Owlboy Review – Owl Be There For You

Peck Ops: The Flyin’.

01

Developer: D-Pad Studio
Publisher: D-Pad Studio
Format: PC
Released: November 1, 2016
Copy provided by publisher

Owlboy has been in development for a long, long time. I first started covering the game when I worked at Destructoid, charmed as I was by its then-novel throwback aesthetic, gorgeous soundtrack, and darling protagonist. That was almost a decade back, so long ago that I barely believe I’ve been able to play the finished product.

This is real life, though. I have indeed played it, and despite taking so long to materialize, there is no doubt the wait was worth it – Owlboy is bloody terrific.

A simple coming-of-age tale, Owlboy tells the story of Otus, a mute owl who works with his soldier friend Geddy to protect an airborne world from malevolent robotic sky pirates. Along the way he’ll team up with disaffected pirate Alphonse and misbehaving spider Twig, using their abilities alongside Geddy’s to enter numerous dungeons and attempt to foil the plans of the mechanical menace.

Being an owl… sort of… Otus gets free rein of the screen, able to jump from platforms and take to the sky by simply directing him upwards. On his own, he gets to dodge, perform a spin-attack that stuns enemies, and drag select objects around after picking them from the ground.

Over the course of the game, he gains new abilities via his friends – each of his three allies have a distinct weapon, and by summoning them into his airborne hands, he can direct them to attack. Geddy has a straightforward pistol, Alphonse uses a musket with a devastating blast but slow reload time, and Twig can fire webs to trap foes or use as a grappling hook.

The weapons of these characters will be essential for navigating the environment, too. The flaming discharge of Alphonse’s musket ignites torches and burns plant blockages, while Twig’s grappling web can drag Otus through strong winds or across waterfalls that negate his flying ability. Geddy’s weapon might not be so versatile, but it’s a dependable shot and good at destroying simple barricades.

02

With an armed ally, Owlboy plays somewhat similar to a stick shooter, one hand controlling flight and the other firing with a 360 degree aim. Each monster that appears comes with its own unique attack pattern and defenses – some will need heavy objects dropped from above to break their armor and render them vulnerable, while others shall require a quick spin-attack before they’re open to gunfire.

The only problem with carrying allies is the hassle they can be to not pick up every time they’re dropped. Spinning while holding them acts as a thorough dismissal, but if they’re instead dropped next to other items, they always take precedence if they’re even vaguely nearby – trying to pick up a berry to eat but grabbing Geddy-insteddy is a frequent cause for grumbling.

2D stealth sections also pop up from time to time, just to add some flavor.

The first stealth moment leaves something to be desired – a rather irritating little segment where you must avoid flying or making too much noise lest you be chased and instantly devoured by gnomes – but subsequent stealthing is rather enjoyable. Using perspective to create 2D objects behind which Otus can hide, these stages adapt the kind of sneaking seen in Jasper Byrne’s Lone Survivor, albeit to a far more complex degree.

Then there are the boss encounters. Bosses are huge, impressive opponents that often require specific tactics and abilities to defeat. Even the ones that just need to be shot a bunch of times can be thoroughly challenging, with a robotic snake in particular proving a tricky obstacle.

Owlboy is fairly forgiving with its liberal checkpoints and ability to find health, but it’s not a cakewalk. Navigating the world’s many hazards requires spatial awareness, and enemies are aggressive enough to chase Otus across multiple screens if they’re not dealt with. Some areas are littered with thorny bushes and other environmental traps, and players will routinely find themselves smacked around and flung into walls if they’re not careful.

Avoiding damage is mostly down to player care, but Otus himself suffers from some loose controls that could use tightening up. As fast as enemies operate, the titular owl boy flies just a hair too slowly to feel like he gels with the world correctly, while turning left and right causes a dramatic swoop in either direction that makes navigating tight thorny corridors a painful hassle.

While not enough to harm the experience to a significant lasting degree, it’s a regular annoyance that Otus is always just a tiny bit sluggish and subsequently isn’t the most responsive owl around.

