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Owlboy (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Albert Lichi 21.02.2018 1

Review for Owlboy on Nintendo Switch

To make great art, sometimes the artist must suffer and toil away at his or her craft for a long time. In the case of Owlboy it took about ten years for the designers to achieve the level of beauty as would be expected for a game spent in such a long development cycle. The developers should be proud of what they have created for it is probably has the most artistically accomplished pixel art and animation ever seen in a videogame. Of course, every gamer knows that visuals are not everything and that no matter what, the flashiest and most impressive art cannot compensate for lacking gameplay. Does Owlboy fly too close to the sun? Cubed3 finds out in this Switch version review!

From the very moment Owlboy starts up, it is evident why the team took almost 10 years to make it. The sprite art is stunning. Actually, "stunning" is underselling the craftsmanship - this is master class tier genius proficiency of pixel art media. Owlboy's visuals have the level of detail that go beyond what SNK put into its arcade games in the '90s. With this high level of ambition in the assets, it would be easy to assume that the game would be pretty small, too, because of the vast art pipe-line required to generate the graphics. That is not the case here because the world of Owlboy is every bit as massive as the adventure games it is inspired by. Classic 2D Zelda or Metroid titles come to mind when trying to compare the size and scope of the adventure seen here. Expect to explore various picturesque dungeons that are beautifully illustrated, full of unique set-pieces and gimmicks to make them memorable. It is no wonder why the designers took 10 years to make this. All that hard work and time that the artists agonised over truly makes Owlboy one of, if not the most, impressive looking two-dimensional pixel art action adventure.

Screenshot for Owlboy on Nintendo Switch

There are so much unique art and the assets that do get repeated or recycled are done in a very tasteful or natural way that only the trained eye would notice. The art department at D-Pad Studios really know how to bring a scene together using colour and composition to elicit the right mood and atmosphere. For a story revolving around a mute protagonist, the team figured out how the most efficient palettes work in conjunction with character animation and body language. There is not any reliance on large portraits or bust-ups to emphasise character expressions; everything is done in simple wide shots and it all works thanks to the animators giving every character a full range of motion that fits their personality. If any fault had to nit-picked at about the art, it is that some character designs can borderline on bizarre or "unconventional" and be difficult to comprehend. The sort of human-owl hybrids are a simple enough design that most people will be able to grasp, but some of the designs for the sky pirates enter what can be best described as "abstract." Sadly, some of the animal motifs don't translate 100%, but this is a minor distraction to what is otherwise an immaculate and magnificent tapestry of sprite art mastery.

Screenshot for Owlboy on Nintendo Switch

Owlboy manages to have eye-popping graphics and in some situations this may be a red flag. In many cases, amazing art can be overcompensation for tepid gameplay. Does Owlboy fall into the same trap? Thankfully, it does not... just barely. At its very worst, Owlboy is repetitive. It never rises above being a fairly average game and even though the visuals are some of the best ever illustrated by an indie studio, the gameplay is fairly thin. Much like a Zelda game, the hero meets a few friends, goes to dungeons and fights bosses. There is not much room left here for the parts that enriched the worlds from Zelda adventures; specifically things like side-quests, interesting flavour text, or character building. Otus, on his own, cannot do much other than some basic actions: carry, throw, fly, and spin-attack. The real progression he makes comes down to partners he will carry during the course of the adventure who function like character upgrades. Each partner functions similar in that they turn Otus into a twin-stick killing machine, but also their ammo/weapon type is like a progression key. That in itself makes Owlboy play much more mechanically than its sumptuous art would suggest and it is also where the cogs in the machine make themselves all the more apparent.

Owlboy follows a very simple structure of story beat and dungeon - rinse and repeat. The only other things to do are to find the hidden coins throughout the world and trade them in for some bonuses. The game is much more linear than its open locations would suggest and the latter portions of the story won't allow for any breathing room or backtracking. There are also no options for button remapping, which is frustrating since the current control layout may lead to players trying to eat a bomb instead of throwing it or jumping when they meant to spin-attack. The level design is competent and is as good as it could be considering Otus can more or less fly anywhere.

Screenshot for Owlboy on Nintendo Switch

Flight in 2D is restrictive and can limit exploration. The designers seem to know this since they cheekily had many areas where Otus cannot fly and tried for more standard 2D platforming. There really was no way around this without having to limit flight, which in turn would have hurt the flow of the game's action. Perhaps if Otus acquired full flight later on it would have made more sense, especially for the story. As well written as the story is for Owlboy, it is sloppy with its world-building. A major example is how Otus' instructor early on berates him for being an apparently terribly flyer, yet in the next sequence he is controllable and has full flight capabilities. Even his house is on a tiny floating rock and he sleeps in an extremely high bed... none of this makes any sense in the context of the story early on because when the player is controlling Otus, it is his first time flying. This raises all kinds of logical questions and holes in the design of the world and setting become apparent. There are several instances of this peppered throughout and require a bit of tuning out to enjoy the story.

Screenshot for Owlboy on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Owlboy is impressive if anything for its amazing visuals and animation. The gameplay gets by thanks to it being competent enough, but won't really inspire anyone. This is a pretty straightforward 2D action-adventure game that does a bit more heart than the average. Do not expect much replay value since it seems the developers poured their heart and soul into the main story and could not spare much more to have side content or any diversions to mix up the action. Also, do not go in expecting a metroidvania, because it is not.

Developer

D-Pad Studio

Publisher

D-Pad Studio

Genre

2D Platformer

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

This has definitely caught my eye. Great review it will be one i have to check out in the future that's for sure! 

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