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

Harvey
Guest
Harvey

I disagree with how the game doesn’t tell you where to go as its obvious and easy to figure out.

Heck , the main menu itself tells you as such.

Jon Skinner
Guest
Jon Skinner

If you want to enjoy the ending to it’s fullest, you must collect those 3 owl emblems and go into the area it opens up. Tip there is a hidden message in that area as well that gives the most clarity.

john grinwis
Guest
john grinwis

A warning for anyone whos playing this be very careful with the cannon minigame i got knocked threw the goal by hitting a wall and it sent me into a endless void AND autosaved

Thanatos
Guest
Thanatos

Whoah whoah what the hell? This game is actually coming out!? I had resigned myself to it being a magical fantasy that never really existed.

Aaron
Guest
Aaron

how long is this game? not too fussed just wondered.

Jeremiah
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Jeremiah

Destructoids 10/10 review said 8-10 hours.

CLabCpt2021
Guest
CLabCpt2021

The reviews for games you truly enjoy are a real treat to read.

Ethan Stapley
Guest
Ethan Stapley

Not a Duke Nukem then?

Banandango
Guest
Banandango

Wow, has it really been over ten years already? I remember seeing those early screenshots and thinking “Dear god I need this game right NOW, I hope it releases soon.”

Evan Schell
Guest
Evan Schell

its actually been 8 years but yeah still a long time to be in development.

Jeremiah
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Jeremiah

It’s actually been almost 10 years, the developer says so.

Chürz
Guest
Chürz

This is pixel art well made.

Nathan Stapleton
Guest
Nathan Stapleton

I know, right? So many “retro-style” games think they can be as ugly as Sin (both the normal and Final Fantasy X kind) and forget you also need good art direction to actually be GOOD pixel art.

Linda Sofia Hartlén
Guest
Linda Sofia Hartlén

Yupp looks amazing, I was hooked when I saw your gameplay of it and now I can safely say: soo on my wishlist!

zeeby
Guest
zeeby

These visuals make me think of the 90s..

“Owl be there for you,
when the rain starts to pour.
Owl be there for you,
Like i’ve been there before”

Håkon Kleppe Normann
Guest
Håkon Kleppe Normann

I’m proud to be a norwegian game-dev when i see D-pad pulling this off. Way to go! 😀

MermaidShadow
Guest
MermaidShadow

Jimbo, I hate to be “that person” again, but it’s free rein, not “free reign”. Free reign is this type of mistake you English speakers keep making because it seemingly makes sense, but it’s “free rein” and comes from horseback riding. It has nothing to do with “reigning” in the royal sense. It’s about loosening the bridle/reins on the horse you’re riding, letting it go wherever it wants. Free REIN.

I have very, very few pet peeves left. This is one.

Otherwise, rock on, everybody!

Benj
Guest
Benj

As an Englishman I think we should have free reign to use the English language however we fucking well want without being “corrected” by some uppity ex-colonists.

… but yeah you are essentially correct. Free reign is a good example of an eggcorn and I’d argue it makes just as much sense as free rein.

Unnoticing Senpai
Guest
Unnoticing Senpai
YoDude
Guest
YoDude

Free reign makes sense though. It implies an individual reigning over themselves.

Which is the same as free rein.

Bpdelia
Guest
Bpdelia

It’s actually a bit different because free rein means letting things go where they will rather than controlling everything. In free rein THE HORSE is in control. Free REIGN would imply personal sovereign control.

Also nothing matters at all. Ever.

MermaidShadow
Guest
MermaidShadow

Thank you, that was the thing I wanted to clarify and could not word clearly in my head.

Polite, reasonable discussion! What are the odds?

Tony Russo
Guest
Tony Russo

This reminds me of how The Angry Video Game Nerd always describes videogame controls as “fluent” when he almost certainly meant to use the word “fluid.” It’s a mistake, but it makes just as much sense as the traditional word choice, so fuck it.

Naz
Guest
Naz

Thankfully these outdated Empire/Colonist arguments will end once the future Swedish overlords conquer. Both countries will then be forced to set aside their differences and discover the true power of friendship.

Lucid Loon
Guest
Lucid Loon

Squib? What’s a squib?

La Chica Incognita
Guest
La Chica Incognita

I think it’s good they’re not putting Jim on a pedal stool and pointing out his mistakes.

Tank Dsouls Ordialot
Guest
Tank Dsouls Ordialot

It’s OK people ive contacted the British Government and here’s what they had to say about it:

Free Reign means Free Reign.

Ethan Stapley
Guest
Ethan Stapley

It would make just as much sense as well, yes.

Jonathan James Ramsden
Guest
Jonathan James Ramsden

Another common one I’ve spotted is “chomping at the bit” when it’s actually “champing at the bit.” I guess Jim just can’t keep track of his horse-based idioms. 🙂

Raiden Landon Freeman
Guest
Raiden Landon Freeman

I learnt something today! Thank you sir!

MermaidShadow
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MermaidShadow

lady* 😉

Adam
Guest
Adam

And we keep on learning.