03

Despite this grievance, Owlboy is a total delight to play. Its Zelda inspiration is subtle due to the flight and camera perspective, but it’s undoubtedly there. Adventures branch off from a vertical hubworld that expands as Otus gains new abilities and passes previously untouchable terrain, climbing higher and higher into the sky to enter a number of dungeons and acquire new skills.

The only other major criticism I can level at Owlboy overall is that sometimes it’s unclear where one has to go next. As the world expands and further areas become accessible, it gets tough keeping track of where everything is. Getting lost isn’t so common to keep a player stuck for hours, but it’s frequent enough that it merits a mention.

A number of signposts dotted around the world provide some bearing, but I dare say Owlboy could use a lot more. At the very least, there ought to be a way to talk to the party and get some hints or reminders about the next objective.

The hubworlds themselves – and indeed several dungeon screens – are thoroughly massive, with lots of little paths hidden off to the side filled with secrets and treasure. Coins hidden around the world are tallied up by an exuberant merchant and her unsubtle Prinny henchbirds, with new items awarded to Otus when enough are collected.

Upgrades take the form of health increases and gun augments, as well as a number of cosmetic hats that Otus can wear in tribute to one of his three friends. While none of the upgrades are essential, it’s nonetheless enjoyable to frequently return and cash in, if only for the silly banter that occurs as a result.

04

Owlboy‘s world is simply a lovely place, even if it is under attack by sky pirates. Despite his inability to speak, Otus is adorably expressive, his animations conveying joy, shock, or sadness appropriately.

The large supporting cast of heroes and villains is memorable – they’re often given exaggerated archetypal character traits that are broken down and explored to provide extra hidden depths. Twig’s arc, especially, is a satisfying one to see unfold.

Environments are gorgeous, bristling with detail and color, every area visually distinct while maintaining a unified artistic style. While “retro” aesthetic has become overused in the years since Owlboy‘s unveiling, D-Pad Studio does an impressive job of owning it, making a sky-high world that is truly theirs.

It would be wrong of me to not mention that soundtrack again – every piece of simply inspiring, a beautifully arranged orchestral selection that nails the mood of each scene. Exploring the central world is a joy thanks in no small part to the amazing music accompanying it.

05

Owlboy may have a few annoying navigational hangups, but none are enough to counter the overwhelming magic of the adventure at hand. Beautiful in both a visual and aural sense, littered with lovely characters, and home to a number of jawdropping combat encounters, Owlboy is a game almost ten years in the making that doesn’t show a trace of development hell.

D-Pad made a game to be proud of, and it’s one I have no problem recommending.

9/10
Superb

Mike Wallace
Guest
Mike Wallace

I was kind of hoping this was a Metroidvania game, but that’s on me for not looking into it closer.

Kyle Pierce
Guest
Kyle Pierce

So it’s better than Uncharted 4?

Is this joke still funny?

Mike Wallace
Guest
Mike Wallace

It was never funny, but it was poignant.

SpearmintTea
Guest
SpearmintTea

Wow. This game looks beautiful. I hope it comes out for consoles too.

CaitSeith
Guest
CaitSeith

Another game for my Steam wishlist. I have a long backlog though, so it will stay there for a long time.

Clark Kent
Guest
Clark Kent

Was the tag line just for pun or does this game as real similarities with Spec ops? If so, it might prove very interesting indeed…

Jim Sterling
Guest

It was just for jokes. Game dev Ashton Raze demanded I call it Spec Ops: The Flyin’ in the tagline, and I added “Peck” because I Am Really Funny.

DucksonAPlain
Guest
DucksonAPlain

No Jim, there’s no hiding it. We all now know that there is a sense where Owl Boy attacks civilians with white phosphorus. That owl is out of the bag. You spoiled it.

qorl123
Guest
qorl123

It Was Really Funny Jim, don’t let anyone tell you different

Manen
Guest
Manen

Thank god for you.

Aidan Long
Guest
Aidan Long

A game I didn’t know about until now and now I will happily murder an entire village to get to play this.

Chijiru .
Guest
Chijiru .

Will buy when it comes out. I only heard about through your channel. Thanks man.
Looks fun too.

