Sunday, October 30, 2016

Review: Owlboy

Developer/Publisher: D-Pad Studio

Revered, exalted, wise. These are just a few of the words I would use to describe Owlboy.

The developer D-Pad Studio took about a decade to make this game from conception to finish, and thankfully their efforts have made a masterpiece. I honestly would put Owlboy among the high echelons of indie games and other amazing games that have come before it. I am talking Shovel Knight, Binding of Isaac, Limbo, Fez; games that have shaped modern PC gaming as we know it. They have combined spectacular story telling, fantastic characters, dazzling design/artstyle, and from beginning to end enjoyable gameplay. This game was an absolute treat to play and is easily one of my choices for best game of the year, 2016.

I don't say that just about any game. This game spoke to me in more ways than one, it captured my imagination and reminded me what I love about games.

Now before I continue I want to put out a bit of warning, I highly recommend this title(obviously) but if you continue to read this I will be talking about game features, characters, and the overall experience of the game. So if you are considering even for a moment of buying this game. DO IT.

Owlboy is game about courage, friendship, and adventure in the face of overwhelming odds. You play Otus, a young owl who is being tutored to join long line of respected Owl guardian figures who protect and aid the people. Like quintessential heroes of yesteryear, poor Otus is mute and thus lacks in the self confidence department. His tutor Asio is tough and sometimes rough on Otus, expecting much from our young hero. The world was once densely populated with owls, but after a mysterious event, most of them have disappeared. When pirates show up at the village of Vellie, a trickster steals an important relic. This sets events into a spiral.

It's hard to capture the game in one genre but it's somewhere between a Metroidvania and an Action/Platformer. The game is a side scroller that lets you fly in any direction. Obviously things like walls, doors, and other obstacles prevent from accessing areas you shouldn't but it never felt unnatural in Owlboy. Matter of fact, I have to compliment Owlboy on how natural the game combines the flow of story with little secrets hidden everywhere to be discovered. You always know where to go but you can take the entire game at your own pace. One thing to keep in mind is Owlboy emphasized on its story. It does away with the hundreds of hidden upgrades/secrets for more of a linear adventure like experience.  The secrets that are there however, are very challenging to find and once found reveal more of the bright and wonderful world to you.
Flying is one of the biggest treats in this game and the controls are fantastic; completely responsive. I mostly played with my keyboard/mouse but had no problems diving, dashing and swooping around my enemies and generally laying down a butt kicking. I can imagine the same could be said for a controller. Both control methods feature rebindable keys and an assortment of different control methods, even for you southpaws out there. The action is equally as riveting as you gather allies and companions giving you access to new abilities, ways to blast enemies and overcome obstacles. The action never got dull for me, as I found unique ways to deal with the many bosses of Owlboy.

So now I am going to gush over the graphics and sound/music of Owlboy. Be warned. I want you to take a look at these clouds. LOOK AT THEM!

I would gladly take these clouds ANY day of the year over any rendered 60FPS thing you could throw at me. The pixel art is gorgeous and there are several times throughout the game where it took my freaking breath away.  Attention to detail is at maximum here with each area/house lovingly given detail. The character designs and animations give the characters life in a joyous fantastical way. Every time Geddy would do his stupid dance, I would laugh my butt off. Don't get me wrong, this game isn't kittens and rainbows all the time. As a matter of fact there are plenty of times I was shocked by game itself and how dark things got. That never stops the game from being nonetheless a fun adventure and this is demonstrated in its art, level design, and animations. I honestly would be surprised if this game couldn't be adapted into an anime.

Moving on to the music of Owlboy, the game features an orchestral soundtrack that would make John Williams smile. There is a moment in the game where you are riding on the back of a giant mechanical lizard. The moment that part began, the music drew me in and I couldn't stop smiling. Even as I moved about, dodging debris and everything was going to hell. It was scary, exhilarating and the music just took it to the next level. It's these types of moments that are speckled all throughout the game and which do everything to enhance the story, the art, and again the gameplay.

We have arrived at that point where I usually insert something I didn't like about the game. Let me say I was HARD pressed to find anything. The game has no bugs and is extremely well made. Boss fights are challenging but not frustrating. Exploration is difficult but rewarding. The pace of the game is always moving forward at a good clip, as new abilities are given to you for you to experiment with and enjoy. Is the game perfect? Dang near but, there was one thing in combat that did grate on me sometimes. During combat, if you are struck by an enemy, an animation plays that knocks Otus out of the air and kind of stun locks you. If multiple enemies are present and attacking, you can get stun locked for quite a while and lose more health than you would like. There that's it! All I've got.

Honestly, If I haven't given you the impression of how impressed I was with this title then, there really isn't much more that I could say. This game took me back to when games were wondrous. Like the first time I played Ocarina of Time or started up Final Fantasy VII. It made me feel like a kid again and I loved every moment of it. To the point where I didn't want it to end. Owlboy is about a ten hour experience more or less. You could extend that by finding every single secret. This may add two to four hours depending on how well you do the first run through the areas. You could say that isn't very long, but any more would be cheapening to the story and experience of this game. Trust me the amount of time it takes is perfect.

Replay value is of course up to you, but I personally could see myself playing this game many times over and looking for every single detail of the art, secrets of the story, or just kicking back and listening to the music. Does the game innovate? Not necessarily. But it does refine an age-old style and mechanic perfectly. The game is priced at $24.99 which is above the usual Indie standard, but the quality is more than worth it. These are the types of games you want to see made and these are the games you want to support.

I could honestly write more about this games bosses, story, and that awesome ending but I don't want to spoil any more for you.

So thanks for reading.

I'm off to play some more Owlboy!

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