Owlboy is a weird mix of side-scrolling metroidvania shooter with an open world story-driven game. It features an absolutely gorgeous 16-bit pixel art with beautifully drawn backgrounds and expertly crafted levels. The game centers on an Owlboy named Otus who starts his training to become a guardian of his village which is located in the land of the Sky. Before Otus is able to complete his training, his village is attacked by a band of pirates which sets him on course for a journey to save them.
The game begins with the training of Otus by his master who teaches him how to do some of the more basic tasks. This part also acts as a basic tutorial letting you learn how to maneuver around and utilize your skills. As a hybrid of Human and Owl, Otus is able to fly to impossible to reach locations while he can also use his wings to carry around objects. Flying is not his only skill as he is able to spin around to attack enemies, or perform a roll to dodge against the enemy attacks. This works both during traversal on land or in the sky.
The story begins when one day the land in the Sky where Otus is training to be a guard is attacked by a band of pirates. They steal an artifact that threatens their extinction which sets the course for Otus and his friend to go to the Owl Temple in order to help save the village. This is where the game slowly builds up its world, letting you introduce each new character and then providing incentive to the player to explore new locations. You begin the game in a village but will slowly start to unlock more open areas, some of which will be locked at this point behind an ability that might not be available to the player. This is the essence of a traditional metroidvania game and Owlboy not only offers a good pace for its story, it also has some great use of the abilities to present puzzles.
The platforming in Owlboy uses a mixture of the flying skills of Otus and his ability to carry objects or a person. This is utilized to solve puzzles during exploring a level or dungeon, which is all seamlessly connected to an open world with a central hub being the town. The main combat is actually a rather great concept with the sidekicks that can join Otus in his quest. Each of them offers their own unique advantage in combat. At the start of the game, Otus stumbles onto a ruin giving him the power to teleport his sidekick to any place which is then cleverly utilized for boss fights and solving puzzles.
Otus himself is able to damage enemies with his spinning attack that appears similar to the Tanooki suit that Mario wears in Super Mario 3. This attack can be hardly used to damage enemies since most of them will be immune to it, however it can work out well for making them vulnerable for further damage. As an example, you can use the spin attack on a shell wearing monster to knock it out of shell and then proceed to kill it using your sidekick. You can simply summon them with a press of a single button and use the analog triggers to aim and shoot at them.
Just like a traditional platformer, Owlboy offers collectibles in the form of coins that you can use to buy new upgrades or items. These coins are gained through a variety of different methods e.g. opening a treasure chest, flying through rings that are littered across a level and killing certain monsters. Aside from the traditional coins which is the main form of currency for Owlboy, you can also discover other secret collectibles if you pay a close attention to each level. They are a surprise for the most part so it is best to find most of them yourself. I really found the exploration aspect of Owlboy so great in this regard, because the game does reward you with exploring a location so it never feels like you are simply wasting time performing a checklist of collectibles.
I have played many 16-bit animated games from indie developers but there is just a certain charm for Owlboy that makes it stand out from other games. The art style definitely helps here but the way the characters are animated and backgrounds are drawn is what sets it apart from other similar games. It is a platformer at its core but the game offers a lot more than simple platforming and puzzle solving moments. There are boss fights that are challenging and fun to complete, however not too hard to make you frustrate either. The progression system is satisfying with the way abilities are unlocked.
Overall, it is an excellent package for the Nintendo Switch hardware. While it is possible to enjoy the game on a big screen, I will say that the true beauty of Owlboy is seen in portable mode where the pixel art really pops up and looks absolutely gorgeous. The only issue that I had in this mode was the trigger buttons were a little hard to press with the way the shooting works in this game, but otherwise it was my preferred mode to play the game.
Owlboy Review (Switch)
Game Reviewed on: Switch
Game description: A love letter to pixel art for a new audience, Owlboy is an open-world exploration game with a unique mix of flight and platforming. Carry anything. Recruit Otus's friends as gunners to fight for you, each with unique abilities and stories. Large dungeons with big and challenging boss battles.
Owlboy is brilliantly paced from the start to the end with a well-developed cast of characters. It is one of the most impressive metroidvania game from an indie developer this generation.