Review: Owlboy (Switch) - Japan-based Nintendo Podcasts, Videos & Reviews!


Sunday, September 9, 2018

Review: Owlboy (Switch)

by James Charlton

Guaranteed to turn heads

Before playing Owlboy I’d heard it’d been in development for nine years, which could mean either really good or really bad things in game development. After booting up the game and seeing it in action though, it immediately became apparent why - this game is one of the most visually stunning 2D games I’ve ever seen.

The visuals have a certain retro appeal, harking back to the 16 bit era whilst far exceeding anything from that time. It’s a stylistic choice, and it works. It mainly boils down to the effort put into the animation. Everything is hand-animated to the Nth degree. Aside from the great looking main characters, grass, leaves, flames and other small details all move beautifully and help create a dynamic living breathing world. This is all complemented by a wonderfully composed soundtrack with some truly movie quality tracks ranging from epic to moving.

OK, I just realised I haven’t mentioned anything about the game itself. Owlboy is a 2D action adventure game, but viewed from the side-view like a platformer despite there not really being many platform challenges in the game. It is more similar to a Zelda game in that there is an over-world which branches out to several dungeons filled with bosses and puzzles. Puzzles tend to be of the level-pulling or switch-pushing variety and don’t pose too much challenge until much later in the game.

The main challenge in the game comes from navigating the maze-like levels and keeping your main character alive using support characters that he grasps in his talons. Yes, the game’s titular hero is quite literal, he’s a owl boy called Otus and can fly indefinitely pretty much any time he wants. The movement style is unique. Otus can dash and spin both on the ground and in the air which helps dodge enemies and solve puzzles. There are some niggles with the controls though. Oftentimes I found the transition from ground to air to be not as reliable or smooth as I’d want.

The same can be said for the attack moves, all done via the aforementioned support characters. There is a basic weak plasma shot, a stronger fire attack, and more secret ones unlocked much later (perhaps too late) in the game. The problem is that the player is tasked with thinking about too many things at once (flight, movement, dodging attacks, shooting direction, character swapping) which all lead to some inelegant fumbling through some of the more hectic parts of the game. Most of the game is quite chilled, so it’s not a huge issue.

However, there was one particular part of the game that resulted in an extraordinary amount of deaths for me (compared to relatively few for most of the game) that involved navigating a pitch-black tunnel lined with spikes and enemies. It felt like the difficulty was more due to fighting the controls than anything else. On that same segment another gripe became apparent. It was, in fact, the amazing animation that backfired on itself. The hit animation is amazing, as in amazingly detailed and extravagant, but it’s also amazingly long and uninterruptible. It’s quite frustrating to watch your character being bounced back and forth between spiky walls like he’s auditioning for a kung-fu movie.

So I don’t end on too much of a downer, the fantastic story also needs much championing. Let’s just say it has the depth of a much longer RPG, involving some really deep and touching moments. Death, revenge, family and friendship are all touched upon, plus some great twists that I didn’t see coming.

The quibbles I have with the controls and far outweighed by the incredible presentation, soundtrack and story. If any of those things are important to you, you owe it to yourself to pick it up.

Final Score: 8.5

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