“Revered. Exalted. Wise. These are the traits of your fellow owls.”
There’s usually something to say, mostly negative, when it comes to games that miss their release date by a few years. While gamers are fine with a few weeks, to a few months for a delay, for a game to get delayed by years can typically mean one thing – it’s either vaporware of the development cycle is in development hell. Titles such as Duke Nukem Forever and Final Fantasy XV, that was once called Final Fantasy Versus XIII and even The Last Guardian are perfect examples of this. So how would a game, that has been in development for 9 years, fare? A game that also has roots in the 2D pixel art department, one that has a style that is basically being overused in the last few years. More importantly, how would a game that many people likely wouldn’t give a second glance to, since it’s not a glaring example of current generation gaming?
Pretty damn good actually. Owlboy is like transporting your gamer self back into the gaming era of the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis (if you lived during those times). If an action-adventure title with plenty of puzzling elements is a game that you simply adore, then look no further than Owlboy.
Game Name: Owlboy
Platform(s): PC (reviewed)
Publisher(s): D-pad Studio
Developer(s): D-pad Studio
Release Date: November 1st, 2016
Truth be told, I had followed the development of D-pad’s Studio’s Owlboy, many years ago. I was pretty excited about the title as it was actually one of the first titles that attempted to do the whole 2D retro 16-bit look that is so rampant recently. Sadly, due to delay after delay, the title simply faded away from my radar. Here’s this game that is in the same style that is so rampant in the indie gaming sector nowadays. It looks pretty, in still form as well as in action. But it takes more than looks to pull off this sort of game – it takes style, substance and more importantly it has to not only look good but play just as well.
Fortunately for D-pad Studio, they’ve not only managed to craft something that is the stuff of gaming magic with Owlboy, but they started on this journey just about nine years ago. Before Broforce, Shovel Knight, and even Axiom Verge, Owlboy was in the planning and in development. So imagine my excitement when D-pad Studio had announced that Owlboy was finally getting an official release.
In Owlboy, you play the role of Otus, a young owl who is in training to become a full-fledged member of an ancient organization – the Owls. Only, Otus isn’t exactly the best student, often the butt of many jokes, constantly bullied and is usually the cause of his teacher, Asio’s, dissatisfaction. We see this early on when Asio instructs Otus to fly up onto a platform, only to have Otus fail pretty bad with what Asio has deemed as a simple task. Here we clearly see that Asio has little patience with his student, as he begins to berate him over and over. He then gives Otus yet another task, which of course he fails, setting Asio off again. Completely outraged with his constant disappointments, he instructs poor Otus to go ask the townspeople what the Owls are sworn to watch over, what they think about Otus and his “ineptitude”. Even in this final act, Asio is being completely rude. You see, Otus is also a mute, so his only way of communication is gestures and facial expressions, all of which are handled very nicely throughout the game.
You can clearly see Otus express himself without speaking, from the twiddling his thumbs and sweat dropping off him to his eyes widening when something good happens. It’s really amazing that D-pad Studios was able to pull this off, given the style of graphical look they went for in this game. You’d think that would be pretty hard to pull off, but D-pad Studio nailed it. So well that during Owlboy, you start to feel sorry when he’s looking defeated and upset, all the while you cheer for him when he does something good or when his friends try to cheer him up. I have to say that I was cheering for the little guy all the way to the end of the game. He’s grown on me quite so.
Otus himself doesn’t have any truly impressive fighting skills, and by default he has access to a spin attack that is useful for taking down certain objects. That’s alright, as he isn’t alone and during his journey, he’ll meet up with several companions that help compliment him. The first of which is Geddy, the mechanic you’ll meet up with early in the game. He’s the guy that’s supposed to be working on the town’s cannon but instead wanders off with Otus. Yeah, that’s not good, but at least you made a friend, right? Geddy is pretty handy with a wrench as he is with a gun, as Otus is able to carry him around while he makes short work off the enemies and obstacles in your path. I really liked the aspect that you’re forced to depend on others, not so much as a game mechanic but to signify that Otus isn’t a one man wrecking crew and that he’ll need to depend on others if he wants to succeed.
However, unlike other games that do have you wandering around with an uncontrolled teammate, Owlboy has this really handy ability – teleportation. As one of the early one abilities you encounter, this allows you to basically dispatch and summon your companions at the press of a button. Don’t feel like carrying people around, just drop them off then summon them when you need. The real beauty of this is when you’re attempting to solve a puzzle and only the right companion can help you out in that bind. It’s a really innovative touch and helps prevent backtracking, something that can really put someone off with a game of this nature. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the free-movement that this game offers the players. Seeing how that protagonist in Owlboy is, well…an Owlboy, flight needed to be something special – and it is. Even in the early stages of the game, you’re easily able to take flight by pressing the jump button to get off the ground, then press it again quickly to start flying. Here you’re able to explore just about every area in the stage or environment that you’re presently in.
