2D puzzle-platformers are a bountiful genre as of recent. Countless games of this sort, boasting a pixelated art style have made their way to Playstation, seeking success by preying on a players want to reminisce more retro titles. Trouble is, with such a multitude of them trying to achieve the same goal, the genre has gone a bit stale. Furthermore, in being heavily inspired by retro titles from our childhoods and in turn relying solely on their ability to remind us of them, it’s difficult for these games to possess an original vibe, one of their own making. However, D-Pad Studios have unveiled a true diamond in the rough that defies all of the above. It’s name – Owlboy.
Owlboy follows the story of Otus, a human-owl hybrid who’s also a mute. After a band of pirates commandeer an attack on Otus’ village of Vellie, he embarks upon a quest to save it with his closest and perhaps only real friend, Geddy. In being considered a bit of a runt, Otus is frowned upon by his fellow villagers and finds himself frequently disappointing them. Although at heart Otus has the purest and best of intentions, both his confidence and aspirations receive some serious knocks during your playthrough as he unintentionally makes some naive errors. Owlboy provides an all-round compelling and heartfelt story about friendship and overcoming weaknesses like these. It’s primarily where the title’s appeal lies and in conjunction with it’s joyous puzzle-platformer experience, what also allows it to stand out from an ever-growing crowd.
Initially taking up the reins as Otus presents you with a divine opportunity to appreciate how exquisite and amicable Owlboy is. Flying our protagonist around the separated islands in which the game is set, communicating with the locals and digging up backstory is nothing short of a mellow, enjoyable experience. Not only does it allow you to grow accustom to controlling Otus and familiarise yourself with your surroundings, but also grants you the freedom to revel in how great Owlboy looks. The game isn’t tied to an 8-bit/16-bit graphic style, subsequently awarding it a certain uniqueness. The game subtly incorporates a sort of dynamic day/night cycle, adding a welcomed sense of variation to the surroundings you must revisit over the course of the game. Vellie looks remarkably different as the radiant blues and greens present during the day merge into crisp oranges and yellows as sunset draws near. Furthermore, Owlboy breaches the graphical confines of it’s 2D style by incorporating layers. In both the foreground and background of the game’s setting are small aesthetics that gift the game with a higher degree of dimension. Whether it’s a a tree branch sitting in the foreground, briefly obscuring your view or an enormous tower looming in the backdrop, all contribute in enticing you to explore every last nook and cranny within game.
Distributed throughout the respective realms of Owlboy are coins, perhaps the game’s only real collectable. Gathering coins is simple and can be done so by discovering chests or exploring obscure sections of each realm. At a vendor located near the beginning of the game, you can exchange these coins (with a completely bonkers merchant) for health upgrades, performance enhancements for your companions and even a few cool aesthetics. These upgrades do not have a direct effect on your ability to press on in the game, but they are a pleasant little asset for putting to use the coins you naturally attain as you follow Otus’ story. Each area has a specific number of coins within it and your headway in finding them all can be tracked at a postbox located outside the merchant’s shop.
Progression within Owlboy is bound to it’s nifty companion system. Over the course of the game, Otus makes several friends, all of which harnessing a flurry of differing abilities that help him negotiate past ingenious puzzles, shrewdly integrated stealth sequences and general hurdles in the environment. Otus must have hold of a character whilst flying in order to utilise their span of skills. The art of advancing is a matter of finding the right companion for the right job, something you will develop a knack for as you get a taste for the clever puzzles that the game presents you with. Owlboy isn’t an intense, fast-paced title and this is clearly reflected in it’s smooth difficulty curve, ensuring in turn that puzzles are fun and intriguing as opposed to mind-blowingly infuriating. This extraordinary companion system does well to echo the strong morals that build the very foundations of the game as each character’s abilities counter the weaknesses of another.
Combat is another aspect within Owlboy that’s driven by this fantastically implemented companion system. Taking down the manifold of enemies big and small littered throughout the game much be executed through a combination of your companion’s abilities and Otus’ own melee attacks. This more flexible approach to combat guarantees enemy encounters will not end up feeling mundane. Owlboy also bears quite the diverse catalogue of enemies, adding even further variety to encounters. It goes without saying that D-Pad Studio have mastered a commendable balance between the game’s platforming, puzzle and combat elements alike, allowing them to give the game a sense of pace. This subsequently maintains the impact of Owlboy’s moving story as it constantly kept in motion and told fluently.
Owlboy is everything you’d traditionally expect of 2D puzzle-platformer and beyond. Despite it’s linear, more corridor approach to story-telling, one devoid of any real choices, the game doesn’t hesitate to demonstrate it’s ability to throw you off course with countless plot twists. Lack of dialogue is compensated for with witty text and a poignant story that remains with you even after completion. Furthermore, Owlboy coveys some very powerful and relatable messages throughout that are so appropriate in modern society. It’s a huge contributor in making Otus’s tale so touching and utterly charming. It’s companion system provides a unique approach to puzzle-solving whilst ringing true the morals that resonate as you play. Throughout playing Owlboy, it’s perfectly clear that it’s not just trying to remind you of more dated games, but that it’s also trying to be it’s own memorable experience. For that very reason, I’m glad I didn’t cast this title aside.
** A code was kindly provided by the developers for review purposes**