Sperium3000
Guest
Sperium3000

“(…)trying to pick up a berry to eat but grabbing *Geddy-insteddy* is a frequent cause for grumbling.”

https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/1cf627690ae29d68fcddfe2290cd2211546b8d8332bdc05b2f54451c8f5ec6b2.jpg

Jim Sterling
Guest

WILDCARD BITCHES!

Camfry
Guest
Camfry

This needs to be a t-shirt. Please?

anomalous material
Guest
anomalous material

Indeed, make this a thing!

Camfry
Guest
Camfry

All credit to Kev’ Bryant for the idea below
=D

Anton
Guest
Anton

It probably is, but with Charlie Kelly instead of Jim.

Drake Warnock
Guest
Drake Warnock

I can see it now. JIm’s wild eyed face, colored in rainbow with the text underneath in all caps.

Nes
Guest
Nes

W I L D C A R D B I T C H E S !

CriticalQuit
Guest
CriticalQuit

I loved the look of this game when you posted your video, definitely going to pick it up on tuesday! it’ll be nice to have while i’m waiting for the reviews of dishonored 2, since I’m not going to buy it til i see some.

Bpdelia
Guest
Bpdelia

Agreed. I’m hoping that it has a story that is as good as the mechanics.

I found the first one pretty uneven in that regard.

CriticalQuit
Guest
CriticalQuit

Having beaten the game now, the game was definitely worth buying and made me cry a little, but D2 got pushed to next friday so i’m stuck waiting again.

Terriosaurus Hex
Guest
Terriosaurus Hex

Do you mean “Lone Survivor” instead of Last? I have the game recently downloaded, but not sure if there is another similar title. Anyway, this game has some lovely art, i just have no PC as of yet. 🙁

goodbyejojo
Guest
goodbyejojo

well, i guess this makes you no.1 owlboy

Jamie Gillespie
Guest

An addition to the Steam wish list

JonnyDoLake
Guest
JonnyDoLake

It’s great to see this game get great reviews all around. I was afraid it would be another game that failed to live to the expectations, after so many years in development. I’m really happy for the developers!

Andrew John Martin
Guest
Andrew John Martin

I will definitely have to check this one out. Also, in the future would it be possible if you could do a Hyper Light Drifter review?

Jack Trevor
Guest
Jack Trevor

I liked the look of it when I saw your first Jimpressions video. I’ll check it out once I get a bit more time from school.

Michael Alexander Seiler
Guest
Michael Alexander Seiler

Don´t you mean Jasper Byrne´s LONE Surviver?

Michael Alexander Seiler
Guest
Michael Alexander Seiler

Thanks.

Jim Sterling
Guest

Yeah, thanks for pointing it out. I keep accidentally calling it Last Survivor lately, which is gonna really suck for this Halloween video I’m working on unless I cut it out.

Gareth
Guest
Gareth

Chip is clearly to blame.

gasmaskangel
Guest
gasmaskangel

Fucking Chip.

InfamousDS
Guest
InfamousDS

Chip the Intern

Stormbringer
Guest

Last Guardian?

Anton
Guest
Anton

Looks like a hootin’ good time.

Kharnivore2099
Guest
Kharnivore2099

It actually looks amazing, can’t wait.

Sharadufobash
Guest
Sharadufobash

Looking at those screenshots reminds me of looking in magazines like Mean Machines in the 16 bit era at the pixel art in sprites and backgrounds. It certainly does look well done.

Gurphardt
Guest

I guess Owl have to check this out some time.

TnTyson
Guest
TnTyson
SilentPony
Guest
SilentPony

…Who?

Batmatt
Guest
Batmatt

Whoa, this game sure is gorgeous. I’d buy it in a heartbeat if it was available to PS4 or Vita, because I hardly play on PC nowdays. Anyway, worth checking on when I eventually get back to PC gaming.

Alex Wheatley
Guest
Alex Wheatley

Awesome to see a game come out of a looooong development and be good!

Stormbringer
Guest

Video games can easily take a very long time if the company doesn’t have a budget to just throw people at it. It’s a wonder they get made really.

GamingSage
Guest
GamingSage

nice

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