Where To Buy: Steam
There is a lot to love about Owlboy. Its beautiful, pixel characters. Its stylish world. Its remarkably emotional story. A difficulty that stumps you just long enough to be satisfying when you figure it out. This game took nine years from conception to release, and the care and love that the small team put into this indie gem shows through in every little detail. It has a few issues that hold it back from perfection, but Owlboy is a love letter to classic 16-bit action platformers and a showcase of just what can be done in a modern metroidvania game.
Players step into the shoes of Otus, a mute who is training to join the ranks of “The Owls,” a group of, well, owls who serve as a peacekeeping force. When airship pirates invade Otus’s world, he and his best friend Geddy take up arms against them. To say much more about the story would be a disservice, as it does take some surprising and emotional turns. There are some genuinely shocking moments in Owlboy, and the story never lets up. The characters are expressive and emotional, but, as a player, I frequently found myself caught up in the emotions of the story. I felt it when characters were shocked, depressed, and enraged. Owlboy definitely succeeds on the story front.
It also looks and sounds gorgeous. The soundtrack is subdued, but every song fits the scene it is in and matches the emotion on screen. It is beautifully animated and there is a wide variety in the different places you visit in game. One of the best graphical touches is the way the characters’ body language and facial expressions vary; it becomes obvious when characters are scared, happy ashamed, etc. Prepare to see scared quite a bit: Otus and Geddy are not typical action heroes, and they get in way over their heads with the threats they are facing off against. Other friends join up with them throughout the course of the game, but Owlboy focuses on these two and the role their friendship plays in helping them overcome adversity.
To fight that adversity, players will have to learn how to beat the various foes and solve the puzzles strewn throughout the world. Otus himself is not a great fighter: his close range spin attack is good for knocking off armor and stunning, but not much else. His main attack comes from carrying Geddy, who has a weak pistol that can be fired in any direction like a twin stick shooter. Other allies can bring other attacks, such as a close-range powerful blast or a melee attack that can knock around cannonballs. These different characters are swapped out instantly after finding a teleportation device at the very beginning of the game, warping them instantly into Otus’s grasp. Many enemies, especially bosses, will take a variety of attacks to most effectively defeat them, so learning when to swap to what attack is a huge part of the interesting combat in Owlboy.
Besides the combat, the other aspect of Owlboy is figuring out where to go and how to get there. Just like character swapping in combat, the different abilities of Otus’s allies will help you solve puzzles and open up new areas of the world to explore. In classic metroidvania style, this will often mean returning to previously explored areas to open up new sections or unearth secrets. The game does lack a map, which can be frustrating. Luckily, the world is generally small enough to find where you need to go after a little exploring, but it would be nice to be able to pull something up to look for unexplored areas.
The difficulty in Owlboy is also spot on. Certain puzzles and boss fights will take a few cracks to wrap your brain around, but it is rarely difficult enough to get overly frustrating. It makes you feel clever and accomplished when you do succeed, but it rarely pushes you to the point where you feel you will not succeed. That said, there are some annoying sections that stick out, more because they do not fit in the game world as well as they should. One early stealth section is a good example: the game’s control scheme makes it much more difficult than it should, and it draws the player a bit out of the fun.
My only other complaint with Owlboy would have to be the sheer amount of story. The game has a great story to tell, but all dialogue is written on screen, and sometimes the game moves from one dialogue heavy scene to another, to another, to another, until you practically want to shake the developers for forgetting that you are playing a game. It is a small complaint, but there were a few scenes that stuck out to me as dragging on due to heavy dialogue.
These small complaints aside, Owlboy is a great success. It is clear the love and care that the small development team put into this game. It is emotional, impactful, and a blast to play as well. In a way, Owlboy is greater than the sum of its parts: it’s one of those games that is just fun and well done. Join forces with Otus and Geddy today – you will not regret it.
- Gameplay: Metroidvania exploration and fast paced combat.
- Graphics: Wonderful pixel art and animation. Characters are expressive and emotional
- Sound: Music is subdued but generally very well composed.
- Presentation: Minimal UI, good story, and an appealing, emotional core.
- Powerful, emotional story
- Likeable, believable characters
- Good balance of difficulty
- Fun combat
- Reward for exploration
- Some sections weighed down with dialogue
- No in-game map
- Few out of place sequences
Jordan has been gaming and geeking as far back as he can remember. You can find him on Twitter @Jordality and occasionally find him streaming on Twitch.tv/JojoTheNinjaGaming. You can also check out his YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCExyOMK798p7mCXwSayD2hg.