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Owlboy is simultaneously somber and uplifting—colorful and bleak. It’s yet another title that proves that charm can go a long way.
Video games are all about power fantasies—about being the hero, saving the day, and looking cool. They serve to tickle the valiant heart in us all, letting us live a satisfyingly extravagant life as we meander through our overly ordinary one. At least, that’s what most of them are. Owlboy is different. It took D-Pad Studio around 9 years to develop, and it relies more on “soul,” less on “macho.”
In short, Owlboy is timid. Quaint. Kind. It tells the story of Otus, a young Owl-in-training who is constantly berated and looked down upon by his mentor. He’s also a mute. Joining him is his friend: a lackadaisical cannon-man who, coincidentally, is also not the most well-liked person in town. The duo attempt to stop a band of pirates from taking over the world, and are eventually joined by other dejected characters. Their group is not filled with buff, overpowered avatars—they’re just people.
Owlboy is a reminder that failure is a part of existence, and that sometimes our friends are what truly make us whole.
Owlboy touches heavily on failure. You play as a flawed character who can’t fight on his own, and you must rely on your band of flightless, outcast friends to be your weapons. On their own, neither piece is fully functional—they can’t accomplish their mission without the other. Otus flies, his friends shoot for him. It’s just how life goes. In fact, the game will occasionally take the friends away from Otus, just to illustrate how powerless he truly is.
Your ragtag band of misfits will do everything in their power to succeed in their quest to thwart the pirates. Then again, there’s the very real possibility that they won’t. Owlboy is unafraid to tell you that life isn’t always okay. It’s a reminder that failure is a part of existence, and that sometimes our friends are what truly make us whole. The theme is melancholy and deep, especially for a game that’s so beautiful and bright.
Owlboy’s heartfelt story is perfectly juxtaposed by cheerful, gloriously detailed pixel-art. The title is an absolute joy to look at, and can be hard to put down simply because your eyes are cackling with enjoyment while playing. The scenery pops and dances with wonderful vibrancy, using a vivid and soothing palette. The music adds to this modest, colorful atmosphere to create an experience that is enthralling to digest.
In order to complete their quest, Otus and his buds will fly, shoot, and fight their way through the skies. Owlboy is a modern-day Metroidvania through and through. You’re often presented clever fights and puzzles, which will require smart use of your friends’ abilities. Enemies and environmental mechanics are provided at a nuanced pace; new obstacles are introduced as needed, and none overstay their welcome.
Owlboy lulls you with a heartwarmingly picturesque world, then absolutely crushes your soul in combat.
As fun as it is to chew on everything Owlboy’s style and gameplay have to offer, its ending chapters leave some heartburn. The first half of the game is fun, and perfectly matches the tone set by the story and art: charming and laid-back. However, things take a slight turn south as the difficulty dial is turned further and further.
The fun little puzzles and environments still exist in the homestretch, but combat becomes significantly harder. Boss fights in the second half serve to waste time and infuriate players, as some have confounded mechanics and others have insta-kill maneuvers. It becomes painfully tedious to attempt a fight multiple times in just one minute.
In other words: Owlboy lulls you with a heartwarmingly picturesque world, then absolutely crushes your soul in combat. There will be many a time where Otus gracefully dances around a boss, whittling away at a health bar, only to suddenly die. It’s infuriating that even when you think you have a fight pattern nailed down, you may still need to restart thanks to some random attack. Thankfully, Owlboy is usually gracious with its checkpoints. Usually.
Setting aside the grotesque rage you’ll feel from specific areas and fights, Owlboy is a wholly entertaining experience. Though it may make you feel like a failure as a player, it also weaves a fantastic story proclaiming that failure is a part of life. Art, music, mechanics, and characters go a long way in teaching you this. Sometimes, things can be great despite their mistakes, of which Owlboy is most certainly a prominent, humbling example.