Owlboy, announced in 2007, was finally released for PC on November 1st. D-Pad Studio went through obvious ups and downs throughout the nine year development, but, impressively, the final product is well-worth the wait. Owlboy is available for $24.99 on PC via Steam, Humble Store, and GOG. And it is almost assuredly the best indie to come out this year (The Witness being the other centerpiece of the 2016 indie scene). Here’s five reasons why Owlboy soars to the skies of must-play games.
There have been plenty of good retro style sidescrollers since the indie game surge started around the time Braid was released in 2008. Most of them have focused on solid, addictive gameplay to propel them to goodness, and occasionally greatness–few have concerned themselves much with narrative in any meaningful way. After all, a game doesn’t have to have a good story to be a success, and in the Metroidvania subset of games, too much story can negatively interrupt the pace of play. Dialogue in these games is often cliched, good versus evil tropes that borders on irrelevancy.
Not here, though. Owlboy somehow manages to never skip a beat. You play as Otus, a mute owl. When the town is attacked by air pirates, you set out on adventure with a cast of indelible friends. In a nod to revered Nintendo franchises, all of the dialogue is spoken to and around Otus. The writing is surprising in the most wonderful way. Often, it is achingly funny and sad all in the matter of a single conversation. While it doesn’t necessarily have the most original story, the writing makes this save-the-town tale novel.
The script is arguably the best piece of writing in a game this year. It’s worth playing for the brilliant conversations alone.
Smart, Intuitive Combat
The combat of Owlboy is integrated seamlessly into the narrative. Because Otus is a smaller owl, the lone mute in town, the underdog, his journey wouldn’t work without the help of others. Instead of turning Otus into a powerful force as the game progresses, his allies perform the attacks, while Otus serves more as a conduit for the player. Each friend joins up with Otus (think: a buddy system), and has their own unique ability. Otus’s job is to fly, solve puzzles, and survey the landscape. Very few games think of the identity of the protagonist when considering how to approach combat effectively. Owlboy captures the spirit of Otus.
Owlboy takes another cue from Nintendo with their dungeon system. Throughout the adventure Otus and team enter a series of unique, and lavish dungeons. Filled with expertly designed puzzles, a consistent array of foes both big and small, and a bevy of secrets, Owlboy‘s levels call back to the days of the NES and SNES. Modernized flourishes make the design feel timeless. Progression is made both vertically and horizontally. Traveling from one screen window to the next, the world resembles a winding staircase with a plethora of corridors to pry your interest. On a design level, Owlboy matches up with the best of not just indie games, but AAA blockbusters. With 20+ hours of content, this feat is endlessly impressive.
Owlboy is simply gorgeous. The “hi-bit” graphics blend the 16-bit era with modernized pixel art to perfection. The animated pixels are so precisely detailed that little changes in hue are distinct, no matter how small the deviation. The visuals add to the overall charm, as the world comes to life in a way that can only happen in video games. Screenshot, frame it, and hang it on the wall, every look at Owlboy is breathtaking.
The Mesmerizing Soundtrack
Rounding out this immensely satisfying experience is a soundtrack that is sure to be hummed by all who spend time in this world. Jonathan Greer’s 68 track score sets the ambiance, and the pace for the whole adventure. Combining digitized sounds with orchestrated beauty, it is a true standout. Many aspects of Owlboy are among the best in recent memory, but the soundtrack is really something to admire. The sounds of Owlboy are as memorable as those of iconic franchises such as The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy. You can buy the full soundtrack here.