Normally I would open up with a generic statement about platformers and how to make them stand out. But holy great gaming goodness in the sky, batman: a concrete flying mechanic without an exhaustion meter or being limited to a mount? I’m hooked. Granted, during the tutorial I completely fail my poor protagonist by not doing the simple act of flying correctly, but regardless, I learn and almost never touch the ground after that. The world of Owlboy takes advantage of that mechanic and gave the player an entire world of aerial adventures.
Just because one can perpetually fly doesn’t make it easy. With strange troll-like enemies that chuck projectile rocks and beehives at you, and the ever-present challenge of toting around your adventuring companions, there is an entirely new level of complexity added onto the standard platformer.
As much as I would love to spend this review raving about how much fun it is to fly, Owlboy deserves more credit where it is due, one such place being the soundtrack. Backed by a live orchestra, the music of this game is no doubt the first thing that really got my attention. There was clearly a lot of love and effort put in to conveying the powerful emotions evoked by flight, by the villains, by the stratosphere itself, and much more. I certainly hope the soundtrack has its own independent release because I would buy it in a heartbeat.
Another very strong element right off the bat is the protagonist, Otus. He’s a young, mute, and very clumsy owlboy who is under the ridicule of a harsh tutor. It also seems apparent that Otus has a lot of anxiety about how people feel about him because of how different he is, despite him being a part of a once great ancient race. The thing that got me about Otus was not his owl-ness, but rather his boy-ness. This game does a really good job of reminding you that Otus is just a kid, and to have this giant adventurous and dangerous responsibility thrust upon him is a lot to deal with. It’s what make the secondary companions so important. In their own way, and without spoiling the events of the game, all three are outcasts and misfits, just like Otus. They all mesh together with their differences, which provide an array of projectile and utility skills Otus can take advantage of while carrying them through the sky.
Considering Otus’s two primary skills were picking things up and aggressive barrel rolling, the puzzles and levels that incorporate these two simple mechanics were pretty varied. This could mean that it is set on a timer or contained a swarm of enemies to defeat, there was always at least a low hum of challenge throughout the game.
Combat took some getting used to. Carrying around Otus’ companions, one of which was literally riding shotgun, made Otus a larger target for melee and projectiles. Getting hit in the air more often than not resulted in a dramatic animation of Otus getting knocked out of the air and smacked against the nearest structure before he slowly slides down and lies incapacitated for a good second. While that was frustrating when all I wanted to do was to get up and keep fighting, it added another level of challenge to an otherwise simple set of mechanics.
The overarching story was more than I imagined, though the ending may have been a bit too open-ended for my taste. Unless, of course, the producers are leaving it open for a sequel, then, in that case, spended! Though considering this was a game nine years in the making (and boy does it show!), I don’t know how long the fans would have to wait for another one.
I was a little sad to see only a few female characters, all of which play very small roles. What we get to see of them is great, which is another pro about the game and its attention to detail. However, the entire main cast consisted of male characters, including the companions and the villains. I would have loved to see one or more of the girls introduced as companions; one of them, Anna, is for a short time, and I loved it! She would make an excellent additional content or expansion.