Control-wise, Owlboy is very responsive and tight. Flying is simple as can be, and combat maneuvers were just as easy. There’s a slight cumbersome issue when you try to pick up an item when one of your companions is near it, with you usually picking up that companion instead. Though I chalked that up to collision instead of the controls. Other than this, I was able to move and dodge with the greatest of ease – definitely came in handy during the latter levels. It’s worth mention that D-pad Studios did include support for the DualShock 4 controller. They did also mention that the game needs a compatible driver to make it work but it’s nice it was added. I wasn’t able to test this as I did not have DS4Windows installed, as I was already testing Sony’s DualShock 4 USB Wireless Adaptor for the PC. And sadly no, that device did not enable 3rd party support for the DualShock 4.
While I mentioned the look of Owlboy in passing, I have to reiterate how truly impressive it is. It’s clear that D-pad Studios took a lot of their inspiration from old school 16-bit titles. Make no mistake here, however, despite them using 16-bit titles as a base, Owlboy looks better than any 16-bit title that I’ve ever played. Hand drawn pixel art with superbly animated sprites all of which have subtle details showing in just about everything in the game. From the beautiful backdrops, attack animations of the various characters, as well as effects such as dust being blown around as Otus prepares for flight, or when he gets damaged and goes into a hurt animation. There’s plenty of examples of this in action, all of which go to show the love that was put into this game.
The musical score is also impressive, yet the style was almost familiar. At first, I was under the impression that the score was handled by one of my favorite video game music composers, however, once I looked up the person who worked on the music I was shocked. It was not the person I thought it was and the entire score was helmed by someone who I wasn’t familiar with at all – Jonathan Geer. I had seen his named tossed around a few times and I knew him from the music teasers from another upcoming title, Heart Forth Alicia (still in development). While the name isn’t as popular or well-known in the video game music scene, the music in Owlboy has made me a fan of this work. Definitely amazing stuff to listen to, calming at times, yet with a scene of urgency and wonder at the same time. Kudos for D-pad Studios for selecting Jonathan Geer for the soundtrack.
Check out the official Owlboy soundtrack below to get an idea of what you’re in store for when you load up the game. Especially the first track, it’s good stuff.
[bandcamp width=100% height=120 album=2283338702 size=large bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 tracklist=false artwork=small]
Yet, with all the positives with the title, there are a few annoyances that I’ve noticed. Definitely, nothing that would discourage anyone from picking up the title, mind you. As Owlboy is A PC title, I try to point out PC-centric options. In the case of Owlboy, there aren’t any. That’s not a bad thing as I can see that for a title such as this that they really aren’t needed. Oddly enough, several options such as the ability to adjust the games resolution were available in the beta, though they were missing in my review copy. Owners of ultra wide screen monitors may also want to lower their resolution to 2560×1440 or even 1920×1080, as the extra pixels makes the game look stretched and distorts the look of the title. You also aren’t able to re-map the controls if you’re using a gamepad, though the ability does exist for the keyboard.
*Owlboy was provided to us by D-pad Studios for review purposes. For more information on how we review video games and other media/technology, please go review our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info.
I really have to give credit where credit is due – Owlboy is an amazing title from D-pad Studios. Full of charm and wonder, this is easily one of the best indie developed games I’ve played this year. I’m a huge fan of 2D platforming / puzzle games and have been since the days of the Super Nintendo. So being able to play a title such as Owlboy was a treat. The only sad thing about this game is when it ends as the game really doesn’t have much in the terms of replaying the title. Unless you’re a perfectionist and want to go back and find all the secrets and collectibles, there’s little to encourage a reply of this gem. Finally, I’m holding out hope that D-pad Studio’s has plans to port Owlboy to other platforms, especially the 3DS and PS Vita, as I feel that the title would be right at home on both platforms – but of course bring it to every platform as humanly possible.
This is a game that must be played by anyone who calls them self a gamer. The only thing missing here is the ability to disguise your computer as a Super Nintendo, though there are some crafty PC gamers out there would be able to pull of that illusion.
+ Wonderfully hand drawn and animated world
+ Charming and adorable lead character and cast
+ Spot on controls
– Ends too soon.
– Minor annoyance that you can’t rebind gamepad controls