Owlboy has an inviting array of many possibilities for the player. It can entreat them to a nostalgic exploration of bygone days of youth in a story about overcoming the odds and fighting the big bad in a fantastical story with outstanding, sparkling visuals to enrich the imagination. On an intrinsic, granular level, it connects deeply with a story deeply rooted in forging bonds with one another can have remarkable or deeply threatening affects on the world at large in a sprawling that touches the heart in many ways. There’s fun, engaging gameplay that’s one part unlocking the next path in complex areas of the world using an interesting buddy system combining different friends of our protagonist which then can also can be used in combat to defeat enemies or avoid perilous obstacles. Obsessive developers might talk about working on one small, specific detail of their games to make it “feel right” and I feel like this game, which its developers, D-Pad Studio, spent a lengthy time on showcases this high degree of polish in the game. All the core elements of its game work so well to make this game an intensely memorable experience that will inspire any gamer who comes across it.
The beginning of Owlboy does a nice job of setting the tone and story of the game while helping the player grasp the fundamental gameplay mechanics. It’s small, nuanced touches in the tutorial that adds personality to Otus, the protagonist, that gives him immediate sympathy from the player. We’re introduced to Veille and get to explore the colourful inhabitants of his village each with their own vivid and pleasant quirks that breath life into this game. From then on we get to explore a gorgeous and varied world as we’re thrown into mazes of ancient mystery and dodging terrifying creatures and sky pirates alike with an interesting, hidden history that slowly unravels over an approximate ten hour playthrough.
Otus has a satisfying control scheme that lets the player move around levels whimsically and with great freedom of movement. It can be used well in many different situations the game offers, from dodging projectiles in combat or navigating narrow tunnels or ship corridors but it’s used to its best potential when exploring the fascinating world Owlboy has to offer.
Although he isn’t the best when it comes to destroying enemies on his own, his friend, Geddy is quite adept at using his blaster while Otus can further unlock companions with their own unique abilities that we can use to our advantage. The option to carry companions around the screen becomes an integral part of the experience that makes exploring, puzzle solving and combat feel satisfying. Certain enemies can only be beaten with a specific character for example or a combination of moves that feels intuitive and smooth when executed properly using either a mouse and keyboard or a controller. Meanwhile there’s certain areas or puzzles that can only be unlocked if you use your companions’ abilities correctly which adds a sense of achievement when exploring the immersive world of Owlboy.
Dungeons, levels and just areas of the world this game shows us and lets us explore are some of the most engaging, immersive and challenging videogames have to offer. Each one has their own mysteries to solve and treasures to find all the while exploring the myth and lore of the world of the game while the art styles present in each of them makes them all feel unique in their own colourful ways. The interesting enemies you encounter as well are impervious to certain attacks, with weaknesses the player seeks out in a clever way and the boss battles the players engage in are also some of the best you will find in a 2D platformer that amplify the scale and difficulty of the game yet are fun and so rewarding to beat.
Contained within this rich world of platforming and off-world domains is an entertaining narrative that doesn’t inhibit the gameplay but enriches it. Storytelling cues scattered throughout the levels don’t feel in the way and makes for great progression as well as set-pieces littered throughout the game with an exciting, heartpounding pace.
The story of Owlboy is a fantastical narrative of mythical creatures and floating islands with all the tropes and style of a Studio Ghibli animaton. Artfully placed moments in the levels evoke happiness, laughter or sadness unwavering in their powerful sentimentality. It’s rooted in a deep, emotionally connected story with the development of its protagonist without the need for irony or tongue in cheek moments that litter narratives in many a modern medium. Players can connect to each of the characters all with unique personality and traits that make them stand out further more, some of the cast can be completely outlandish and humorous such as the shopkeeper and her sometimes burdensome shop assistants.
As well as the comedic reprieves throughout the game, there’s also troubling elements brewing for the hero who proves himself against the crowd of naysayers and characters who have looked down upon him in the game which doesn’t hinder the player’s ability to empathise with Otus. These relationships are deeply rooted into the overall narrative of the game and becomes part of a fantastical childlike tale that makes the player connect with characters with moments unseen in most games.
A visual style that helps put this world on an otherworldly pedestal with its gorgeous hi-bit look and a cast of colourful characters and creatures with their own animated flourishes to bring life to this game. The art lovingly recaptures videogame days of yore and bright, detailed environments and character design is a feast for the eyes. It perfectly recaptures the visual style of old games while also having much more detail that you would expect from a modern release. There’s a degree of polish with this as well with regards to other areas of Owlboy (such as writing or how smooth gameplay feels) that makes the game feel a cut above its peers in terms of presentation.
Part of the credit for making the game feel so alive and wonderful is the soundtrack by Jonathan Geer with a fantastic assortment of melodies and themes utilising orchestral arrangements that scales from epic pieces to sobering, soft moments and nostalgic electronic compositions that work hand in hand with the story and hi-bit art style of the game that gives it its own magical identity.
Not many game developers have managed to pull off a game with such an emotional depth at the heart of it. From a gorgeous art style, world designs and mysterious dungeons and a magical story that’s a delightful childlike, fairytale adventure that resonates strongly throughout. The gameplay showcases how both itself and the story can tie in so well together as both stand out strongly without feeling out of place with the game in its entirety. The high quality of its presentation with writing, story, controls, gameplay, pacing, the sheer amount of animations, depth and details in its art direction is outstanding and give the world and lore of Owlboy a greater impact that the player can get lost in for hours.