I went into Levelhead expecting a cutesy platformer with some level of multiplayer. I anticipated a charming and funny style. It delivers this, but also provides a unique level of complexity that will keep me coming back months from now.
Levelhead, at its core, is a platformer in line with the likes of Super Meat Boy and Super Mario Maker. It offers some fast-paced, quick restart platforming on one end and a surprisingly complex level editor on the other. In Levelhead, I stepped into the randomly generated character of Zaapwoo Overpoppa the Popjaw Ponder. Yeah, I don’t know what that is either, however Levelhead is very confident in its own tone and this can be spotted in the first two minutes. You, as a new employee, are welcomed to the “Bureau of Shipping, the galaxy’s premier package delivery corporation”. You are informed that their package delivery system was so effective it was fired directly at customers, killing them. They implemented a new system where it is fired nearby and you, controlling the “GR-18”, must go pick it up and bring it to the customer. This is where Levelhead starts. The GR-18 is like “a little baby” and must be trained in how to deliver packages on time.
The gameplay is split up into two main ideas – playing levels and building them. Either of these things could be the only thing you would do, and there would be plenty of content to keep you busy. There are a multitude of levels within the game itself that work as a tutorial of sorts, teaching you how certain mechanics work and how powers can be used together. It starts out very simple, requiring you simply to jump or move forward. Within a few hours of playing, different ideas and mechanics start to click as you realise how they can be used in your own levels. It is however when you join the online portion of Levelhead that it really starts to open up.
There is a powerful level of creativity from the community in Levelhead. People are making remakes of classics such as Super Mario Bros’ “1-1” or a working music video playing the entirety of Smash Mouth’s All-Star. Alongside this, there are a multitude of original ideas and concepts. There are impossibly hard levels and levels that you can compete without moving. This is exactly what makes games like this so utterly fascinating. Although the mechanics within the game are solid and fun, it’s most interesting to see how people change them in new ways, breaking out of the mould levels are set in, to do things that make you question how they even made it.
These two base concepts play against each other well. As you make your way through the official levels, it encourages you to make your own after certain checkpoints. You consistently play with new concepts as you design levels, only for that understanding to be flipped with a new mechanic. Speaking of mechanics, the gameplay in Levelhead is very solid. Apart from basic platforming, it features a grab mechanic. You have to grab the package and hold it on your back as you touch the finish line. You can throw this in any direction to hit something or propel yourself. Think of throwing an item below you, like jumping off Yoshi in Mario, and you have the base mechanic. This gets devilishly addicting as you introduce multiple items into a single jump. Throwing items below you to bounce off as you catch the next one sets up an interesting combo idea that is played around with a lot. Added on to this are a few powers you can acquire, finding them at random junctions or from hitting the right blocks. These give you abilities like wall-jumping, teleporting, charging forward or becoming invisible.
The entire package of Levelhead comes together quite well in this regard. It has a rather tongue-in-cheek style from its use of jokes to paying people in exposure bucks for particularly good levels. There are points where these jokes don’t land, but it’s worth stomaching the few annoying missed opportunities for the good ones. And while the art style and music don’t stand out, they do play their role decently, and it is helped that there are plenty of options available, letting you customise the look and sound of your levels.
Levelhead on Xbox One offers a surprisingly deep platformer experience wrapped up in a comedic package. Its jokes don’t always land but its tone and style are solid throughout. For those without a Nintendo Switch, it offers a very tempting similarity to Super Mario Maker, but is still interesting enough to stand out without the comparison.