TheJerryPiece
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TheJerryPiece

I knew she was a lady right away by the way she was complaining AHAHAH nah that joke was terrible but too obvious to pass.

Terriosaurus Hex
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Terriosaurus Hex

I like to think of this game as the much awaited origin story for this beloved character….

https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/262662fc9ba850932435fcf0aed1c227f77f7d31abcc6d09e0e9b54c40940353.png

Kyle Pierce
Guest
Kyle Pierce

Nobody loved this guy… He was worse than Navi!

Terriosaurus Hex
Guest
Terriosaurus Hex

People judge too harshly. Leave the poor Owl alone, he’s only trying to help! And…He has a sweet theme tune we mere humans can only dream of having…

Manen
Guest
Manen

#OwlLivesMatter

Adam
Guest
Adam

Do you understand?
> No
Yes

froyton
Guest
froyton

You only gave it a positive review because the publisher gave you a copy and you want to stay on their good side!

Seriously, though, really nice review. I’m glad to see this game turned out so well. I’ll have to nab it up sometime.

RedWolf
Guest
RedWolf

The very reason I don’t like 2D Zelda is the lack of decent signposting. I am tempted to give Owlboy a look, but if it’s Zelda influence includes making world navigation an exercise in aimless wandering then I might end up giving it a miss.

Gaealiege
Guest
Gaealiege

You seriously avoid a video game because it doesn’t hold your hand enough?

Astounding.

Aidan Long
Guest
Aidan Long

There’s a difference between handholding and sitting-back-smoking-a-joint in gaming. Some games, especially large ones, need ways to make their world easy to get around so the player doesn’t get lost. That’s part of what makes the Dark Souls games so great is that each area is easily recognizable.

Gaealiege
Guest
Gaealiege

Can you expand on this thought a bit more? I’m not sure I follow what the joint-smoking version is.

The Demons Souls series definitely has great design, but it also has plenty of secrets that are rather nebulous. Frustration is an inherent part of that series, so I’m not sure I would suggest that Demons Souls/Dark Souls has much going on by way of handholding.

Aidan Long
Guest
Aidan Long
The smoking joint version of gaming is where the player is given next to no clues or guidance as to how to play the game or how to succeed. Like Jim said in the review, this game doesn’t always make it clear where you should go next so it gets frustrating when you have to wander around, especially through area’s you may have already been through. I believe what the OP meant when he said that he may not want to try this game was the fact that he didn’t want to back track through huge swathes of the game… Read more »
Gaealiege
Guest
Gaealiege

Ah, I see. Well at that point, the OP needs to consider if adventure games are for him. The majority of adventure games similar to Zelda, Metroid, etc have required backtracking.

Seems to me that’s a fickle stance though. Missing some amazing games purely because he/she cannot manage to be mindful of the areas they already crossed through. If nothing else, write down where you see cracked walls before you gets bombs, etc.

Aidan Long
Guest
Aidan Long
He never said that he doesn’t like all adventure games, he states that he doesn’t like it when a game gives no hints about where he needs to go next. Yeah, Metroid and Zelda require backtracking, but they rarely make it so that you don’t have an idea about where to go next. Bad adventure games either have those trail of lights thing you mentioned or they don’t give any hint about where to go next meaning that instead of exploring they player is left wandering until they stumble into where they are supposed to go. A good adventure games… Read more »
Gaealiege
Guest
Gaealiege

Well, I can agree with that entirely. There should be some hint (cracked walls, red shield doors, inaccessible levers) on where to return or go. It shouldn’t be entirely up in the air.

Most games today seem like they err on the other side. They’re incredibly handholding.

notentirelythere
Guest
notentirelythere
I don’t think your understand what good signposting is and I’m sorry you have such a binary view on this. Have you ever tried playing The Minnish Cap? That game has an NPC town that, despite being a central hub, has completely unchanging NPC dialogue for the entire game. I was baffled by this. Midway through the game, you need to talk to a character in the town–who you’ve been discouraged to talk to by the lack of changing NPC dialogue–to advance the game. There isn’t really a hint that you have to talk to this person, you just have… Read more »
Bpdelia
Guest
Bpdelia

Yup. Exactly. The WoW (post vanilla) style GLOWING QUESTING MARK AND YELLOW CIRCLE HERE IDIOT!!!!! thing and COMPLETELY RANDOM WANDERING. Are both shitty extremes of the problem.

There should be careful balancing of player agency and enough information to make problems feel solvable through paying careful attention.

The examples above are basically perfect.

notentirelythere
Guest
notentirelythere

Something frustrating about WoW is that it DOES have a map overlay to show you the ~rough area~ where, say, you’ll have to free 7 trapped sligs. But they don’t use it as often as they should, imo.
Ideally in, say, a sandbox game, they’d give you the town or the district where an object of interest is and ask you to dig around as the default option.

Bpdelia
Guest
Bpdelia

Yeah. But I’m vanilla WoW there was no map overlay. You had to CAREFULLY read the quest text and then explore. It also had you asking in group chat and teaming up more often.

It’s the best compromise because if anyone is frustrated they can just Google it but for those who like the feeling of actual exploration can just try and figure it out. No sandbox game does this anymore.

