I’m going straight off the bat here. D-Pad Studio’s Owlboy is a sensational adventure. Those that follow me will know that I love myself a pixel art game and I can wholeheartedly say that Owlboy is way up there alongside Hyper Light Drifter, in terms of design alone. Pixel art games are ten a penny these days, in fact so much so that it can be hard to spot a diamond in the rough. Well, make no mistake about it, Owlboy is a behemoth of a diamond. Rarely do we see such stunning detail and well rounded gameplay mechanics going hand in hand to produce an experience as compelling as this. Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s take this from the top.
The game throws players into the role of Otus, a mute owl that’s seemingly the bane of his mentor’s existence, constantly failing to meet his highly set expectations. It becomes immediately apparent that Otus’ chore for the day is to observe his home, Vellie, to ensure that sky pirates are not on the prowl for an attack. Otus soon becomes preoccupied with a troublemaker and follows this mysterious being into a nearby cave system. When Otus emerges, he finds that Vellie has fell victim to a devastating attack from the aforementioned sky pirates. From there, an adventure that will make or break the titular Owlboy ensues. I wont ruin too much of the story, because even that small chunk dishes up about twenty minutes worth of playtime.
What I will say, however, is that Owlboy remains as endearing and as captivating throughout the entirety of play. Otus’ adventure takes him to a wide variety of gorgeously detailed environments, full of wonderfully scripted characters and excellently detailed enemies that collectively hold the overall journey together. Platforming takes somewhat of a backseat and instead consists of puzzle solving and combat. This isn’t to say that there’s no exploration to be had, on the contrary, Owlboy’s wide open level design allows for some brilliantly fluid traversal. Each environment is vast, which caters for Otus’ movement and flight capabilities. Players are able to freely fly wherever they like from the start. Vellie being your first location, it’s here where you’re greeted with this surprising amount of freedom.
It’s also here where we see how incapable Otus is when it comes to combat, which is where the ally system comes into play. There’s a total of three companions that Otus can pick up on the fly, so to speak, with each character introducing new and interesting mechanics throughout. Geddy, your buddy from Vellie, is the first companion that you unlock and use. Geddy houses a blaster gun that can kill enemies and destroy environmental blockages. Picking him up, you’re able to fly around the environment and blast your way through the previously alluded to cave system, in search of the troublemaker. This segment of the game does a good job at feeding you the basics of play. Thankfully, it’s a tremendously fluid system and plays just as well as when Otus flies solo.
Movement is tethered to the left stick and when you have hold of Geddy, you’ll aim his blaster with the right stick. Geddy and his blaster will help you to overcome puzzles, fend off all sorts of nasty creatures and clear up hazards that attempt to hamper your progression. Due to the heavy reliance on these characters, it’s much easier to form bonds with them throughout the adventure. They feel like a necessary set piece, rather than something that’s just there for the sake of it. It’s a great design choice if you ask me, as it helps to sell these individual story pillars that much better. This grand design isn’t just exclusive to Otus, his buddies and the story, but the very design of the world too. Owlboy, hands down, is full of life and stunning detail from beginning to end.
I was immediately impressed with the visuals from the onset. The movement of the terrain, the gusts of wind, the backdrops, the character animations, the subtle details in-between and everything else, just screams for attention. This is further upheld by the game’s distinct and varying locations throughout, accompanied by a soothing soundtrack that effortlessly sets the mood of each area and given scenario. The core progression of the game is fairly on-rails for the most part, but there’s lots to see and do to keep you occupied if you step off the beaten path. The game also houses sections in areas that require items obtained later in the game, encouraging you to go back afterwards and uncover whatever secrets lay in wait, which more often than not, prove to be well worth the additional effort and time.
Otus can utilize certain upgrades and added health capacity at the shop via the exchange of coins gathered during the adventure. This comes in handy seeing as how Otus hardly takes an ass kicking before biting the dust. Though, with that being said, Owlboy offers a generous checkpoint system that never respawns you too far from your last failed attempt. Mercifully the game handles exceptionally well. Regardless as to whether your traversing to great heights or taking on one of the many enemies within, the controls remain smooth and tight. Enemies typically require nothing more than a few hits to take down, but they still prove to be quite challenging. Boss encounters on the other hand are an entirely different beast and require more forward thinking than anything else.
They’re not overly taxing, though, which prevents the game from feeling at all frustrating during these sections. When all is said and done, Owlboy is an achievement through and through. The world building, the interesting functionalities during its run and the story and character growth is nothing short of near perfection. Until now my favorite pixel-esque platformer was Shovel Knight, but Owlboy has well deservedly taken that mantel. To say that this game has been ten years in the making, the end result is one that pays off in leaps and bounds. Overlooking this game in the ocean of game’s just like it, or writing it off as just another nostalgic adventure would be doing it (and you) a discredit. Owlboy will no doubt stand tall for a great deal of time to come and arguably sets a new standard for its peers. Simply put, this is one adventure that any fan of the formula should pick up.
Owlboy sets a new standard. It’s a gorgeously crafted adventure that’s jam packed with detail, endearing characters and a memorable heart warming story. Rarely do we see platformers donning such care and attention to detail, further upheld by fluid well rounded gameplay that doesn’t let go once it captivates you. Owlboy is a must have.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.