A Beautiful, Tightly Refined Platform Game
Originally released back in 2016 on Steam but eventually receiving a 2018 release this past April, Indie platformer Owlboy is a tightly refined, charming platformer that manages to tell a story rich in lore with a handful of colourful characters to control. With some genuinely tough segments and a smattering of time-based and logic puzzles, Owlboy is an impressive Indie title, tapping into the old-school nostalgia of a by-gone platforming era making it one of this year’s surprise best game on PS4.
The story is relatively straight forward but there’s enough here to keep you playing through to the end of this 9 hour adventure to find out what happens. You take control of Otus, a trainee owl who’s thrust into the midst of a battle between the owls and pirates. What follows from here is a globe-trotting adventure that sees you take to the skies and depths of this beautifully rendered world in search of relics to prevent the pirates from taking over the world. While this all sounds very formulaic (and it is), what really sets Owlboy apart is the way it fuses this into a pixelated platformer with well written, charismatic characters and a rich lore around the history of owls that’s left up for interpretation when the final credits roll.
Owlboy’s aesthetic is dripping in visual splendour from the opening hour to the final credits
The general gameplay revolves around you flying through each level, switching between various characters on the fly with L1 and R1. While the main playable character is still the silent Otus, the switched characters cling to his talons and can execute different moves that help you navigate the world. You begin with recruiting your best friend Getty who has a simple gun that fires bullets to detract enemies with R2 while you zoom around the levels. Otus can also perform a spin attack with square and a dash with O that also helps to break up the gameplay. As you progress through the various areas, you recruit a few other characters to your cause including a disgruntled pirate and another character which we won’t divulge here for spoiler purposes.
All of this would account for nothing if the levels weren’t fun and challenging to navigate and thankfully Owlboy nails this component too. From the starting area you’re guided into travelling in various directions to connected but aesthetically different areas that progress the story forward. While there’s certainly a linear narrative and progression system in place, with the difficulty becoming increasingly difficult the further into the game you get, the way Owlboy keeps all of its levels connected helps to make this feel like a large, connected world rather than a series of disjointed levels.
The boss fights are well designed, enjoyable and challenging
For all of its positive attributes, Owlboy does slip up with some of the level design, making it unnecessarily confusing to try and figure out where to go next. The game provides some clues during various segments; a few cut scenes cut the screen away to show specific areas on the map where new areas open up. Other times, Owlboy leaves you in the dark, both literally and figuratively, during some of the later segments that make it challenging to work out where you need to go next. One example sees you navigating a pirate ship late on and pulling a chain up to open a door to progress…only the game doesn’t tell you which door or whereabouts this is located leading to a lot of backtracking and guess work.
Still, Owlboy is a charming game and these frustrating segments are overshadowed by the wonderful pixelated graphics and imaginative level design. Each area feels challenging in its own right and there’s an inherent understanding from a player perspective just when to switch up the setting, gameplay and story to maximise enjoyment and prevent stagnation from setting in. Suddenly switching from the lush greens of a thorny forest to the snow-capped peaks is such a welcome change of aesthetic and pace and when you combine this with the various characters introduced at just the right times to switch up the gameplay, Owlboy remains as enjoyable during its final hours as it was during its first.
The game sees you explore the highest heights…
This won’t be a game for everyone and to be honest, Owlboy feels designed for those that grew up with the notoriously difficult platformers back on the old Amiga, PC and Nintendo days. Expect to die numerous times as you progress through the game and some of the areas are incredibly challenging, requiring a combination of luck, skill and quick reflexes to survive unscathed. Owlboy smartly introduces a few elements to combat these difficulty spikes, including collecting coins in exchange for power-ups, collectable fruit on trees that restore health and extra health which does make this slightly more manageable as you play through.
…to the lowest depths of the world in a bid to stop the pirates
Owlboy is simply a very well crafted Indie platformer, tapping into that 90s nostalgia that titles like Metroid and Sonic had in spades whilst weaving an enjoyable narrative and gorgeous aesthetic in the process. The term must-have is thrown around a lot in the gaming world but when it comes to Owlboy, anyone who’s a fan of platforming or Indie games, owe it to themselves to really pick this must-have platformer up. This charming game is simply one of the best released this year on console and deserves to be played.
Verdict - 9/10