I put Owlboy in the same category as I did Stardew Valley which is the Hi-bit adventure category that makes the game look incredibly modern but with the aesthetics of classic SNES games. The design is top notch and I get the feeling that if they went with a different art style then the game would lose most of its charm especially when it comes to the main character’s facial expressions.
Owlboy follows the adventures of Otus, a mute who struggles to live up the high expectations of “owlhood” that his mentor has put on him. As things go from bad to worse and with the sudden appearance of sky pirates you go through various dungeons and fight some ridiculous bosses to uncover the pirate’s plans and put a stop to them.
The game plays like a side-scrolling platformer but the fact that your character can fly and only do a spin attack means that you have to carry your mates while they do most of the fighting. You literally have to grab your friend and as you fly around he’s the one shooting down the enemies with his gun.
There are some wonderful harrowingly sorrowful moments in the game that tell a wonderful story albeit a bittersweet one and the change your adventures cause in some of the characters is great storytelling. It reminds me so much of Cave Story not just because of the art in the game or the fact that it’s a platformer that focuses a lot more on the setting and characters but the development cycle of Owlboy reminds me of Cave Story.
Cave Story was originally made by one person, Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya, over the course of five long years. It was originally released as a freeware game for the PC before making the rounds on Steam and the Nintendo 3DS as Cave Story+ and Cave Story 3D respectively. I don’t think I’m able to pin down what it is exactly about Owlboy that reminds me of Cave Story but the overall atmosphere and charm of the game draw many similarities between the two. They are both side-scrolling platformers with a wonderful story, soundtrack and characters and the tone of each game make me believe that the same people made the two games even though that would be a lie.
The fact that this game is a side-scrolling platformer actually works against it because in a world that’s saturated with them the core mechanic of Owlboy doesn’t really do anything new. The only real twist in how you complete each area is that you, as Otus, don’t actually pick up a gun because it’s people like Alphonse and Geddy that do all the shooting. You’re just the owl that carries them while they do it. The game adds puzzles here and there for you to complete and as a result of acquiring an item early on in the game, you’re able to teleport your friends right to you no matter where they are in the world.
This allows you to drop them on pressure pads to open doors and then teleporting them to you once you’ve passed through. The puzzles are fairly simple to figure and even the really tough ones to solve just involve you having the right character with you because each person you carry has their own unique weapon or ability and “equipping” the correct one allows you to complete these puzzles with little to no effort.
What drew me into the game though was not because I can use different characters to kill and defeat pirates, it was the story and the way they presented your mentor, the townspeople, the enemies and the mysteries surrounding the owls. This is a game that, if you can tolerate platformers, will give you hours of fun, enjoyment and moments that are just downright miserable.
It’s a great game for illustrating that just because you’re the main character in the game doesn’t mean that you can automatically make things better, in fact during most of my playthrough I did more harm than good. It plays with the notion that maybe you can’t save everyone and the fact that you believe you can is more dangerous than the offensive of the Sky Pirates. As you progress through the story more and more you get the idea that, should the game continue with the tones that it’s set, you are definitely not going to be able to save everyone. I am a good bit into it and I always have this nagging suspicion that any time I set off to help people I’m going to be the reason that the wretched heartbreak continues for everyone. Either that or I’ll compound the problem when all that was needed was for us to listen to Asio, Otus’ mentor and our continued disobedience only further cements his belief that we’re totally useless.
As I mentioned earlier it’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly what it is that Owlboy has in common with Cave Story and by that token, it’s also hard to pinpoint the reason why I enjoy the game immensely. I like the idea of an inept main character whose heart is so very much in the right place but who is clearly not cut out to be a hero that the rest of the people need. This might be why it is that as Otus you have to use your friends to do the fighting and all this combined with the fact that you can’t speak means that no one ever knows how you truly feel in any given situation. It’s brilliant really and a completely and utterly marvellous game that you have to play at one point. I very much recommend it.