Airhead, the debut title from developers Octato and Massive Miniteam, offers an extensive Metroidvania-style platforming adventure set in a 2.5D post-apocalyptic setting, packed with precarious puzzles and quaint creatures for players to discover. Although the core elements of the game culminate into a decent puzzle-platformer, the overall experience is marred by technical issues that prevent the game from reaching its true potential.
When two become one
Players start out as Body, a headless creature that becomes acquainted with an immobile sack of air named Head. After Body witnesses Head get mangled by strange machinery, Body offers to aid the ailing blob in its time of need. The two creatures combine to form Airhead, a symbiotic lifeform that must navigate through a world inhabited by alien-like creatures and forgotten technology.
Airhead’s journey involves trekking through a series of interconnected, post-apocalyptic locales including dank caverns, windy hillsides, and a seemingly abandoned research facility. Dark shadows are juxtaposed against vibrant, jewel-toned colors that give each setting a visual pop. Innovative use of lighting helps to guide the player’s attention toward key areas while contributing to the overall moody aesthetic. The game leans into its 2.5D perspective by implementing paths in the background and foreground that add depth to the scenery.
Although our inflatable protagonist remains silent throughout, there is a subtle narrative that unfolds as you delve deeper into the sprawling structure. The Library tab within the menu screen offers an index of creatures you’ve encountered, along with brief descriptions to provide context and knowledge that can be applied to your endeavors.
Waiting to exhale
Head is constantly deflating and will die without a steady supply of air, meaning Head’s fate is quite literally in Body’s capable hands. Keeping Airhead alive involves stopping at strategically placed air canisters that double as save points. Not all air canisters are the same, and thus can have different effects on Airhead. Lightweight air will cause Airhead to float upward for a time, while heavy air will keep you grounded, for example. You can only go so far until you run out of breath, and movement makes Head lose air faster, limiting the progress you can make as you move from place to place.
When you aren’t busy managing your air intake, the rest of the time spent in Airhead consists of solving environmental puzzles to progress through each area. Though minimal in design, the puzzles in Airhead were often quite challenging. Puzzles often involve pushing or pulling objects and manipulating other alien critters to work in your favor. Puzzles ramp up in complexity as Airhead learns new abilities like activating machinery or illuminating the surrounding area.
The game offers a built-in hint system that can be toggled on or off along with a detailed map that indicates the general direction you should be heading. The hints were vague yet helpful enough to give you a sense of what needs to be done. Oftentimes, when I felt stumped by a puzzle, simply looking at the broader picture of where I’d been on the map was enough to nudge me in the right direction.
As a Metroidvania-style platformer, forging a path forward means revisiting places you’ve been, usually after obtaining new upgrades. While exploring new areas, you find additional appendages like eyes and ears that increase Head’s air capacity and grant new traversal capabilities. Dashing and double-jumping are acquired later and are tied to your air supply, making traversal a bit tedious considering how limited your air capacity is early on. Jumping and dashing also took a bit of getting used to, as sometimes Airhead would not grab onto a platform or ledge despite seeming to clearly reach it. Water traversal was also needlessly tedious and often felt cumbersome even after obtaining the dash upgrade.
In over my head
Some interactions are not as smooth as they should be, and there were multiple occasions where Airhead would glitch on the edge of platforms and become physically stuck, forcing me to reset from the last save point. Occasionally, when the camera would pan out to show a broader view of the scenery, it would not pan back to zoom in on Airhead, causing me to die by simply not being able to see what I’m doing. While resetting is par for the course in a game like this, having to do so unnecessarily negatively impacts the overall pacing. I also encountered more than one instance where I was stuck due to a progress-blocking bug, which would have prematurely ended my run with the game had I not been playing for review purposes.
The clever puzzles and vivid visuals can only do so much to quell the frustration caused by the unfortunate glitches and bugs I encountered throughout the game. However, if you can push through the myriad of technical hiccups, Airhead is a decent puzzle-platformer that simply needs a bit more tuning under the hood.
This review is based on a Steam code provided by the publisher. Airhead releases on February 12, 2024 for PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, and Amazon Luna.
- Lovely visual aesthetic
- Interesting puzzle mechanics
- Mostly helpful hint system
- Cute critters
- Variety of technical problems
- Got physically stuck multiple times
- Tedious traversal, especially underwater
- Pacing slows in certain areas