Review – Owlboy
Owlboy is your classic tried and true tale of a boy in an owl cloak forced to battle ancient sky pirate robots to stop the further destruction of his home. D-Pad Studio originally released this metroidvania-style game on PC in 2016 after an almost decade long development, and now it’s on console for all of us to enjoy.
The premise that Owlboy pushes from the very get-go of the game is failure. Failure as a student, failure as a sidekick, failed inventions, failed tutelage, failed leadership. At certain points through the game, you find out how every character has failed in some fashion. Sure, the hero perseveres. The hero is triumphant. But the story isn’t about winning. The story is about pushing yourself up after failing. Failing, quite literally, is the beginning of your adventure. Not the end.
On its surface, you play cute protagonist Otus; Owl protector-in-training to his floating village of Vellie. You quickly become acquainted with its residents, some nice and understanding and some not so much. Otus will fly through rings and unearth chests to collect coins to upgrade our hero. The game is as cute and fantastic as its cast of side characters, each of whom come with their own power set that allows Otus certain combat abilities and access to specific areas. Some will be your primary weapon. Others will give you an ability to remove an obstacle from a previously blocked path. You definitely see the developers’ appreciation of old Nintendo games with heavy Kid Icarus, Metroid, and Super Mario Bros 3 influences present.
The controls never feel overbearing or part of the problem. You jump, you double jump to fly, you roll to quickly dodge, you pick up items and allies and shift between them. Small mechanical choices like auto locking on enemies you are aiming towards and always teleporting your last used ally into your arms allow for the mechanics to not be the bottleneck. And make no mistake, the game does require a good bit of skill. Switching allies on the fly to make use of their special abilities, racing the clock as you run blindly through the dark, rolling to avoid mobs of enemies. Seeing Otus’ dead body will not be an unknown site for anyone playing.
This extends to the game’s use of puzzles. Nothing in this game ever becomes too painful or tedious but you will be tested. Other than the classic chime of something unlocking and a shift of the map as to what, D-Pad Studio does not hold your hand. They don’t over explain an enemy or where you unlock a door. You figure nearly all of the game out through trial and error.
In a game about failings, the game itself does have one or two. Not all sections are created equal. The difficulty does ramp up but there are sections where the window for failure is so small that it quickly becomes more a test of will as to how many times you are going to throw your head at the wall rather than outsmart and outplay the system. There was also more than one occasion where I would fly when I did not mean to, which would lead to not flying when I meant to. For stealth levels, this could be annoying and, in certain cases, the single cause of death. But like Otus, these failings do not define Owlboy.
I will never be mistaken for a retro-gamer. But D-Pad Studio has developed a breathtaking, lush world that is a beautiful homage to old-school games. The cast is rich, its mechanical story quickly twisting to become something much deeper, and it walks a very careful balance of fun charm and dark events. Unfortunately at launch, Owlboy was PC only. Thankfully having already brought it to Switch in February of this year, and now doing so for PlayStation and Xbox, it seems that specific failure was just the beginning of his adventure. Not the end.
Beautifully rendered world and level design.
Not as tight as its competition but much more endearing and unique.
Classic retro charm in its soundtrack and audio queues.
Fun Factor: 9.0
Clever characters, thoughtful boss fights, classic punishing platforming and puzzles.
Final Verdict: 9.0
Reviewed on PS4.
Owlboy is available now on PC, Switch, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4
A copy of Owlboy was provided by the publisher.