I'm sweating, I'm laughing, I'm throwing my upper torso around my living room as balls are launched at me. All sexual connotations aside, it's my job to 'head' these balls at a net, at targets, past wooden goalkeepers, and through crates of promotional sports products while a deadpan announcer offers lukewarm compliments.
Suddenly I realize it's nighttime, and all I can see between lessons is the light in the guard tower. Guard tower? Yes, and don't forget the barbed wire. From the start, there are clearly some shady practices going on at this improvement academy where improvement is necessary. I start receiving secret notes on my tablet from the groundskeeper, Carl, and things start going wrong with the announcer. Did I make it through school alive? Doesn't matter — I had the time of my life.
A simple premise
The only time you need to use your hands for this game is during the setup. After that, it's all about your noggin. The game starts out simple enough, with the announcer giving you pointers on how to properly head balls without hurting yourself. You should listen; keeping your neck in line with your back, moving your entire body at the hips, ensures you don't strain your neck when things get crazy.
Soccer balls are launched at you from a fake player, and it's your job to rack up as high of a score as possible. The velocity of the ball and your head, as well as your timing, contribute to where the ball goes. It sounds easy because it's one only one thing to do — rather than some games where you're stringing combos with multiple buttons — but heading with precision takes practice.
The physical requirement does ramp up in the later levels, and I found even after the first exam that sitting was no longer feasible. At one point, the carpet between my feet and the hardwood was sliding around as I furiously switched positions in a speed-round that involved color-coded balls and color-coded hoops. Tons of fun, but don't expect to sit the entire time.
Each lesson has three scores that, when reached, give you one star. If you achieve three stars on a single lesson, you'll be rewarded with a luxury item for your cell...err…room. More on that later. If you achieve at least one star on a lesson, you can choose to move on to the next one, or retry for more stars.
When you've collected enough stars and have reached a certain lesson, an exam will unlock. Passing the exam lets you move onto more lessons and more exams, but you'll most likely want to play each exam over and over. Why? They're set up in stages so that not everything is available from the start. You have to hit certain things and reach certain scores to progress, and the crescendo is usually quite explosive.
Lessons and balls
Each lesson begins with the lights off (other than the ominous guard tower), and, when revealed, usually brings a smile to my face. Frame Interactive took the original idea dreamed up at a party and made it something special by carefully designing each level. You're usually on your own as far as what to do, but it's generally easy to figure out. It took me about three hours to get through to the last set of levels, but I didn't bother trying to collect all the stars. If I passed, I moved on.
One of the only complaints I have — and it's mostly based on my inferior soccer skills — is the difficulty of some later levels. Don't get me wrong, a game you can fly through without a challenge is plain boring, but here I found myself stuck at a level for about 30 minutes without the ability to pass it by. Being able to skip even one level would be a welcome addition and I'm sure would cut down on plenty of frustration.
Adding to the fun of the lessons and their amazing design are the balls and their alternatives you'll encounter. Just when you think you might get bored, you're given beach balls that expand and knock over multiple targets, balls strapped with TNT that explode when they hit, color coded balls that must go through a specific target, gold balls that give you double points, and some other stuff you can discover on your own.
Just for fun
The humor in this game that comes from the announcer and from the secret notes from Carl is just enough. It never got overbearing, and always seemed fresh — even by the end, I was still chuckling at jokes. Everything about the game is clever, and it all fits together when the final surprises are revealed.
The room that you live in is where the so-called luxury items you win are kept. You can look at them and they will come toward you, but that's about it. It seems like sort of a hollow way to add content to a game, but I still enjoyed when they came flying out of the ball launcher and hit me in the head.
Also in your room is a cork-board that acts as a menu. Here you can choose from all the lessons you've played through. If you didn't achieve three stars on easier levels, you'll want to go back and get them to make reaching later exams much easier. The menu is easy to navigate, and you don't have to feel around for your DualShock 4 controller.
Headmaster is simple; there's really not much to it, but don't mistake this for negativity. This is one of the best party games available for PlayStation VR. Anyone with any level of VR experience can jump right in and start having fun. Those of you spending quite a bit of time here can go back and try to achieve three stars on every lesson, and even if you do achieve that, you can come back and easily play a few lessons anytime you want. Considering the price tag of only $20, this should definitely be added to your library.
- Gameplay is easy to pick up
- Great party game
- Immersive atmosphere full of humor and explosions
- Some difficult levels can't be skipped