You like pigeons? I hope so, because Headbangers is full of it. Headbangers is a new party game (think Fall Guys) that combines rhythm mini-games with the concept of large-scale tournaments. A fair warning: the game highly recommends playing with a controller and headphones on - while headphones are certainly optional if you play in a quiet place, using controllers seem like a sound advice over keyboards.
So, mini-games. Each of them is designed around a unique musical theme and rhythm pattern. Players compete against everyone else in the group, and each stage is about shoving the laggards and keeping the ones that perform the best. So far in Season 1, you start the tournament with 30 folks in the first stage, 20 in the second, 10 in the third one, and 5 on the final stage. If you consistently perform better than average you have good chances to get at least to the third stage, and sometimes in the final.
You may be wondering… well, are there always 30 other players available to play with me when I want to play? The answer is… no. There are sometimes long wait times to start the first game (up to 2 minutes), and if the game fails to find enough players it will add bots to the mix. Presently the game is not free-to-play, so it will depend a lot on its ability to generate a thriving community of players who are willing to pay to play. Fall Guys, as you know, moved from a paying scheme to a free-to-play one, and does not have to worry right now about a lack of players on their platform - but monetization becomes a different problem to consider then.
You can see the same video on our Peertube channel.
Apparently the devs are French - it’s the first time I have heard of Glee-Cheese, and their only other game released before was A Musical Story which is yet another rhythm game but set in the 70s with rock music as a theme.
I intend to find more about the studio, and how they come to work with Team17 (the publisher) on this game, but that will probably be for another article.
So far as the game launched in Season 1, there are 23 mini-games involving rhythm, visuals and music. Most of them fall under the “press a button a the right time” concept. The less original example is when they ask you to repeat a series of A, B, X, Y patterns in music, which you see very often in music-based games. There are better ideas explored, though. A great one of them is GUILTY, where you have to find out which pigeon is responsible for a sample of music that you just heard for a few seconds. For example, a reggae music should fit with a pigeon dressed up in rasta style. Similarly, an alien-like music should go with the pigeon with an alien disguise. And so on. It gets harder in the second part as they do mashups, where two genres of music are mixed together - for example, accordeon with alien music vibes - and you need to find the two pigeons responsible for the mashup. It’s harder than it sounds! Especially since you need to be very fast.
Another great mini-game (name?) puts you against one adversary in a Western style outfit. For each round, you are told that a specific sound will be played at a random time - for example, the sound of breaking glass - and this sound will be put somewhere randomly in a series of other sounds, and you have to hit the button as soon as you hear it. The fastest pigeon who gets to press it the closest to the sound gets a point.
Some games mix a bit of a movement with the musical genre. One mini-game asks you to replicate a few notes on a piano in the right order, but you do that by throwing stones on the said piano notes, while the piano itself is actually composed of pigeons holding big vertical white bars next to each others, and moving slightly left and right as you try to shoot them in the right order.
In the final stage, they usually select some game where no mistake is allowed to eliminate the remaining pigeons one by one, the last one standing being the winner. Recently I got to play “yes your majesty” as a final stage, where you have to replicate one of the four movements (mapped to A, B, X, Y) of the pigeon king as soon as possible - a single mistake making you drop out. It starts slow and then accelerates until every one sooner or later makes a mistake.
Overall, most of the mini-games are well designed and fun to play, while there is certainly a deja-vu effect for quite a few of them. More problematic is that even within Headbangers, there are mini-games that are replicated in different shapes without much differences. This makes me wonder what they will come up with in Season 2 if they want to expand the scope of the game.
Attention to Details
What sets Headbangers from the rest is the great execution. This does not look like a game made by beginners, but by people who have a very solid experience and intuition into adding small details that matter. Each loading screen has a little bit of interactivity to make the wait a bit more bearable. There’s also the random bonus rounds suddently showing up now and then, asking you to type a long string of A, B, X, Y as fast as possible (a very funny idea). Going further, the game starts by doing a few tests to evaluate the latency of your controller, which is a great idea to ensure that a built-in system latency does not penalize you too much in the actual game.
The game menus are very similar to what you find in Fall Guys, with added costumes and unlockables as you progress in the game, but it’s all very well done and the design is very consistent from one screen to the next. The game also worked perfectly on the Steam Deck from day 1, both in terms of controls, performance (60 fps at very low GPU wattage settings!) and readability.
Solid, solid work all around. I must admit, I am a bit of a nitpicker, and it’s hard to find something that they did not get right at launch.
The main issues I have with the game currently are that the wait times are a little bit too long for my taste (Fall Guys has them too, but each round lasts longer at least), and the game may be missing a few more game modes (right now there’s only Tournament, online, and that’s it). A training mode would be welcome, to get familiar with all the mini-games beforehand and hopefully suck less when the time to compete comes. Finally, some of the mini-games are much harder than others, and may need some adjustment in difficulty at some point (the whack-a-mole one is brutally hard, at least for me).
Overall, it’s a superb first try at building something like Fall Guys in the music/rhythm genre. As the work of a very small team, the result is even more impressive. Now whether this game will be a long term success depends immensely on becoming viral and ensuring a large community forms around it - which means marketing, word of mouth and YouTubers stepping up. If they manage to have a good following 6 months down the road, they will have passed the longevity test of most online games. I wish them the best!