Owlboy (2016)

I have to admit that I am a sucker for indie games, metroidvanias, and pixel art. Clearly Owlboy was made for me, as it has all of these elements and more. This game was a highly anticipated indie title as it has been development for nine years and I was curious to see how it would turn out. I was more than pleasantly surprised, from the first moments I was gripped by the polished and charming visuals, as well as the heart-wrenching tale of Otus. The unique combat and movement systems were a boon and kept me engaged throughout the course of the game.

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Owlboy had a very interesting take on combat. Otus, the main character, is an owl and as such he cannot fight enemies by himself, but he can fly. He enlists the help of his best friend Geddy, a human mechanic and soldier to help him fight enemies. It felt extremely smooth and natural to carry Geddy around and both aim and dodge enemies at the same time. Otus also recruits a few other unlikely friends to join his ragtag band of heroes; all of these characters have unique combat mechanisms and utility to allow Otus to access different parts of the world. At first I was worried that carrying around these different characters would become tedious, but it was extremely easy to get a grasp on how the combat worked. Controlling Otus was a blast and his variety of movement options led to some entertaining fights as I dipped and dodged hordes of enemies.

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The dungeons in this game were fun and they all had unique concepts and ideas that made them enjoyable. I do think that they did seem to run on a bit too long and got a little repetitive at times, but for the most part they were very well designed, especially the boss battles. I absolutely loved all of the boss battles in this game; they were all fast-paced, challenging, unique, and intense.  Having the ability to fly seems like it would make any platforming non-existent, but that is not true. The game is cleverly designed to have challenging platforming sections despite being able to fly. There are also some stealth sections to add some flavor and variety to the game.

The gameplay was fantastic, but that was not the only thing that kept me interested in Owlboy. The hi-bit style of pixel art was masterfully done and it led to some beautiful visuals. There seems to be a trend in indie games to have great soundtracks, and Owlboy is no exception.  Calming and relaxing songs to match the aesthetic of Otus’ home of Vellie, and intense songs to match the high octane boss battles.  I was also very surprised by the quality of the story. Very few games manage to leave me wondering and interested even after the game has ended, but Owlboy did precisely that. Throughout the entire game there is an air of mystery, but not until the end of the game did I realize the scope of these small hints and mysteries. The game’s story is not that interesting in the beginning, but it is setting up and alluding to the wonder-inducing ending.

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The world of Owlboy is also very well crafted. It does not take long to travel from one point to another and every section of the world has a distinct feel to it.  I only wish that there was a map of the overworld to see how the world really comes together. I did not have a big problem with this because I have been navigating metroidvanias for years, but some players might be thrown off by the lack of a map. In a game that constantly revisits areas and branches out in many different directions I could see how it may be confusing to some people. There was also a couple of interesting side-quests to play and enjoy, the Boguin Cannon in particular was very fun. The characters in Owlboy were also interesting and were memorable. Even characters that I did not like at first grew on me. The game has a consistent motif of friendship that drives the story and adds to the lovableness of certain characters. The game also was plenty silly and funny, there were many moments that had me smiling. The silliness, backstory, and characters of Owlboy and its world is certainly interesting and worth the time.

Owlboy also has plenty of collectibles, in the form of coins. I genuinely enjoyed collecting the coins scattered across the world and reaping the rewards in the form of trinkets. Trinkets could be health increases, goofy hats, or upgrades for your partners. The upgrades were definitely powerful enough to warrant spending time collecting coins to unlock these power-ups. My only complaint is that some of the coins were hidden in really strange spots. Invisible passageways in walls meant that if you want to collect every coin you are going to need to run into every wall, ceiling, and floor in the game to see if there are any hidden hallways. Granted, most of the coins were pretty easy to find and you can get most of the rewards in the game just casually collecting the coins. There were also three Golden Disks which unlock a very interesting secret at the end of the game. I will not spoil anything, but it is 100% worth it to look out for those Golden Disks.

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Owlboy has so many elements that I love, and it was one of my favorite games that I have played this year. If you enjoy indie titles, hi-bit pixel art, metroidvanias, lovable characters, and mysterious stories I definitely recommend this game. I am going to give Owlboy a 9/10, it was excellent and I loved every moment of it. Do not hesitate to pick up this title as it is an absolute joy to play and experience.

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