The beloved indie title makes its way to the Nintendo Switch- and it’s absolutely incredible.
There’s a category of video games that represents nothing but the best of the best in this industry. It’s a category that encompasses the kinds of games that are so thoroughly and single-mindedly devoted to their central idea that they’re crammed with a painstaking level of detail and expert direction in every area that matters. Everything these games do contributes towards the entire experience, increasing immersion, deepening detail, expanding upon the core ideas. This category of games, however, is quite sparsely populated. And Owlboy, without a doubt, belongs in this category.
There is a drive to achieve perfection in every aspect of the game, from its striking retro visual aesthetic that is surprisingly full of detail, to its immaculate, consistently entertaining Metroidvania-style exploration, to even its narrative, which managed to keep me immersed from start to finish. Every aspect of the game bleeds into the other, adding to its authenticity and building upon its central mechanics to deliver a single cohesive and memorable experience.
"There is a drive to achieve perfection in every aspect of the game, from its striking retro visual aesthetic that is surprisingly full of detail, to its immaculate, consistently entertaining Metroidvania-style exploration, to even its narrative, which managed to keep me immersed from start to finish."
In Owlboy, you play as Otus, an owl who is ostracized in his community on account of his muteness, and just cannot seem to earn the approval of his Elders. Trouble soon strikes in the form of sky pirates though, throwing Otus into the middle of an endearing and strongly written coming-of-age tale. Surrounding Otus is a pretty big cast of supporting characters who come in the form of both, friend and enemy. Many of them, especially the ones who Otus spends the bulk of his time with throughout the game, are excellently written, lending the story an added layer of charm.
Another thing that helps in favour of these characters is the game’s animations, which are surprisingly detailed and emotive. It’s surprising, considering that Owlboy is a 2D pixel art game, but somehow its characters manage to convey a vast range of reactions and emotions through incredible animations. Each of these characters, though, are just as much a strength to Owlboy’s core gameplay as they are to the narrative. As the player, you will only ever be controlling Otus, who doesn’t have a whole lot of moves in his arsenal. He can fly, he can dash, and he can spin, but that’s about it.
This is where Otus’ friends, who join him along the journey and serve as his constant companions, come into the play. Otus flies around carrying one of his friends at a time, each of whom has a different ability or skill they can use, while the player has the ability to swap between them as and when they please. Though you only start the game with Geddy, Otus’ self-proclaimed best friend who can shoot at enemies and obstacles, characters constantly keep joining Otus, providing new abilities and introducing new mechanics almost constantly.
"It’s surprising, considering that Owlboy is a 2D pixel art game, but somehow its characters manage to convey a vast range of reactions and emotions through incredible animations."
Which, as you can imagine, means the Owlboy manages to keep from ever getting stale, with a constant string of new mechanics being thrown into the mix with regularity. This mechanic of swapping in and out of characters to utilize their unique abilities also ends up feeling like an even better defined trait of the game thanks to how excellently it is made use of in various other ways. Some areas may require you to use a specific character’s abilities, while another’s might be the only thing that can clear an obstacle in another area. This lends the dungeon design and entire brand of exploration in Owlboy a very Metroidvaniae-esque feel.
Similarly, boss battles in Owlboy are also brilliant. Every dungeon in the game ends with a boss battle, and the design for each of these is incredible, always requiring the player to switch between their skills to figure out which one they need to use for the situation at hand. Boss fights aside, there are plenty of other memorable set-piece moments in Owlboy as well. The game is peppered intermittently with intense, thrilling chase scenes that have you constantly switching between characters during chases as you overcome enemies and obstacles. Though not all that common, these sections area easily among the game’s highlights.
The biggest victory Owlboy achieves on the gameplay front is how incredibly varied it is. From boss fights to exploration, from platforming to puzzles, from chase sequences to stealth sections, Owlboy is never afraid to switch things up, and is constantly and delightfully surprising. Incredibly enough, the game goes out of its way to make sure that its narrative and the parts that you’re actually playing are never at odds with each other. Almost everything is contextualized very well within the boundaries of the story. The narrative itself also constantly moves at a brisk pace, and thanks to sharp writing and a few unexpected surprises along the way, manages to hold attention for the entire 10 hour playthrough.
"The biggest victory Owlboy achieves on the gameplay front is how incredibly varied it is. From boss fights to exploration, from platforming to puzzles, from chase sequences to stealth sections, Owlboy is never afraid to switch things up, and is constantly and delightfully surprising."
The thing that is most commonly associated with Owlboy, though, is its visuals, and its easy to see why. Indie games with a pixel art style are not hard to come by these days, but while most of them only use such visuals more for nostalgia than for actual artistic reasons, the visual palette in Owlboy is vivid and beautiful and crammed full of details. While in close quarter environments and interiors the camera closes in to focus on the pixels in the pixel art, in the larger, more open areas, the game pulls away for a more sweeping view that shows the art style and the visuals in all their splendour. From the clouds to the trees to the cliffs, everything in Owlboy looks gorgeous.
Owlboy is a game that excels in multiple areas. It’s gameplay loop is constantly entertaining and always keeps the player engaged with a consistent stream fresh new mechanics and gameplay variety; it’s narrative is excellent written and extremely engaging, thanks to an excellent cast of characters; it’s visuals are beautiful and thoroughly detailed at the same time. It’s not, of course, without its flaws- for instance, there some a few bugs in here, one of which forced me to restart the game on one occasion. As a whole, though, it’s surprising to see just how well made and how accomplished Owlboy is in so many ways.
This game was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch.
Impeccable dungeon design; Varied gameplay that always manages to stay fresh; A mix of puzzles, exploration and combat make for engaging moment-to-moment gameplay; Set piece moments such as chase sequences and stealth sections are amazing; Brilliant boss fights; A very well told and engrossing story with a great cast of characters; Beautiful and incredibly detailed visuals and art style.
Owlboy excels in more than one area and combines all its strengths to deliver an unforgettable experience.