Mike Hoyer
Guest
Mike Hoyer

I always think of the first Bioshock. You’ve got this big world I want to roam around and get a little lost in and right in the middle of the screen you’ve plunked a big cartoon arrow that can’t be turned off (though perhaps I’m misremembering that part)

Gaealiege
Guest
Gaealiege
The Minnish Cap is the only Zelda game that I haven’t played, so I will accede that point to you. I know nothing about it, so I cannot defend or agree. As for the door in A Link to the Past, it seemed rather obvious to me as a child and still does today, so I’m uncertain that we will agree on that. I don’t recall any frustrations with A Link to the Past. You may as well use the example of throwing something into the circle of stones in the lake. There is no indication that you should throw… Read more »
Riosine
Guest
Riosine

those highligted quest / markers can be very useful for people with vision impairment.

Gaealiege
Guest
Gaealiege

I suppose they could be. Across decades of gaming though, it’s clear to me that the trails and highlights aren’t about accessibility for the disabled/disadvantaged.

They’re there for the lazy gamer.

Mike Hoyer
Guest
Mike Hoyer

While not a fan of the sparkle-paths and floating arrows myself I do feel obliged to make the point that some of us have day jobs, families to cook for and dogs to walk and no longer have unlimited hours to spend being “not lazy”.

Gaealiege
Guest
Gaealiege

That’s an intellectually dishonest response, frankly. Gamers have always included people with jobs, cooking, dogs, and paper airplane schematics.

If you cannot be bothered to put in the time to a hobby, you shouldn’t be rewarded for it. I “don’t have the time” to become a master carpenter as a hobby. Where are my blue glowing trails to reach my goal?

Mindless gameplay isn’t the answer to busy schedules. Different hobbies are.

Mike Hoyer
Guest
Mike Hoyer
Pre-cut woodworking kits. You can find them in literally any craft store. They range from very simple glue-together toys and birdhouses to complex projects that require planing, proper jointing, and expensive power tools. So I mean yeah. Blue glowing trails. Though frankly I’m more concerned by what you think the video game equivalent of “become a master carpenter” is. Most of us are playing these in our free time as entertainment. Your argument seems to be that I shouldn’t watch an episode of Battlestar Galactica if I can’t commit to watching all episodes plus the spinoffs. That’s ignoring that this… Read more »
Gaealiege
Guest
Gaealiege
Pre-cut woodworking kits will not allow you to reach any goals that a master carpenter would achieve, so that’s not even remotely close to correct. My argument is that you shouldn’t play a game if you cannot dedicate the time to playing it. The media of video games shouldn’t bend itself backwards to cater to lazy players that want to experience the entire game with little to no effort. The argument on your side of the fence appears to be “just put it on rails because doing things is hard.” If you can’t be bothered to ….adventure….in an adventure game,… Read more »
Mike Hoyer
Guest
Mike Hoyer

I’m dying to know what the playing video games equivalent of being a master carpenter is. No, seriously, I’ll concede every point if you tell us that. I won’t even question your answer, won’t even reply, I just want to see it.

Thanks in advance.

Gaealiege
Guest
Gaealiege

Apparently in this case, it’s managing the extraordinary ability to beat a Zelda game which was designed with children in mind.

Rather high bar to limbo under, but it seems like it may be a hurdle for some.

I guess having a job, a wife, cheez-its, and one time having your left elbow get a bit itchy would ruin any ability to master such an arduous task.

RedWolf
Guest
RedWolf
I never said anything about wanting to have my hand held. I just want to be given at least an inkling of where I’m supposed to be going and what I’m supposed to be doing, otherwise I get frustrated, lose interest, and stop playing. It’s the little things that matter: putting the names of key locations on the overworld map, for example, or working visual clues into puzzles that are not blatantly obvious, but nonetheless steer the player in the right direction when noticed. Hell, even having a half-decent dungeon map is the least I can ask for! Classic 2D… Read more »
Gaealiege
Guest
Gaealiege
I’m not really sure how to address your concerns on this. The majority of 2D adventure games require backtracking, exploration, and discovery. It could be that the genre simply isn’t for you. I get incredibly frustrated with games that require hardcore grinds in order to obtain gear. I think it’s an idiotic design choice, but I understand there are people who enjoy that type of game. I just avoid them. No ARPGs for me. I’ve played all Zeldas other than Minnish Cap and have never had a problem beating them or solving puzzles, so I don’t know how to address… Read more »
thefarsidenoob
Guest
thefarsidenoob

WARNING: If you don’t think owl puns are a hoot, you best fly from here wowl you still can

Anton
Guest
Anton

Yeah, but who doesn’t like owl puns? Who? Whoooo?

gasmaskangel
Guest
gasmaskangel

Frankly, I don’t give a hoot.

Wolfie
Guest
Wolfie

Well, I guess that’s egg on your face..

Bum
Guest
Bum

Upvote for “wowl”.

The Jünger Ludendorf
Guest
The Jünger Ludendorf

Such fowl jokes will not go unpredated.
We will be hawkishly looking in a full 360 degree area for any such unfeathered boys.