"Playing a 20th century title in the 21st century."
Developer: D-Pad Studio
Publisher: D-Pad Studio
Release Date: 2011
Genre: Action, Adventure
Owlboy is brought to us by D-Pad Studio, filled with people who obviously have a feel for the bit-era of gaming. Amongst the team is Jo-Remi Madsen, whom we’ve met from Roflgames before, with their remake of Fable. This time, the project is to create a new old adventure game. Contradictory, yes; but it sure enough has its charm.
The studio has a large appreciation for the Super Nintendo and its generation of games, as the presentation is a blast from the past. The pastel pixel art and lush sprites create both a vintage feel and colorful universe in the elevated world of Owlboy. Characters and monsters are moved with minimal, yet fluent animations and the whole is completed with various background details, such as floating Tetris blocks. By sliding foreground and background panels, additional movement is created, which works best in outdoors environments. Dungeons are more centered on focus points, such as waterfalls and plants, in order to acquire visual splendor. Additionally, the classic music usage further advances the feel of playing a 20th century title in the 21st century.
But naturally, the classic feel is most prominent when playing. As could be expected, Owlboy is a owl-human hybrid and therefore he can flap his wings and fly. Together with a trusted companion armed with a gun, the two set out to halt the pirate attacks that have plagued their lands. The owl, named Otus, can pick up his gunner, named Geddy, after which the two can soar through landscapes and overcome platforms. The gunner is mostly effective to shoot down roaming enemies, but can also be hurled, as with anything Otus clutches. Additionally, there are periodical rings that can be maneuvered through to gain special coins redeemable at the shop. That’s one way to ease the pain of what is possibly the worst game implementation since forever. Air rings are never good.
Owlboy does a good job to capture all things that were great in traditional adventure exploration games. There are obstacles to overcome, platforms to leap, multiple paths, shops to upgrade and advance and so forth. In all, this game brings out all the marvel of what Zelda: A Link To The Past and many of its kind used to do. But it does separate itself a little to have its own face in the genre. For one, the flying ability combined with the grabbing of a companion and manipulation of objects is more reminding of the symbiosis of Tails and Sonic, rather than an adventure game. In addition, the shooting adds a fighting mechanic that is more modern, even if the aiming system isn’t up to point. The trigger automatically shifts back into locked position, so trying to pick off a unit while airborn can be rather troublesome.
But most of all, Owlboy uses the ancient technique of element manipulation to create its puzzles, but with a twist that’s fitting for the game. As Otus can pretty much fly over any obstacle, it’s imperative to stop this ease from time to actually have some challenge left in the game. By using the powers of nature, such as water, earth, wind and fire, Owlboy will sometimes be prevented from flying. This is cleverly introduced in the first dungeon when a waterfall cascades water onto Otus’ wings, having the weight of the water preventing him to take off. Most puzzles use the element mechanic, such as using air to transport objects or having rain fill a hole with a switch. But the impediment of Otus’ advantage is the best implementation of the game, as it makes sure the game doesn’t become a breeze one can simply float over. Kirby might take a hint. Having to think over how to lob an object or jump over obstacles, instead of flying everywhere is what creates this game.
While Owlboy might be a blast from the past, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s outdated, as a great adventure is timeless. The enchanting look from yore, combined with a few new clever twists is enough to make sure fans new and old have something to look forward to. Add to that a few trusted companions and exhilarating boss battles and you’re all set for a grand epic.