A still from the game Owlboy.

ReviewGame review: Owlboy – game a decade in making is fun throwback to 8-bit gaming

Inspired by ’80s Nintendo 2D platformers, Owlboy first began development in 2007 and only hit digital store shelves this month


D-Pad Studio

4.5 stars

Ten years is a long time to wait. A lot has happened in the past decade. Wars, recessions, market crashes, upheavals, innovative technologies – plenty of life-changing events have taken place in your life since Owlboy first made its presence known in the gaming landscape, even if you’ve never heard of the release.

For gamers, one of the most interesting events is the recent interest in retro-games – mostly made by indie developers tapping into nostalgia and releasing mini-love letters to their favourite games of yesteryear. It seems only fitting, since Owlboy harks back to classic Super Nintendo and Genesis days, when the push forward in hardware led to entire new worlds beyond the scope of run-jump-gun formats. Okay, enough back story – how is it?

Pretty great actually. It’s a 2D platformer involving combat and exploration that retains all those old-fashioned adventure gameplay positives, while never descending into repetitive mechanics. You take on the eponymous hero, named Otus, who flies through the gorgeously realised animated open world, while the inspired chip-tune soundtrack uses minimalism to great effect. That’s really all you do – fly – and either through throwing objects or joining up with buddies such as the pistol-wielding Geddy, you take down any and all enemies and obstacles.
A still from Owlboy.

It’s small on the surface, but the beauty of Owlboy lies in the way it perfects the platformer, taking heavy inspiration from such classics as Zelda and Metroid, for a distilled blend that constantly goes down a treat.

Combat is creative and challenging, a heady mix of unique methods to face-off against unknown forces, rather than the standard grab-this, kill-that format. Characters are rich and diverse, each interaction revealing layered depths that are forever expanding on this fascinating otherworld – especially considering the limitations of its retro-styled visual approach.

And then there’s the story, a simple tale well told – an initially fantasy-filled landscape that starts out as battered and only a little bit broken, but slowly reveals itself as having plenty of potential for epic greatness.

It’s easy to say Owlboy was worth the wait, especially since most of us had long forgotten it. But like a hazy memory that all of sudden makes itself clear, the game stands out as arguably the finest indie release this year.