may need to place Head down and find a different way around to pass through a smaller area, or to push a rock to make a ledge reachable while holding Head afterwards.

Head can only last a short amount of time before needing a resupply of air. Thankfully there are plenty of air tanks strewn around the world conveniently, refiling your oxygen for a short period. Every time you use an air tank, this counts as a checkpoint as well, and since you’re constantly going from one tank to the next with only about 30 seconds or so in between, you’re never too far back if you manage to die from suffocation.

This is also where some of my frustrations come into play with Airhead as well though. Because you’re basically always suffocating, you’re constantly running and searching for the next air tank to refill your oxygen. This puts a constant pressure on you, especially since you also have to deal with puzzles along the way as well that can be quite challenging. I was so preoccupied with simply trying to reach the next air tank that I found it hard to enjoy myself or take the world in as I was constantly stressed trying to reach the next checkpoint, even if it was only 30 seconds away.

Puzzles start out simple enough, pushing a rock here or there to reach new heights, but eventually become more complex, having to place Head down, let the wind take it, or use different types of air tanks that have you float or sink. As you get new abilities, the puzzles become slightly more complex as you go. I’ll freely admit, a few puzzles certainly had me stumped and I needed to search online more than once for a solution.

Airhead’s visual style is gorgeous, starting out with dark and bleak caves and water, eventually opening up to outside cliff sides, almost as if each area is hand crafted or painted. The background soundtrack is subtle but adds a calm ambience, even when I was constantly stressed trying to each the next air tank to survive. While I had no major issues, I would get hung up on random objects now and then, or missing a jump from not being just perfectly timed, usually resulting in a quick death from loss of air. There's also the odd time where you need to go 'up' or 'down' onto another ledge or path given its 2.5D nature, but this wasn't always clear when or the exact spot to do so.

Even without any dialogue or traditional narrative, Airhead manages to tell a story, though it may differ from one to another depending on your interpretation. It’s clear that Airhead was built with a lot of heart and passion but I found it hard to truly enjoy from being constantly stressed about finding a constant air supply. Challenging puzzles and classic Metroidvania gameplay is to be had for fans, and while it may not be a long adventure, it was certainly memorable for as long as you can hold your breath.

**Airhead was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 7.8 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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