Owlboy: Soaring in the pixel sky
Updated: Jan 7, 2019
This years in development platformer (creation started in 2007 and would get released in 2016) was on my to-do list for some time. One reason the game interested me was it seemed to be a polar opposite to something like Duke Nukem forever (14 years) in that Owlboy had a long development circle and still came out as a pretty excellent game. I wanted to find out if it was as good as people claimed the game to be and if it was able to stand out from the likes of other pixel art games that populate the steam store like little boxy flowers.
Owlboy is about a...well an Owlboy named Otus, one of the many young hybrid man-owls that inhabit the floating islands that make up the village of Villie. When Sky Pirates begin to attack little Otus’s peaceful world he steps ups to save the inhabitants from war and destruction. On the way he will meet a host of colourful characters and learn about the world and how it ended up the way it did.
To say the story is charming would be not doing it justice, the 9 years this has been in the works shows in the writing and world building. The world not only feels lived in but makes sense; the atmosphere is wonderful and helps back up some of the bleaker moments of the story. The characters all drip with visual personality, all the more impressive considering that pixel art is very hard to use when conveying personality and emotions. The characters all have their own hopes and dreams as well which change as the game progresses with events shaping what the cast want and feel. Even the villains are sympathetic (asides from one) to an extent which adds a layer of complexity to the story that you do not always see in games. I love the story plain and simple.
The gameplay is platforming with an emphasis on flying, which might seem like a self-defeating feature. However it is not the case as most of the puzzles and platforming are built with the flying in mind, sometimes you cannot fly or should not due to some hazard. Otus can carry certain objects or one of a select three friends who each bring their own usefulness to the levels be it guns, wall demolishers or grappling hooks, all three are needed in the later levels, in boss fights switching buddies are crucial to your success. Speaking of boss fights I really enjoyed them. They are what I think a boss fight should be. Challenging and fun while rewarding skill and good memory of everything we learned up until that point. There is one boss towards the end of the game has a interesting Soulsborne feel with the music telling us the emotions the boss is experiencing leading to a gut punch after the fight ends. That boss fight is one of my favorite boss battles outside the Soulsborne series for that reason. If I were to say anything against the gameplay it would be that if you are knocked out and need to hurriedly get your buddy back to shoot can be very fiddly and lead to some unfair deaths if the foe is very aggressive or fast. A more efficient way of picking up the friend or swapping them out would have been welcome without subtracting from the overall difficulty.
The game ran with no problems what so ever. There is nothing more I can say it is a well optimized game.
The art style is classic 2d pixel art, again refinement and perfection in the art style is on full display, it is bright and colourful with that timeless edge you see in great pixel art. The screen shots do not lie. It looks as pretty as a pixel Van Goth painting. The animation as mentioned previously is smooth and expressive with room for visual jokes and storytelling. Everyone has a unique look to them making them memorable and recognizable.
Owlboy is a stellar adventure, original in vision, inspired by history. I highly recommend it to anyone.
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