Owlboy Review – Pixel Platforming Perfection
After nine long years of development, D-Pad Studio’s Owlboy is quite possibly one of the best titles to come out this year. Check out our impressions below.
Described as a love letter to the pixelated platformers of old, Owlboy instantly grabbed my attention. Whether it be taking on flying as a platforming mechanic, utilizing the speed and precision of 2D shooters, or just simple puzzle solving, it’s clear the attention to detail present is second to none.
Owlboy starts out simple enough with an introduction to its game mechanics and our titular hero Otus. Our protagonist is portrayed as a clumsy mute with promise, but also inept at the higher teachings of greater owls. Simple controls allow Otus to fly, roll, jump, spin attack, and mid-air dash around the screen. Everything is smooth and crisp when using an Xbox One controller on PC. After some brief exploration and some conversations that push the story forward, Otus makes his first friend in the town’s defense mechanic, Geddy. Geddy serves as the first actual weapon in the game, shooting his blaster while being carried during flight. The blaster is very effective on the outset, utilizing 360 degree targeting via the right analog control stick or mouse. Additionally, Geddy’s blaster is utilized to destroy barriers and allow progression through the first area temple.
I want to stop right here and, before going further, would point out the pixel art in this game, which is practically unrivaled in the industry today. Though I have played through hundreds of video games spanning decades of consoles, I feel that Owlboy is the best looking 2D pixel game ever created. Titles like Ori and the Blind Forest and Axiom Verge pushed the boundaries of what could be done without console limitations, and Owlboy continues this trend. Character models breathe, grass blows in the wind, and even candles flicker against the walls. Each area has no less than four distinct layers. It truly is astounding how much attention to detail has been put into this game. Over the eight or so hours that encompass this truly incredible experience, I never once felt like any part of this game wasn’t alive.
Progressing further into Owlboy, our protagonist Otus finds himself periodically stunted from proceeding. When this happens, a new shooter character is implemented as both a companion and a source of commentary. Following the beam blaster character Geddy, Alphonse and his leaf-burning shotgun is also available. This shotgun is utilized to traverse obstacles and deal with larger enemies. Finally, the stickbug Twig rounds out the trio of companions available to Otus. Twig acts as a web slinger, shooting his web at various hinges and slinging Otus across the screen. Switching weapons can be done with the press of a button, allowing for various battle scenarios. Further bosses utilize this strategy by requiring the player to switch back and forth between guns to do proper damage. Though it made sense in my playthrough, first time fights with different enemies may require a little bit of practice.
Owlboy tells the story of a quiet but goodhearted protagonist that wants to help the world he is part of. Otus, a kindhearted and truly gentle character, is intent on helping his friends. In doing so, the experience goes to floating sky cities, space pirate ships, lava caverns, snowy mountains, radioactive plants, and even outer space. The progression throughout the game is well-balanced, and it’s hard to not just want to get lost in its world. Various areas also expand slightly with hidden pathways leading to hidden treasures and collectibles. The only real drawback that occurred during my playthrough was in the technical window settings. When shifting between full screen and windowed mode, the sound sometimes dropped out. However, a menu that restores the audio is present. Additionally, the soundtrack throughout the game gave way to wonder and joy at times while also conveying desperation and suspense for a world that wants to exist. Each area is truly alive, and that is represented in all aspects throughout the game.
Games created with this level of attention to detail are hard to find. Throughout the past decade we can each pinpoint various favorite titles that truly touched our hearts and minds, but Owlboy stands at the top or near it. This is the kind of game that transcends time as its art, gameplay, story and music truly should be heralded as a shining example for developers to aspire towards. Whether this is something that can be duplicated remains to be seen as this title is a true labor of love and passion. Every frame in the shows the deep level of love that is only possible by withholding a game until perfection. I’ve only played a handful of games that could be considered perfect in my time and this stands among them. Congratulations go to the developers for creating a masterpiece.