Head Over Heels

Head Over Heels

In 1987, 3D gaming generally meant fixed-camera isometric arcade adventures, a style popularised by Ultimate Play The Game with titles such as Knight Lore and Alien 8. Jon Ritman and Bernie Drummond had already dabbled in this style with a little remembered game licensed from the Batman franchise. Batman was a strong game in its own right, with clever room design melding exploration with puzzles and pixel perfect jumps.

With Head Over Heels the pair took their existing Batman game engine and with a simple twist completely revitalised the genre. You see, in Head Over Heels you control not one, but two characters and can swap back and forth at will. Quick-footed Heels can run fast, pick up and move objects, and use the game's population of Hush Puppies as platforms to climb to inaccessible location. Spring-footed Head can leap to impossible heights, glide through the air, and stun enemies with his doughnut launcher. The game's fiendish puzzles must be solved by either bringing Head and Heels together to work as a team or by splitting them up to take on challenges that rely on the unique skills of one or the other.

The greatest strength of Head Over Heels, and indeed something that inspires us to this day, is the two character mechanic. Figuring out how to combine the abilities of both to solve problems is a truly engaging and rewarding experience, and something we hope to bring to Thunderbeam. Head Over Heels also shy from gameplay that's strictly linear. The main quest is to escape from the Blacktooth Empire, but the daring can attempt five side quests, all of which are optional and which may be tackled in any order. Each of these secondary missions involves visiting one of the emperor's enslaved worlds and finding the crown, thereby liberating the planet. The crown rooms, of course, tend to be amongst the trickiest in the game.

While not without its faults (the ability to get trapped in a loop of permanent death being amongst the biggest), Head Over Heels remains a charming and entertaining game with some well-designed puzzles that lead to genuine "ah hah!" moments. You could do worse than download a copy of the excellent remake (Windows, OSX, Linux, BeOS) [1]. Or, you know, play one of the original 8-bit versions, of which the Amstrad CPC release was oddly the best.

Head Over Heels [1] In the interests of full-disclosure, I should note that I beta-tested this remake a few years back.

James Curry, September 15, 2011