Revisiting Owlboy (an indie game masterpiece)

Owlboy the indie game

The other week we had one of those caustic, vacuous online comments that made us roll our eyeballs and delete the thing after a quick scan.

What we did see in the comment was Owlboy, near the top of our Best Modern 2D platformers list, described as “poorly designed”.

Having not played the game in a few years, we decided to revisit it. Mainly as our old Owlboy review is a bit basic and we’ve since advanced our content skills a tad. And guess what? We also found Owlboy to be magnificent.

Owlboy and the Nature of Flight and Violins

Norwegian indie team D-Pad Studio launched Owlboy in 2016 after a 10 year production cycle. It began work on the game in 2007!

Super Mario Bros. 3’s Tanooki Suit inspired the core gameplay mechanic—flight. You take control of Otus, from the village of Vellie, a mute owl who’s constantly berated by Asio his pompous mentor.

Otus struggles with depression and esteem issues as he’s viewed as clumsy and inept, but his bestie Geddy is always on hand to give him a confidence boost.

However, one day pirates attack Vellie and the village is thrown into disarray. It’s up to Otus, Geddy, and poetic geezer Alphonse to save the day. Which, typically, means using Otus’ flying abilities to traverse his world and overcome obstacles.

Indeed. Wrapped around the emotive plot is an incredible look to the game (it reminds us of Studio Ghibli’s Howl’s Moving Castle). It truly is magnificent, we mean look at this thing in action.

The story is rich and Owlboy just draws you into its world. We think it’s ultra-charming and really sweeps you along with everything, not least with its occasional bursts of absurdist (and very well judged) humour.

Some moments are genuinely very amusing.

We kept finding a goldfish character in some of the dungeon areas—with a mini-bowler hat on its head, if you speak to the goldfish it’ll doff the hat and say, “Good afternoon, sir!” It’s a minor little detail but an example of the delights throughout the Owlboy experience.

It’s a challenging game, too, with some frantic boss fights. Although the flow of the “levels” (Owlboy plays more like an open-world 2D platformer) is intuitive and, we must say, quite superbly well done.

D-Pad Studio clearly got their platformer inspirations from the very best retro examples and it shows big time here.

Owlboy met with positive reviews back in 2016, although it was divisive on its level of excellence. Destructoid handed it 10/10, for instance, whereas PC Gamer gave it 82%. But the general consensus was a definite leaning towards full marks from most publications.

We agree on that. We think this is a total masterpiece.

There are elements of Metroidvania to the game. But we generally found it to be more of a homage to ’90s era SNES platformers. A true 2D platformer in all its free-flowing grit and a wonderful demonstration of why we still dearly love this genre of gaming.

Owlboy is a modern classic and we were just bowled over by it.

It’s lovingly crafted and developed with such a sense of empathy with its story, and wrapped around that an addictive game with challenge to boot, and this passion project is an inspired indie game classic.

Owlboy’s Soaring Soundtrack

Yeah, one of the big appeals of Owlboy (as with so many indie games these days) is its fantastic soundtrack by musician Johnathan Geer.

One of the great things about modern technology, and this indie game scene, is it’s allowed composers to get their work heard. As this stuff is masterful and it fits Owlboy’s poignant sense of youthful energy very well.

The violin plays a central part to the soundtrack, which the platformer Hoa (2021) took a similar route with. It’s clearly all inspired by Studio Ghibli, but the sounds enrich Owlboy’s world and make it feel alive.

Tropos (Day) gives you a sense of purpose whilst you’re playing. You feel the need to get Otus towards his path of redemption, which is a fine achievement!

And there are more peaceful, subdued moments as well. Such as the night scenes in the Tropos region of the game.

Swoon worthy! The game is, essentially, about some misfits finding their place in their world. And we think Geer captures that sense of coming-of-age, and the decency of some beings, with a reflective sense of might.

Dispense with some gibberish!

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