Why is it that my love for pixelated games has come back in full force? Games such as Golf Story, Celeste and now Owlboy all on the Nintendo Switch and I couldn’t be happier. It seems that the Switch has rekindled a lost love and I never want to lose that feeling again.
Owlboy, a 2D puzzle-platformer, was developed by D-Pad Studios and was first released in 2016 on the Windows platform, later being released in 2017 on Mac and Linux. We now enter 2018 and we are seeing this amazing piece of work released on modern consoles and for all the right reasons.
You control Otus, a young half-owl half-human, who is a member of… the Owls. No surprise there. Unfortunately, you are one of the owls that are looked down upon and you can’t seem to do anything right. Out of nowhere your village is attacked by what is known as Pirates and you set out on a vast adventure to save anything and everything from these scurvy devils.
No matter how you think about this game, the main emotional takeaway is wrapped around getting knocked down and getting up again (you never going to keep me down [music reference, sorry]). The idea that a game introduces failure so nonchalantly would seem to be a bit harsh (and it is at first play) but the absolutely astonishing result is how this game brings you closer to the protagonist by relating to the failures that he goes through on his adventures. We all go through life-changing events and hit obstacles along the way. This game justifies those failures with a gripping tale of eventual success stories that keeps you hooked and engaged along the way.
In the beginning stages, Otus has nothing but the use of flight. This is the main mechanic of the game and they really want you to get used to it before introducing any type of combat system. You even feel like there won’t be any combat with what is present. Flight is simple. A single tap to jump and another tap while in mid-air to go into flight-mode. Once in flight mode you just use the left analog stick to move around anywhere you want. Seems simple enough. You then introduce spins, which can take out guarded enemies, rolls, which can traverse the world at a fast pace, and most important, the ability to grab. You can grab health items, objects in the ground, necessary puzzle items and other characters. Otus meets a couple friends along his journey and these friends choose to join him to aid in battling the Pirates. Once ‘equipped’, which is basically Otus grabbing them and using their abilities as they are carried around with him, these friends present the combat system that will be used to get through the areas. A pistol, shotgun, and grappling hook are some of the ways Otus’ friends aid in the adventure. These mechanics also help solve some of the puzzles and are used outside of combat as well.
As you progress through the story you will find yourself collecting coins. I found myself not caring as much for the coin collection at the start of the game and wondered why I was continuing with such little health even after many hours of gameplay. Upgrading your health is not shoved in your face like most games. You can either choose to use the collected coins for health upgrades and miscellaneous cosmetic changes or even choose not to do this and just play the game. Living dangerously never felt so good.
I would say that the only irritating part of Owlboy was some of the level-design set pieces. Going through pitch-black or poisonous areas seemed more like “do it in one try or restart and try again” moments rather than the nicely flowing open areas where you could make mistakes and not feel frustrated because you just didn’t have enough time.
Boss fights are a shining moment in Owlboy. Not too hard but also not too easy. You need to find the trick. Once you find out what to do everything clicks and you, rather than the boss, dictate the fight. The boss fights are fun. The killer soundtrack for the boss fights are even better You truly feel engulfed in the fight and leave each fight with a smile and fist pump. The only gripe I have with a singular boss fight was a massive frame-rate drop. Don’t worry you will know what I am talking about. It happened every time. The Switch isn’t the powerful beast we all wish it was but this is only a small gripe towards an otherwise marvellous game.
Speaking of audio, the music and sound effects in Owlboy are fantastic. Why is it that these pixelated success stories always have the best music? I instantly fell in love with Owlboy from the opening stages just by listening to how the audio pieces flowed so perfectly with each other. The sound of the water, the opening of gates, and even the melodic music in the background made me feels like I was inside the world. Empathy is a huge thing in videogames and this game brings it in spades.
The game is damn beautiful. The art team spent so much time making sure every aspect of this game was truly painted the way they wanted it to be. I play a lot of platformers and I never think I can find anything better than a previous game I play. Developers are just getting better and better at making pixel-art come to life. Owlboy’s animations are crisp and every movement seems genuine. You never find a problem.
Owlboy is also so generous with their checkpoint system that they almost knew that there could be problems with the game and they were scared. I actually had the game shut down on me numerous times but thankfully the checkpoint system didn’t make me frustrated.
As you can see Owlboy is a truly inspirational game about overcoming obstacles and showing people who you truly are no matter what gets in your way. It was so easy to relate to this game and I hope this game gets into the hands of anyone dealing with these same issues. I absolutely love games that speak about social issues and are not afraid to show it. The Nintendo Switch port of this game is just as good as the previous iterations and having another pixel platformer for my on-the-go travels is truly what this system was built for. While not a long game, I suggest you whole-heartedly pick this one up. Owlboy is a great addition to an already impressive library of games for the Switch.