Owlboy (3)

Genre: Platformer/Adventure
Year: 2016
Developed by: D-Pad Studio
Published by: D-Pad Studio
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, Switch
#414
Feeling Like: Better late than never

What’s it like, I wonder, to work on something for years and never finish? To toil for hours, asking yourself brutally honest questions about why you’re doing this, or if your hard work is ever going to come to fruition? Imagine spending years of your life dedicated to a product, only to have the higher ups decide to cancel it when the end is near? Thanks, but no thanks.

Hence why I was so relieved to hear Owlboy was finally, FINALLY, going to be released in 2016. After nearly a decade long development cycle, this indie platformer saw the light of day and was met with high praise from critics and a reverence from fans. It’s a game that’s full of charm and earned a spot on many people’s lists, 500 or not.

Flying around as Otus feels blissful; there are very few instances where free flight isn’t an option and the tight controls make exploring every vertical reach a cinch. It’s rare that I am planted into a world that I immediately want to know more about; Owlboy succeeds right out of the gate. The animation is stunning and although the retro pixel craze may have begun to wear thin for some, it still looks magnificent to me.

Owlboy (4)
Pictures don’t do this game justice.

So magnificent, in fact, that I actually think this is a prime candidate for a spin off series. I don’t mean for this to sound insulting, but the world of Owlboy would be better served as a different medium. A graphic novel or animated TV series would allow for a huge amount of creative freedom and capitalize on the obvious interest shown by players. I was constantly reminded of the “Flight” series of comics, a collaboration headed by Kazu Kibuishi. Surely, Owlboy would fit right.

Owlboy (2)
Stunning visual design. A graveyard has never looked better.

Hell, you already have a cast of endearing characters to build around. Otus has the potential to be a franchise worthy protagonist. Geddy, the town defense mechanic, has a heart of gold but suffers from choices and failures outside his control. Alphonse, the giant friendly pirate, prefers cooking and acting to plundering. Twig, the prankster, has potential to serve as the main antagonist at times, an unexpected helping hand during others.

The way characters breathe in and out, the way that emotionally powerful punches don’t hold back, the way I empathized with Otus and his friends is rare in a 2D platformer. All of this came so close to not happening.

The actual gameplay itself doesn’t match the artistic design, but it’s serviceable. I never found myself frustrated, but I never had the sense of satisfaction in victory like I did in other Metroid-vania style games.

Owlboy (1)
The amount of emotion on these sprites is incredible.

There’s a little too much text, for one. The wide variety of relationships and effort given to develop them is appreciated, but I wish they’d done more showing, less telling. I also found some of the stealthy dungeon design sections tedious. Some might say that Owlboy bites off more than it can chew; the dash move is overused and it can’t tell if it wants to be a grand epic, or a short story. But those aren’t dealbreakers; there’s so much love here. A little bit of Zelda here, a little bit of Mario here, some awe-inspiring sunset color changes, some of the most encouraging opening music I’ve ever heard, some insanely intricate detail in the way the laves blow, or how dust settles. It’s the result of nearly a decade of a labor of love.

It wasn’t easy. Is passion ever? Henrik and Simon Andersen, along with a few others, suffered through numerous failures to bring us Owlboy. I felt a bit guilty knowing that I’d enjoy this a lot more as something other than a video game, but I doubt it measures up to the sweat and tears D-Pad Studio shed while making this. Bravo. Now, let’s see that spin-off!

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