Look, if Nintendo isn’t going to give us a Rhythm Heaven game on Switch, then somebody else has to. And so, in comes Glee Cheese Studio, the developer behind Headbangers – a ludicrous party game featuring pigeons in silly outfits, and with up to 30-player multiplayer. It’s chaotic, it’s hilarious, and just like the music, it absolutely slaps.
Headbangers is almost entirely music-based, though some of the 23 minigames actually just use music to facilitate a memory game. You must make it through four rounds of games in this competition, in the hopes of becoming the master headbanger, and trust me, things will get silly along the way.
At WASD we managed to sit down with Team17, and enjoyed two different sessions with Headbangers, coming away pretty happily chuckling to ourselves, but with a few key questions. This manic minigame collection sure is a hoot, but we’re not sure yet just how much fun this is to play over an extended period of time. And crucially, there’s no local co-op, it’s only online multiplayer.
Now, you can sit and play this on your own and have a good time, or if you’re feeling the boogie you can create a room with friends and have the game populate the rest of the 30 pigeons characters with NPCs. We only managed to play against one other player, and while that was really fun, it’s going to be really interesting to see just how mad things get with a full flock of thirty all hammering the buttons and trying to stay on the beat.
One thing that gives us confidence is the strength of the minigames, and the commitment to silliness throughout. We managed to squeeze in a game of ‘Fitness’ where you follow a gym instructor’s moves. The instructor stretches in different directions, and you must follow the direction, rhythm, and length of the moves. Things quickly escalate, and what seems like a simple game of Simon Says turns into a confusing assault on the senses that is just as silly as it is tough.
Another game called ‘Guess It’ makes you listen to a few assorted notes from a particular instrument, before choosing from a wheel of available options. Can you make out the noise of bagpipes or a few pats on a bongo? Once again, this quickly devolves into several noises in a row and it becomes a fun game of both memory and recognition skills.
Not all games have memory aspects, as ‘That 70’s Race’ pits you and a few remaining pigeons on the top of a vinyl player, and you press buttons to match the time and particular button shown below. Imagine Guitar Hero spinning around on a record, and you’re sort of there. As the game slowly whittles down players from each game, the final couple of matches get more intense, and more ruthless, making those heart-pounding moments all the more intense.
We enjoyed the mini-games we played, though between the 23 total, from our time with around seven or eight, it remains to be seen if there is enough variety in the different games and whether they all feel fair. The difficulty seriously ramped up in our time, and while this is definitely focused on online play, it’ll be interesting to see how much fun it is to play alone if nobody is there to laugh along with you.
One element firmly in Headbanger’s favor is the sheer commitment to being very, very, silly. As you play you unlock currency (known as crumbs here), and you can use these to purchase a variety of ridiculous outfits. You can slap a TV on your pigeon’s belly, dress them like Ziggy Stardust, and wear a hat featuring Team17’s iconic Worms. There are so many outfits to choose from, and you can even mess around and equip different parts for your legs, torso, and head. Just go mad, and have fun with it.
Luckily it’s not just outfits, as even while playing, there are a few silly moments peppered throughout to keep you smiling. While waiting for the next minigame or round, you can almost always swing around your pigeon’s neck and head with a spin on the analog stick, and you even get some additional points when doing so. Then, be sure to also keep an eye out for items flying overhead in between rounds, which, if you manage to grab them, allow you extras like a bonus round, or a chance to attack all your opponents.
The performance felt great in our playthrough, which is great because a tight frame rate is essential for a game that demands such exact timing from players. It’ll be interesting to see how the Switch’s servers hold up with 30 players all simultaneously banging their heads online, but we hope it doesn’t impact gameplay. The game is already tough enough, no need to throw in some performance issues to add to the load.
Finally, one thing that really sells the whole package is the great sound design and soundtrack. The original music is great, adding a lot of zany energy and zest to the title, though it might be missing the sort of classic hooks that you can hum along to. Instead, the soundtrack is there to assist the hilarious pigeon voices and sounds, as in each minigame the characters give off little noises and funny musical hums that sound a bit like Aardman’s Morph if he had a few beers.
We really enjoyed our time with Headbangers, but a lot of that was getting to sit next to someone and play together – which we managed with a combination of two Switches, two TVs, and online play. According to Team17, the precision needed to master the musical games is why it’s online only, as in a room full of rowdy folks, it’s almost impossible for people to keep track. But, besides bemoaning the omission of local co-op, the game is a very tight experience that takes being silly very seriously.
In Headbangers there’s a huge commitment to satisfying gameplay, and it pays off. The music riled me up for some very silly moments, but it’s the tight controls and challenging games that are sticking out in my mind. Couple that with a really funny visual style, plenty of ways to express your silliness with outfits, and a hell of a large pool of different games, and this could be a recipe for success. While we’ve got some questions about the promising pigeon-based party, we’re absolutely certain Headbangers is going to quack you up.
That’s it for our Headbangers preview for today, folks, but keep it tuned to Pocket Tactics for a full review in the future. If this article has got you tapping your feet, be sure to check out our guide on the best Switch rhythm games next.