- Developer: D-Pad Studio
- Release Date: November 1, 2016
- Platform: PC
- Playtime: 10 hours
- Acquisition: Purchased by Reviewer
Owlboy begins with a brief exposition about owls: revered, exalted, wise creatures who throughout history have been the leaders of society. Immediately after, the game cuts to the main character Otus, a mute and unconfident young owl, accompanied by his master, Asio. Otus has never done well in his studies, but Asio has determined that Otus’ skills lay elsewhere and that he has the potential to become an honorable pillar of the community.
Yet no matter the task, whether it be flying or simply delivering water, Otus continuously fails, letting down himself, his master, and the rest of his village. Though after a series of circumstances, Otus embarks on a journey to save his village and atone for his past mistakes.
The theme of redeeming one’s self is very prevalent in Owlboy, being at the surface of the plot as Otus’ main motivation. Owlboy does an excellent job of portraying Otus’ emotions to make the player feel both immensely sad and incredibly happy for him. Even the different facial animations do a great job of capturing the emotion. This not only helps convey the characters but makes the player further connect with them.
Dialogue as a whole stands out in Owlboy. If the player continues to talk to an NPC, he or she will spout multiple phrases, as a real person would naturally do. This plays a big role in making the world feel real and immersing the player into the game. Owlboy’s lore is also developed very well. This is accomplished through conversing with NPCs and by other means, which leaves the player with more questions and interest.
The overarching plot doesn’t fare quite as well as the underlying themes; not to say that it’s bad. Cutscenes are effective in conveying the severity of key situations. It’s in between cutscenes where it’s often difficult to understand what Otus is doing and what his motivations are.
The plot of Owlboy gets more complicated as it goes on, and builds naturally for a while. But when it seems like the game is perhaps a little more than halfway over, the conclusion is suddenly rushed. The conclusion itself, despite the final level being lackluster, fares somewhat well. It draws a lot of powerful emotions and serves as a conclusive wrap-up to Otus’ character arc.
There are even a few plot twists at the end, too. However, many narrative elements are left unexplained once the game ends. An optional postgame sidequest is available to answer a few questions, but the sidequest requires special coins to access it. These coins are hidden throughout the game and aren’t even mentioned, to begin with. So it’s very easy to beat the game and never know about these crucial plot points which are literally hidden away.
Another major disappointment is an unresolved conflict. Building up throughout the entire game, there’s no payoff to this plot thread. In addition, the finale could’ve benefited from one more level if this conflict was resolved. This also would’ve provided a much-needed build up to the climax as it comes out nowhere.
Owlboy would be best classified loosely as part of the Metroidvania sub-genre. The game brings new ideas to the table that distinguish it from other games in the genre, but it also leaves some important elements behind. One such case of a left behind element is the omission of a key component: a map. The game tells the player where they are via text on the bottom whenever they enter a new area. But remembering how to get from one place to another is often annoyingly challenging.
The game’s progression takes place in a natural way, taking you from one area to the next. Traveling to previous locations has a plot-convenient fast travel option. So in those instances, navigation isn’t an issue. Backtracking does prove to be difficult since it’s hard to remember certain locations and how to travel to them.
Otus can barely attack enemies on his own, but throughout the game, he recruits different characters to fight alongside him. Each character has a unique weapon that can be fired. Otus can carry one friend at a time, switching between them with the push of a button.
The combat is at its best when there are many enemies surrounding Otus and attacking from different angles. These moments excel since the player needs to continuously switch weapons, deciding which is best to use for each enemy. Scenarios such as those are ultimately few and far between. Avoiding enemy fire is easy since it simply requires spamming the fire button and strafing backward. It felt like Owlboy didn’t reach its peak difficulty, and never required the player to go all out. This is very disappointing because D-Pad Studio created a fluid combat system that works great, is fun and has potential.
It’s also a bit disappointing that the game only included three allies. Befriending a new ally and discovering their abilities for the first time is always exciting when it happens, but it feels like there could be much more possible weapon abilities. Since managing and switching between them on the fly is incredibly fun, the addition of two more allies in the game could’ve evened things out. Some of the allies feel overpowered, almost negating others. This can be problematic since one ally, in particular, is the best character out of all of them.
Boss battles in Owlboy are also slightly disappointing. There’s a decent amount of them, and they offer a lot of variety, but they’re executed poorly. In one battle, the player simply flies down a corridor avoiding rubble, with the boss in pursuit. Running away offers no challenge, and when the boss finally backs Otus into the corner, right when it seems like the real fight will begin, he instantly dies. This, of course, marks the end of the battle.
Additionally, the final boss is incredibly disappointing as it’s simple and offers no challenge. The final boss also consists of multiple phases which are basically the same thing. In any game, the final boss should test the player’s mastery of the game’s mechanics, which isn’t the case at all in Owlboy. Even when compared to the other mediocre bosses of the game, Owlboy’s final boss is a letdown, and it doesn’t leave the player with a great impression.
In Owlboy, like in many other Metroidvania games, dungeons, and the overworld doesn’t exist separately. They are in the same plane, and travel between them is seamless. The overworld includes civilization, and the NPCs that are present are great characters who are fun to interact with. Outside of the starting village, Vellie, there aren’t too many places with many NPCs to interact with, which is somewhat of a shame. Although, due to events that occur in the game, Vellie changes multiple times, which is a neat dynamic.
Dungeons are a very fun part of Owlboy. Some, such as the pirate ship, stand out and feel unique, although a few of them look somewhat similar. More challenging enemies, unique layouts, and puzzles are some things players can expect in the dungeons. Puzzles, unlike in some games, do not feel like a chore. Instead, they are fun to solve, have variety, and often include combat. It would be nice, though, if puzzles required a bit more thought, as they are never particularly strenuous save for the rare few.
There are a few upgrades and items to collect throughout Owlboy, but they’re pretty uncommon. At the end of the first dungeon, Otus finds an artifact that allows him to teleport his friends to him whenever he likes. This made it seem like there would be many artifacts, perhaps one after every dungeon. For some reason, that turned out to not be the case. It would’ve been nice if Otus could regularly gain more abilities in different ways other than by gaining new allies.
Even in an industry coated with retro style games, Owlboy’s visuals stand out. Like many other games, Owlboy uses pixel art. However, Owlboy contains way more pixels on the screen than most games in the genre. The developers call this hi-bit, and it allows for complex, beautiful scenery to coexist with charming pixel art.
The environments, particularly the backgrounds, are very visually pleasing. Although, it’s occasionally hard to tell whether something’s in the foreground or the background. In addition, the land in the foreground usually looks about the same from place to place. This can get a little boring, and also prevents locations from standing out. The music also does a great job of adding to the atmosphere and it sounds great when listening to it. However, none of it will really stick in players heads after playing the game.
Filled with charm, Owlboy does a great job at capturing almost every conceivable emotion from the player. Featuring unique characters, great dialog, and attractive visuals, Owlboy excels in making the world seem tangible. The layered combat system is also great, as is the twist-filled plot.
Owlboy’s biggest issues rest in an abrupt ending and the combat system feeling not fully realized. Essentially, it feels like a chunk of Owlboy is missing, and that the game would’ve benefitted from more development time. Despite these issues, Owlboy is an absolute joy to play, and it’s definitely worth checking out. It’s a real hoot.