Disclaimer: A key for this game was provided by the developer.
After a jaw dropping nine years in development, Owlboy is finally out. With a development time of that length, a game could only be one of two extremes. Either the game has gone through development hell, and will be released in a broken, disappointing state; or the game was fine-tuned, polished to perfection, and could go down in the halls of fame. I’m happy to say that Owlboy is the latter.
Owlboy tells the story of Otus, a young, picked on, mute Owl…boy. The game wears it’s Zelda influences on its sleeves. The player must traverse several dungeons and temples whilst utilisng a plethora of abilities in order to find their way out. Using the abilities provided by three friends he’ll make along the way, Otus must travel away from home to stop a fleet of mechanical sky pirates. It’s all very charming.
When you first look at it, the game gives off a platformer vibe, however as you advance you’ll discover that this isn’t really the case (apart from a few circumstances). Making full use of his owliness, Otus can fly around the screen as he pleases. The game focuses more on inquisitive exploration and puzzles to open various locked doors., though certain scenarios do require the player to use different parts of Otus’s kit, which may restrict his flying. Stealth, for example, forces Otus to jump around in a more traditional platformer style to avoid his wings making noise, which makes for a nice change of pace.
While on his own, Otus can spin-tackle his enemies to stun them, drag around items found in the environment to various effects, and of course, dodge. Otus can switch between his three friends while in the air to gain effect of their various weapons. One owns a reliable standard pistol, another has a larger, deadly gun with a reload timer, and anther who shoots webs to stun enemies and act as a grappling hook.
The game itself is fairly forgiving, with checkpoints aplenty, a fairly large health pool, and regular health potions dotted around the map. Boss fights are enjoyable and each has been crafted differently. While you may fail the first attempt, you’ll almost certainly win the second or third time around. The same can be applied to the games puzzles, which can be worked out within a couple of minutes in most cases (we’re not talking anything like the Water Temple here). This isn’t a problem. It all combines together to create a pretty relaxing experience. And I’m perfectly fine with Owlboy not being a ‘hardcore’, ‘Dark Souls inspired’ game; we have plenty of those already.
It would be criminal to not mention the art. The game has the best use of pixel-art that I’ve seen in a long time. And make no mistake, these aren’t just some rudimentary pixels placed together to make the player reminisce. This is art. Every scene has been lovingly hand-crafted into a masterpiece. Yet with the amount of detail and time that goes into every setting, it’s total shame that some will only appear for a couple of seconds, never to be seen again. Each dungeon features its own unique biome and assets, which are different enough from their compatriots to keep the player interested and intrigued in the world around them. All I can say is bravo.
Rare is the day that I find myself engrossed in a puzzle game. More often than not, I’ll find myself frustrated within the first hour and never pick up the game again. Owlboy, however, has won me over with its charm and relaxed nature. The game has managed to completely smash any pre-existing bias’s I may have had going into a puzzle game such as this, and for that I am glad.