It’s a hoot!
Developer: D-Pad Studio
Publisher: D-Pad Studio
Released: 2nd November, 2016
Owlboy is one of those games that just grabs you, pulls you in and doesn’t let go until the credits. This game has a lot going for it: beautiful visuals, a brilliant soundtrack, well implemented mechanics and a compelling story that grips you from beginning to end. D-Pad Studios have done a superb job with this game that, although not perfect, really show what you can do with nine years of work. If you haven’t noticed already, I love this game, let me tell you why…
The first thing that becomes clear is that Owlboy is downright beautiful, its use of a particular style of pixel art leads to some of the best visuals I’ve ever seen. The world of Owlboy is created using a style of pixel art called “high-bit” by the developers, this makes for some wonderfully detailed pixel art, more than I’ve ever seen in any pixel art in a game. Everything looks superb, the foreground, background and everything in between maintains a consistently high quality, almost too consistent as it can be easy to mix up what’s an obstacle and what’s in the background.
This game doesn’t shy away from the opportunity to be a little vain. Every now and then the camera will zoom out, giving you a expansive view of your current area, usually a beautiful view of the floating islands. The character designs are just as good, each character’s personality shines through thanks to their designs. The visuals really are a special part of Owlboy and I really hope to see more of this “high-bit” art style.
The soundtrack in Owlboy is just as incredible, utilising a wide range of instruments to bring a variety of tracks to further enhance the game’s presentation. The soundtrack always seemed to accompany the game’s wide variety scenes. From the quite, claustrophobic caves to grand, accelerating battles, the soundtrack adds atmosphere on top of the visually impressive moments.
Owlboy is a very story driven game, following the adventures of Otus and his friends. I really enjoyed the story, it kept up and engaging narrative throughout, adding in a few twists and turns here and there. The game makes a point out of the history of the world, giving you a mystery you can solve about the floating islands. The characters were generally well written and had quite a bit of personality, even if they strayed just a little too close to cliche at times.
One thing I loved was when the narrative affected the game mechanics, it became much more engaging when story moments had an actual impact on how the game worked. The connection between the writing and the mechanics really helped sell the story to me. The only gripe I have with the writing is that some characters, particularly the villains aren’t as fleshed out as the rest of the cast which really made encounters with them suffer.
Owlboy’s gameplay revolves mostly around making liberal use of Otus’ ability to fly to navigate the world. Flying around the world feels great, which is lucky considering most of the game revolves around it, although the jumping was pretty neat, the movement felt and controlled very well.
While Otus is flying around the world, he can also pick up and carry various objects through the world. You’ll be doing this a lot, many puzzles revolve around carrying items from point A to B, health is regenerated by consuming various food around the world, again acquired by picking it up. You’ll soon learn that Otus’ main function, outside of flying, is carrying things around, especially when his only defence is a pretty useless spin.
So Otus himself doesn’t have much much in the way of combat, instead you rely on your friends, who you carry around to use their abilities. While you can only carry one thing at a time, character or otherwise, you can always teleport your friends straight into your arms, eliminating the potential for unnecessary backtracking by always having them on hand.
The game introduces new abilities and mechanics at a nice pace, once you get to grips with one aspect, you can rely on encountering something new to keep things fresh and interesting. Progression of the game is done well, while it’s a fairly linear game, you are free to explore the open world, uncovering secrets and gathering coins that can be exchanged for further upgrades.
The game enjoys throwing new challenges your way every now and then, offer a twists to keep thing from getting stale and repetitive. One moment you’re flying around the world, the next your diving cover to cover in a sudden stealth section. Owlboy contains a wide variety of challenges, skills and mechanics that all manage to fit together and work with each other.
The enemies themselves quite are a bit hit and miss, although they all look great many of them have rather uninspired behavior, most of them just charge you down to hit you. The variety of enemies is somewhat lacking as well, coming dangerously close to repetitive, especially when a majority of the enemies only require shooting to take them out. The bosses are a complete exception to this, each of them look great and offer a unique challenge.
The only big problem I had with the gameplay is that occasionally you’ll encounter a segment that feels more like visual set pieces, they don’t feel fleshed out and often don’t control well, ultimately feeling gimmicky. Thankfully these sections are few and far between and never last long enough to be a serious problem, though it’s still frustrating when the rest of the game is so well made.
While each ability has their own unique role both in and out of combat, I was disappointed to find that there were almost no opportunities for your abilities to synergise with each other, almost every situation require no more than one tool, it felt like a missed opportunity for more complex problems and solutions. While it was good to see that every tool had its own purpose, I think situations where combining these moves would have really made the gameplay shine.
Owlboy is a brilliant game and was immensely enjoyable, it’s one of the best games I’ve played this year. This is an easy recommendation to make, you’re bound to find something to enjoy in this game, exploring the world is great, the story is engaging and the visuals are truly something special. Despite a few hiccups and missed opportunities in the enemies and abilities, Owlboy maintains a level of fun that is thoroughly compelling.