The central premise of ElecHead is a simple one. In fact, you’ve probably encountered it in your everyday life: your head is a giant battery and everything it touches is conductively powered. Okay well, maybe that’s not such a common occurrence, but in ElecHead it serves as a binary interaction so satisfying it begs you to explore and touch everything you see.
In ElecHead you traverse a wordless world that’s brimming with charm, largely due to the design of the titular character who emotes only through the actions you take. There are occasional moments of narrative worldbuilding through environment-based events but for the majority of the three hour adventure, you’ll be blasting from one challenge to the next, with no puzzle ever threatening to outstay its welcome.
The core actions available in ElecHead are fairly simple. The starting area only asks you to move and jump as you learn about what impact your electrical charge has – powering electrically-linked moving platforms and deadly hazards alike. But it’s at the end of this training where things get really interesting, and you gain the ability to throw your electrified head around the environment.
When you throw your head away, you’ll be left controlling an unpowered, tiny body that can only survive for 10 seconds. A simple change, but one that buoys the environmental interactions, and allows for some incredibly creative platforming and puzzles.
These systems make each room feel like a new playground to be enjoyed. Something as simple as jumping across a few platforms becomes thrilling when you realise some of the platforms are hooked up to dangerous elements, creating unobvious hazards that cause instant death once powered by your own touch.
Of course, the solution here is to jump on only the right platforms, but what about three rooms later, when there are two connected platforms in a row? In this instance, you’ll need to throw your head across the gap, jump on the deadly platforms with your uncharged body, and collect your head in its safe location. Gradually, these systems stack up, until you’re performing actions you wouldn’t have dreamt of even a few rooms prior.
Just looking at ElecHead might bring to mind comparisons to the excellent VVVVVV, which shares a focus on simple and clever gimmick-based puzzles in a 2D platformer. Its sense of visual style also recalls Downwell, with the same kind of unlockable colour palette swaps to boot. But the experience still feels original at every turn because the game is so smartly executed.
There’s a cadence to the ‘teach and challenge’ loop within ElecHead that keeps you engaged, without ever settling into monotony or frustration.
The understated aesthetic shouldn’t be mistaken for a lack of care here. Each pixel in the environment serves a vital role in conveying the mechanical interactions available. Every surface being fully conductive, while offering both charged and uncharged visual states, allows you to assuredly perform actions, like standing in a corner to charge multiple spaces at the same time, or bridging connections through other means.
The sound design is given equal care, with satisfying clunks and zaps that make it fun to just move through the world. The catchy chiptune soundtrack also feels well-synchronised with your actions as it ramps up and down across each location you traverse.
The path forward is always well-telegraphed, despite the obscure puzzle solutions that might be required to proceed, but Elechead’s brief run-time can easily be doubled if you split from that path in search of bonus challenges and unlockables. These rooms are often more difficult to traverse, but always result in a sense of great satisfaction at your own cleverness.
That’s an important trait ElecHead succeeds at, because despite how nice some unlockable colour palettes can look, you will largely be driven by intrinsic motivations.
With just two credited developers, Nama Takahashi and Tsuyomi, ElecHead is a great example of what can be achieved when creators show restraint and discipline, maximising the use of every asset and mechanical interaction to create something that’s more than the sum of its parts.
From the moment you first charge an object and cause your own electric destruction, to the last time you throw your head across a pile of spikes and frantically chase after it with your tiny headless body, ElecHead will keep teaching and challenging you with its creative tricks as it fosters a sense of wonder that’s rarely felt.
5 Stars: ★★★★★
Developer:: NamaTakahashi, Tsuyomi
Release Date: 14 October 2021
The PC version of ElecHead was purchased for the purpose of this review.