November 1, 2016.
Owlboy is a game that deals with bullying the less fortunate, friendship through adversity and overcoming it all because somebody believes in you; it’s a powerful story told in such a sweet and beautiful way, with an adventure filled with the greatest sense of wonder. I’m sure I’m not the only one who can relate to Otus or one of his friends, but Owlboy spoke to me on a personal level. It made me think of the times in my life I’ve struggled in some way, but how those I love are always there to pick me back up again and help me to keep moving forward. Beyond the sweetness lies an expertly crafted game full of inspiration from the colourful and pixelated days of Kid Icarus, Mega Man and Suikoden. D-Pad Studio started work on this 9 years ago, and we’re so lucky to finally have it in our hands.
Otus is a mute, bullied by his peers and picked on by his teacher, Asio. He’s constantly trying to impress everyone as he struggles to be the person everybody expects him to be. Right from the start, you feel empathy towards Otus, mainly because Asio is horrible to him. It doesn’t get much better, but thankfully you’re introduced to characters that share his awkwardness and his insecurities. Someone that shares most of your burden is Geddy, your ‘best bud’ and not only does he help to cheer you up, he comes with some pretty handy moves. You’ll befriend others as the story progresses, including a disgraced pirate with a powerful musket, but nobody comes close to Geddy.
As Otus, you can press a button to jump, and when you’re in the air, a touch of the left stick (providing you’re using an Xbox controller) allows you to fly wherever you want. You can spin to attack enemies, knock down barricades or destroy pillars standing in your way, and pressing dash both on the ground and in flight makes you move faster. These are your limits, but that doesn’t mean you’re limited. As mentioned before, you can utilise certain characters to help you along your way. You can grab them and fly with them, using them to do a whole manner of things. Geddy has a small pistol with which you can blast the crap out of those annoying enemies using the right stick, like in a twin-stick shooter. Sometimes it’s necessary to switch between friends, which can be done by teleporting them to you and switching them in and out whenever you want.
You really feel like you’re part of a grand adventure, travelling to new places and meeting new people, exploring caves and ancient ruins while learning about your race’s history. You’ll have to face sky pirates, weird creatures and hulking bosses (all completely different from the last) along the way, and the variety in each section is remarkable. Every location looks stunning due to the ‘hi-pixel’ art style, and each enemy needs a different approach to defeat. Flying rock-bats need a spin to stun them, and a quick bout of Geddy’s pistol to blow up. Fire lizards can be turned to rock by squeezing a floating cloud on them. Angry fat Vikings will throw a rock at you and you can knock it straight back at them to make them explode. Tiny gnomes will hunt you down if you make too much noise and they’re pretty tough to stop. Almost every enemy can be taken out numerous ways and learning how to do this adds another layer of skill to how you play.
The music in Owlboy is gorgeous; when you’re ascending to great heights above Tropos, or fighting the sky pirates in Advent, the diverse and complex orchestration helps to elevate your dedication and your protectiveness of the characters. One of the sweetest moments I had in Owlboy was when I was sat around the campfire for the first time; as a delicate melody played in the background, Geddy and I had had quite a busy day so we decided to have a nap and rest for the night. We were on our way to the Owl Temple, and being Otus, I was blissfully unaware of anything outside of my home village of Vellie, while being sleepy at the same time. Geddy could sense this, but asked me if I wanted to know anything about Advent, the Owl Temple or whether I’d just prefer to sleep. I thought it’d be nice to hear a little about what’s out there beyond my home, so I smiled as if to say yes. He told me about how wonderful the Owl Temple was, how big Advent was and what I should expect when I visit both places. It sounded wonderful, but I was sleepy. It was a moment that my best friend wanted me to be ok, wanted me to not be frightened, and wanted me to not be in the dark anymore.
Owlboy is a 2D metroidvania platformer that gives you the best time; you’ll love how fluid the controls are and how they work really well no matter who your buddy is. The story is touching, interesting and full of great narrative, told through plenty of hugely expressive characters all worth knowing. I’m glad I got to play this, and it’s come at a time when I wasn’t expecting it. Owlboy will surprise you and it will move you beyond belief.
Beautiful environments and stunning soundtrack
Retro art style might put some off
Owlboy revisits a golden age of gaming, with a deep and moving story that incorporates some of the best characters and ideas in a long time.