We first wrote about Airhead back in 2020, which feels like a literal lifetime ago now. A lot has happened since then – we’re pretty sure we don’t need to remind you. In April 2020, we wrote that Airhead was expected “some time in 2021”. That, obviously, didn’t happen. A release in 2022 or 2023 didn’t happen, either.
It’s understandable: a huge amount of games have been delayed as a result of Covid and the vast amount of issues it caused. And so, three years behind its original schedule, Airhead is finally available on PC and consoles and… we wish we could say it was worth the wait. Alas.
Airhead is a metroidvania where you play, initially, as a headless body. Considering it’s without a head, however, it’s pretty capable: it can run, jump, grab onto ledges and interact with stuff. It’s not far into your journey, though, that you come across a head that, from that point onwards, must accompany you on your journey.
There are a few problems with this head, however. One, it’s not properly attached to you. So when you have the head in tow, you can’t climb or grab onto ledges. The second problem, and the entire crux of the game, is that the head needs to be continually filled up with air. If you leave it alone or if you move with it, it’ll deflate to a flat, formless shape, no good to anyone. Worse, you’ll get a game over, restarting at the last checkpoint.
Related: The Best Metroidvania Games on PS5
The good thing is that air pumps, acting as checkpoints, are plentiful. The bad news is that you need to reach one approximately every thirty seconds or less. In between them you’ll need to puzzle your way through Airhead’s world, figuring out how to climb ledges while ensuring you can keep control of your head.
The puzzles, admittedly, are great, and solving them feels rewarding. But with your head continually deflating, you’re destined to keep failing until you figure something out, only ever getting a small window of time to find the solution. It’s an exercise in frustration and if you’ve not got a great deal of patience, you’ll soon find yourself wanting to turn the game off when you’ve suffered a dozen or so deaths.
Being a metroidvania, you will gain new abilities as you go, for both your head and your body. The trouble is – will you be able to stick out the game long enough to unlock any meaningful upgrades to make things easier for you? That’s wholly debatable, and it’s a real shame.
Put the core mechanic aside, and there’s a lot we like about Airhead. It looks great: its mystical world is beautiful thanks to its palette of dark, moody colours and a clever use of light throughout. There are also some great ideas here, like strange creatures that will steal your head if you leave it unattended, and fireflies that follow you through dark caves, providing a unique source of light.
But we just wish we had more time to enjoy it. As it is, rushing to find one checkpoint after another isn’t all that fun fun when all we want to do is be able to enjoy Airhead’s world and think through its puzzles in our own time. Life’s already stressful enough without essentially putting the entirety of your game on a life-or-death timer.
Airhead is available now on PC, PS5 and Xbox Series X/S.