Developer: D-Pad Studio
Publisher: D-Pad Studio
Release Date: Out Now (Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac, Linux) 2018 (Playstation 4, Xbox One)
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac, Linux
After launching on PC last year (after a long and arduous development cycle), Owlboy earned praise from gamers and critics all over. It’d been a long-anticipated title, but one that actually managed to live up to the hype when it finally released.
Despite being a fan of 2D platforming-adventures, I actually missed out on it the first time. A crime, I know, but with so many titles coming out and not enough time, it slipped passed me. With its recent release on the Nintendo Switch though, I’ve finally had the chance to play D-Pad Studio’s much-loved adventure, and what can I say? I loved it, and can’t believe it took me this long to actually play it.
Owlboy puts you into the… er… talons of Otus, a mute owl who’s not exactly the most competent of heroes. When dangerous robotic Pirates attack his home village and neighbouring city though, he’s thrust into the spotlight and has to put his own self-doubt aside to become the hero that the world desperately needs.
It’s a charming little tale and one that’s easy to get absorbed into, but it’s not always as cheery as it looks. Platforming-adventures aren’t always known for having the most gripping of plots, but Owlboy’s takes you through all the emotions as you watch Otus’ personality and confidence develop despite all kinds of setbacks. It really is a tale of growth and overcoming the odds, and it makes for really effective storytelling.
Given that Otus is an owl who can fly, Owlboy doesn’t play like a traditional platformer. Sure, you can run, jump, and roll around, but you’ll spend most of your time gliding through the air, zooming through hoops, and reaching platforms that even platforming greats like Sonic or Mario would have no chance of leaping up to. It’s certainly a unique take on the genre, but it blends together platforming action with twin-stick shooting (more on that later) in a way that’s not only intuitive in design, but works perfectly in-game too.
The only thing Otus really struggles with is combat, but thankfully he’s got a few friends to support him on his journey that are a bit more dab-handed as far as taking down enemies is concerned. Whilst Otus is flying he’s able to carry around his allies, be it Geddy and his machinegun-like shooting or Alphonse and his super powerful musket. Whilst they’re handy at taking down all the enemies that come your way, you’ll also need to utilise their skills when solving puzzles or simply exploring the world – Owlboy has a metroidvania-like feel to it at times, with certain areas blocked off until you’ve acquired the right skills (or, more fittingly, the right character).
You can switch characters with ease too, as well as easily teleport them back to Otus no matter where you happen to be. By the end you’ll have three different characters to switch between, and doing so just requires a simple button press. It’s accessible throughout – oh, except when you drop them next to an item you need to pick up. There were plenty of occasions where I’d leave an ally over a health-recovering item and I’d have to physically move them out of the way in order to grab it, which could become a little annoying.
One of the main focuses of Owlboy is based around exploration, with the player having to explore a series of maze-like areas as they look to achieve their goals. There’re plenty of puzzles to solve along the way too, whilst each area of the game typically has some unique gameplay aspect such as using rain-filled clouds to fill up water tanks to open doors, or having to avoid some tricky spotlight to stay out of reach of your enemies. Everything you face adds a sense of variety to the adventure though, so you’re always doing something different right up until the very end.
The only thing that bugged me was that it was a little easy to get lost, especially in the more open environments where you’re not exactly sure where you need to go. The game would’ve definitely benefitted from the addition a map system, if only to allow the player to keep track of where exactly they need to go.
It’s not all exploration and puzzle solving though, with a big focus of the game being placed on combat too. There’s a good variety of enemies that you’ll face off against, and whilst Otus doesn’t have particularly strong combat skills, using your allies’ weaponry is essential if you’re going to survive. It’s mainly a case of simply sending out projectiles in a twin-stick shooter kind of way, with the trusty Geddy and his machinegun-like firing the best bet for most enemies. It’s simple and effective.
Besides the normal fodder you find scattered across areas, there are also some pretty epic boss battles to face off against. They all follow the usual boss procedure of simply learning their attack patterns and finding out the right moment to exploit them, but they’re so well designed and look so slick it’s hard not to be constantly impressed by them all. It’s old-school boss battling at its finest, and I loved it.
One of the only real issues I found with Owlboy was that I suffered a fair few crashes during my time with it. I’ve got no idea what really triggered them, but there were quite a few occasions where it would completely bug out and I’d have to reset the software. Thanks to a generous auto-saving system it’s not too much of an issue, but it’s still a bit frustrating when you just want to play the game. Hopefully, the developers will get a patch out sooner rather than later.
It’s a little obvious from the get go, but Owlboy is a pretty spectacular looking game. Adopting a highly detailed pixel-art style, every environment you visit in the game is loaded with personality and tiny little touches that really help them stand out. The character design is absolutely on point too, with each character having a distinct and unique look that helps them fit into the vivid world perfectly. It’s just bloody impressive to look at and the further you progress through the game, the more superb sights it sends your way.