Owlboy is a 2D adventure action platformer game that has been in development for 9 years with fantastic pixel art and undeniable feel of adventure. Is it enough, though?
It’s hard not to acknowledge just how good the game looks and sounds. We had mid-90s games which were just starting to show how beautiful 2D pixel art and animations could look right before everyone switched to 3D and apart from occasional games like Metal Slug series, nobody really tried to do something that would look not just good but truly fantastic, especially at high resolutions. But Owlboy has got it covered. It adds orchestral «adventure music» to enhance the looks, that probably could remind you of Zelda a bit, but the music isn’t derivative.
The story in the game is also surprisingly nice with just the ending parts feeling a bit rushed and unrefined, but most other things feeling nicely written and presented. Gameplay also doesn’t shy away from switching up the focus to other elements that would fit the story better, so you can actually sneak and puzzle your way through some locations, while others work as grand cinematic scenes.
If only it would’ve played as good…
But the overall gameplay is actually rather boring. I’m not one to dislike easy to play games, I often love them, in fact, as long as they are exciting, creative, fun. And Owlboy is usually none of that. It has nice basic ideas, but even they sometimes feel badly implemented. Like, you can dash without any issue and pause, which is just better than flying — so why is there no faster flying instead? Or the final «gunner» (your NPC partner that works as the kind of gun you use), who’s weapon just leaves you invulnerable and makes combat completely pointless in the latter parts of the game.
And all the issues can be seen in one optional mini-game — it just throws you in a path that you need to know to complete and don’t have enough time to react to the first time around. And then, when you fail time and time again, makes you do several unnecessary animations before you can start again. This is how most of the game is designed, with «difficulty» coming from stuff that you can’t react to that can kill you instantly or quickly. With frustration being a substitute of challenge. Hence, why most of the game is balanced so all those things are meaningful only in some parts of the game, but are forgivable in others.
I’m glad that I’ve played the game, mind you. It was a nice adventure, it looked good. I didn’t feel particularly excited while playing it, but it wasn’t bad. Just disappointingly unremarkable. When I started playing it, I felt like this could be an unofficial sequel to Aquaria, a game that I still love despite it’s flaws. When I finished the game I just felt like I’m never going to revisit it ever again.
P.S. A short video review: