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Owlboy Review

The journey from the start of development of Owlboy to its release was a long one. All the way back in 2007 D-Pad Studio began developing Owlboy, and finally it was released in 2016 on the PC. It would take some time, but it would then finally be released on most platforms.

At the end of their troubles, D-Pad Studio delivered us a creative and fun platformer, putting us in control of the owl/human hybrid Otus.

The Story of Owlboy

Owlboy starts off rather dark, with Otus being taught basically how to be a good owl. His mentor teaches him how to fly, throw things, etc. So it’s the tutorial essentially, but there was something about it that stuck with me.

Otus’ mentor, Asio, was super strict with him, almost to the point of bullying. I felt so sorry for Otus, and it immediately has this underdog feel about the story from the very start.

After that surprising intro, the main story begins and you’re introduced to your friend Geddy. Geddy seems to be the nerdy character, but has a fierce loyalty to Otus and will stick up for him no matter what.

Owlboy
Your mentor Asio teaches you how to play.

Not too long into Owlboy, the main villains of the game attack your village. Once they’ve had their way, they set off towards Advent, the capital city. From here, Otus and Geddy set off on an adventure to stop the pirate’s destruction.

What I loved about the story was how dramatic it was, especially for a platformer! There were themes of war and overcoming the odds against a seemingly unstoppable army. It really did grip me at times which is great to see in this type of game.

While Owlboy’s story ended well, and this may be considered a spoiler, but the end of the game did make me feel like Otus’ journey was ultimately a waste of time. I don’t want to give anything away, but the twists that happened should not have made me feel that way.

In the end though, it didn’t hamper my experience of Owlboy as there was plenty to enjoy overall.

Open world platforming

Unlike traditional platformers where you play in side scrolling fashion to the end of the level, and playing one level at a time, Owlboy takes a modern approach and is more of an open world game. The different areas you play in are all still separated into different screens, but you are free to fly almost anywhere within them.

You’ll be doing more flying than walking in Owlboy, being able to fly in any direction you like. Usually I’m not a huge fan of platformers where you’re free to fly anywhere because it dilutes the actual platforming (Child of Light, anyone?). But here I think they nailed it, with all sorts of traps and challenges awaiting you, and it’s all fun to play through.

Owlboy
Traps and dangers await you at every turn.

But what baffled me the most was the lack of a map. No world map and no local map! For a game that is attempting to be more open than other 2D platformers, a map is extremely useful not just for exploring random areas, but for working out where you need to go to progress.

Owlboy doesn’t give you much of a view of what’s around you, so a map would have made life easier and that little bit more fun.

There’s no marker either pointing out where you need to go, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you haven’t played the game for a while then good luck working out where you need to go. A map of some sort would have solved this issue too.

Platforming & Puzzles

What I loved most though was the variety. There was combat, ariel platforming and puzzles, and Owlboy did a great job in all areas. These three areas were balanced perfectly, and neither over-stayed, or under-stayed their welcome.

The puzzles weren’t too difficult, but they were still fun and well designed. You’ll be doing things like moving objects around and placing on buttons, or filling up jars with water to pour into larger spaces to complete puzzles.

Owlboy
The puzzles are a welcome addition, and while not difficult, they are still fun to solve.

Like with the puzzles, the platforming wasn’t too difficult either, but still enjoyable. The game throws different things at you to keep the game fresh, and it helped make Owlboy fun almost the whole way through. I never felt repetition through its platforming and as an old-school platforming fan, I really appreciated the effort the developers put in and they never wasted your time with padding.

There were even stealth sections too that actually didn’t feel tacked on. Like with everything else, they were well thought out and always relished the challenge of getting through them undetected.

The Combat of Owlboy

Not long after you start Owlboy, you’ll have the ability to carry your friend Geddy around, who does the shooting for you. Using the right analogue stick to aim in any direction gives it a twin stick shooter feel, which is always fun.

As you progress in the game, you’ll gain more friends with their own weapons that have their own unique uses not just in combat, but in exploration and the puzzles too. While it’s all fun, I do feel that it’s just a bit too slow.

The rate of fire for Geddy’s weapon just isn’t fast enough to feel as satisfying as it should be, and the game would have benefited a whole lot more if the action had been just bit more fast-paced.

Owlboy
The boss battles will require problem solving and are not simply bullet sponges.

But at least there’s a good variety of enemies to keeps the action fresh. There are different strategies you’ll need against certain enemies so it’s not just mindless shooting.

Admittedly in the second half of the game, there were moments of frustration as some areas were congested with enemies and taking them all down seemed near impossible. I either had to run away from them or avoid them altogether.

You can die fairly easily in Owlboy as it happened to me quite a bit in these areas, so there is a bit of an annoying difficulty spike.

Controls & Movement

The actual flying controls did take a little while to get used to. My main criticism though is that Otus’ movement was just a bit too slow. When you have some bigger areas, it can feel like a bit of a drag to get around them.

There is a bit of relief though in the ability to evade enemy attacks, which gives you that little boost in speed. But in the latter parts of the game, when it becomes more hectic with enemies, the slower movements really do take their toll.

That combination of lack of speed and enemies dealing a lot of damage really is what caused the most frustration. I honestly would have scored the game higher if there was more balance in this area.

Owlboy
Owlboy will give you unique and memorable sections to play through.

The controls were also a bit of a problem. The game used just one button for most interactions. Picking up objects/friends, opening doors and using devices were all assigned to one button, which made it annoying when you were trying to enter a door, but accidentally picked someone up instead.

It was then I had to place the friend further away just so I could safely enter the door or interact with an object.

In one of the last sections of the game (I won’t go into details due to spoilers) but it felt the controls lost some responsiveness, as I kept dying over and over due to my intended actions not registering. It wasn’t necessarily a difficult section, but I had to keep replaying it because Otus wasn’t doing what I wanted him to do.

Summary

Despite the criticisms, I still highly recommend Owlboy for the creativity in its gameplay variety. The perfect balance of platforming, puzzle, and combat is handled well for most of the game. The story is well told and is surprisingly dramatic for a platformer.

As a fan of 16-bit graphics, I definitely loved the visuals, and Otus’ facial expressions were actually adorable! It’s kind of rare to feel for characters in platformers, but I cheered on Otus and his friends all the way through. They were a great cast and all were unique, not just in their skills and abilities, but their personalities too.

The slow movements and late game frustrations may have hurt the game a bit, but for the most part, it’s still an enjoyable game overall and I certainly think every platformer fan should give it a go!

Score: 8.5/10

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