It’s been about one year since the release of one of my favorite games of all time. This game took about 9 years to make. It’s a love letter to retro platformers, and an amazing game I find has been sadly overlooked by many. If you’ve read the title of this article, I’m sure you’ll know that game is Owlboy.
Owlboy’s development started sometime in 2007/2008 (the exact time is unclear, even the website seems to disagree with itself), “when [Simon Andersen, (Art Director for the Owlboy team of D-Pad Studio)] was pondering how he could make a game that could showcase the advantages of 2D over 3D. After much deliberation over the design of the game, he produced a small demo of the game together with Adrian Bauer, Jonathan Geer and Blake Edwards.” (While I won’t go too much further into the development process, this article and this article have some fascinating insights and I recommend checking them out if you want to know more.)
Owlboy succeeds spectacularly in this respect, feeling like many retro games of old, but improving on many of their weaknesses. The art is so gorgeous that sometimes it doesn’t even seem like you’re looking at pixels.
Owlboy also has some rock-solid gameplay. It’s a platforming adventure game, but it has to handle platforming in a lot of different ways when you can fly. You explore the world with your best friend, Geddy, who carries a gun which allows you to fight enemies and break through obstacles. You’ll gradually unlock different characters with different guns with different uses.
However, the game is often even more fun when you don’t have these abilities and have to figure out how to play without them. What happens when you can’t use a gun to get past obstacles anymore? What happens if you can’t fly? What if you need to be stealthy or fast? These things made me have to re-evaluate the way I played to adapt to each situation.
Beyond its art style and its gameplay, Owlboy continues to amaze me. It has a strong story that works in harmony with the soundtrack to make you feel highs of wonder and adventure and lows of loss and devastation. It has amazing, yet difficult cinematic moments that feel truly epic as they unfold as you complete them. It has frantic and tactical boss fights that will have you thinking on your feet. It has a whole cast of endearing characters that feel real. It was the first time in a long time that a video game continued to surprise me and engage me so much. I could gush about it for hours.
If this game still isn’t calling to you, I recommend looking up the opening cutscene for Owlboy. That opening sequence does a good job introducing the setting and protagonist, and a lot about both.
Owlboy is available for purchase on PC, Mac, and Linux; and console versions seem to be under development - a demo for a Nintendo Switch version was recently demoed at a convention. There may yet be other surprises yet to come for loyal fans of Owlboy, because D-Pad Studio recently announced an event called D-Pad Bonanza. It will take place on the anniversary of Owlboy’s release, November 1st 2017 (today as of this writing).