Owlboy is a game almost 10 years in the making; surviving a variety of ups and downs over the last decade, the developers at D-Pad Studio finally felt the sweet taste of universal acclaim when it launched on PC last year. The game tells the story a mute owl called Otus, an underdog of sorts who is always looked down upon and thought to be useless by those around him. He sets out to overcome everything that is said about him for the benefit of his world and community and, ultimately, himself.
When sky-pirates begin attacking the usually peaceful surroundings of Otus’ world - threatening to destroy the capital and steal powerful relics in the process - he, and some trusty companions, decide to set off and save the day. Gameplay is mostly made up of Metroidvania-style dungeon exploration but, as Otus doesn’t really have any powers of his own (aside from dashing and spinning), the focus is shifted to clever use and rotation of your allies.
Your best friend, Geddy, has a short-ranged - but relatively fast - gun that can take down the majority of enemies after several hits. Other allies, whom you’ll acquire over time, have different weapons with different abilities such as much stronger bullets for heavy damage and obstacle destruction, and a hook-shot style device which can get you out of danger in a flash. Your job is to carry your companions in the air as you fly, rotating between them at the press of a button to use the relevant skill for the enemy or obstacle at hand. The best part of all this is that it all works really, really well and the controls are mapped to the Joy-Cons/Pro Controller perfectly.
Exploration also consists of puzzles, usually tasking you with activating switches to unlock doors; stealth sections, where you have to avoid being seen; on-the-ground platform sections where Otus cannot fly for various reasons; and even some really intense chase scenes that see you swapping out your characters on the fly to deal with the various scenery in your way.
On top of all this you’ll face a number of boss fights, all of which need to be tackled slightly differently. While we don’t want to spoil too much here, the final boss had us bouncing in delight when we finally figured out how to win, and a particular highlight is a mini-boss that is actually cleared by escaping the room, rather than dealing any damage. These boss fights, as well as the general platforming and enemies discovered throughout the dungeons in the game, can really stop you in your tracks at times. The difficulty never rises above a truly frustrating level, however; you’ll definitely want to keep playing.
Perhaps the best thing about Owlboy is something that seems to be somewhat of an unwritten law for the game. New gameplay mechanics and ideas are introduced sporadically throughout the adventure, especially as you start to gather your full team of allies, and sometimes whole mechanics will only be used for a short period of time, similar in many ways to how the best Super Mario games tend to make use of them. These new inclusions keep things fresh and ultimately keep you interested in the gameplay; we often see the action of lesser titles play second fiddle to the storyline if things gets repetitive, but Owlboy completely avoids this.
As you can hopefully see from the included screenshots, the aesthetic of this game is absolutely jaw-droppingly stunning at times. The pixel art approach has been used a lot recently, attempting to have gamers fawning all over nostalgic memories of their childhoods, but rarely is it done to such a high standard. Games such as Owlboy prove that pixel art should never be forgotten as a medium; certain touches such as the immense detail in the clouds and trees had us staring in awe just as much as the most realistic-looking games of 2018 will manage.
There are times when the screen intentionally wobbles quite ferociously, usually when explosions or the like are occurring to give a sense of power, and the combination of art-style and fast movement do feel somewhat unsettling, however. Likewise, several small glitches are present within the game (although we have already been assured that many will be fixed for launch). One that we do hope will fixed caused our screen to go entirely black a couple of times, forcing us to re-launch the software. Thanks to a rather forgiving auto-save rate we never lost more than a moment or two’s progress so there wasn’t too much harm done, but we thought they were worth mentioning nonetheless.
In fact, aside from the inclusion of a map (as trying to navigate your way and back-track through dungeons without one can be a nightmare if you can’t remember your route), there really isn’t much we’d change given the chance. These little niggles stop it from being the true masterpiece it could have been, but we had a great time throughout our entire 10 hour-or-so adventure and would happily throw ourselves back in to gather up all of the remaining collectibles that we missed. If D-Pad studio can muster up the effort for a sequel that tightens up the (very minimal) loose ends, we’d be jumping at the chance to play it.
Owlboy is a three-pronged attack of success: the gameplay is tight, satisfying, and remains fresh throughout; the game’s world is visually stunning thanks to some truly masterful pixel art; and you’ll find yourself really caring about the cast of characters and the world surrounding them thanks to a compelling storyline and background lore. The game could be improved with the inclusion of map to aid exploration, but when that is the only real thing we can pick at as a negative point it is clear that we’re on to a winner.
This is a game that is absolutely worth your time; if anything we’ve mentioned above has you even remotely intrigued by this game, we urge you to consider giving it a go.