Owlboy is a side-scroller shooter where players get to fly around as Otus with his friend Geddy to shoot monsters and solve puzzles around an average sized sprite world. Although it is described as a story driven platformer, Owlboy does not possess many of the stronger traits of the typical "platformer". Players instead have the freedom of flight and the game does not require as fast of reaction speed generally needed in platformers. The game mainly consists of shooting monsters, maneuvering around the map obstacles and enemies, and solving various puzzles.
When first playing this game, the impression is very good. The graphics are certainly amazing, with highest resolution sprites we've seen, the gameplay is nice and free where you can fly around to your hearts content with some shooting here and there, along with some simple puzzles. It is pretty care free and doesn't start off very difficult. And, while gameplay is not particularly amazing, that is countered by a good story. You love the main characters Geddy and Otus and all the others, all with emotion that is fairly deep and well composed. The game has a good plot for a sprite game with a few interesting twists that well fuel an exciting play. But, unfortunately first impressions are not always the same as the last. As we continued (about half-way through), flaws in gameplay experience began to show, then story and plot degraded and continually sled down to the point of us simply wanting to get it over with...
Typically, in a side-scroller like this, when you enter a different section of the world, the screen pans over to it when you pass to the edge of the screen. Owlboy does this a very similar way, but the transition is fast, smooth, and somewhat bouncy, making it seem much more fluent and open. Unfortunately, there is continual imperfection in the function of this feature. Many times the screen switches its positioning in strange spots that are apparently incorrect, and much of the time this transition can be disorienting. This problem is greatly amplified in a fast paced mini-game that you can play outside of the story. It is very reaction based as you fly at high speeds doing loops and curves to dodge the scenery and gather coins. The mini-game could have been a good test of a players reaction speed, but the camera does not show what is in the next section ahead of you, making it impossible to react properly in each situation. At certain times, the camera's bugs even smash you into the floor before the camera switches to your characters location.
Another thing is aiming. Owlboy is a twin-stick-shooter. Even being a twin-stick-shooter, they give the player an auto lock. This feature is never very necessary with twin-stick controls as you can generally be very accurate. Also, not being optional is extremely irritating as many times you can not choose the thing that you wish to shoot at, sometimes finding yourself shooting at carrots as opposed to deadly monsters.
The peak of the problems in gameplay comes upon the last character joining your party when you suddenly have a way of being completely invulnerable as long as you want. You may not be able to as effectively take enemies out with him, but it takes all the difficulty out of traveling the world, and most of the effort out of the events afterward. While the first half seems well perfected in most every way, after this the whole game goes down a gradual slope, continually getting worse and worse.
Among flaws in gameplay there is also a number of flaws in story aspects. There are quite a few moments in the game where story sequences play, but in these unique moments, you still control your character. I like to depict them much like a playable cut-scene. It is generally very fun to play through these events because it fills in the spots where you would normally just be watching, and makes you feel like you control more of every moment of the game and character. However, they do not use the typical physics that the rest of the game does, and the players no longer know the physics of the game. They failed to compensate for the players ignorance of the situation, often resulting in a game over that severely reduces the effect of the moment. Not only are these moments disruptive to the storyline, but the controls during these moments tend to be unfair and unpredictable.
Also corrupting story aspects was the story's in-ability to make a fluent transition of a characters mentality. The story involves many characters at a deep level of emotion in which you see a number of them deal with an intriguing conflict of feelings. However, when you get to experience the climax of their emotions, it seems sudden and unexplained. They lack the proper build-up of the characters feelings for you to truly feel for them, making these touching moments generally disappointing.
One of the things that made the game so enjoyable at first was the seemingly large amounts lore and history you feel is behind the game. But as things are revealed, we felt like there wasn't as much as we were led to think. Toward the end, when a lot of the story was explained, everything seemed as if it were cut short from the true depth of the story's potential. The final events were instead, very shallow, and very predictable, keeping us far from the excitement that we anticipated from the start.
On top of this, there is one looming error in plot. Upon the approaching ending, one character makes a very obviously stupid and senseless decision. While this may not seem important, the decision is unrealistic. This is also the decision that defines the last, and most important, parts of the story and game. There is suddenly no sense in the plot and you cannot take any of the final events seriously. This is followed by an ending with a moral that we found unclear as we were unable draw any conclusions from it.
Along with this, the game was concluded with very little to no interaction with the friends you meet in the game. After a victorious ending you see a simple scenic cut-scene that gives you no information on any of their afterward activities. Suddenly the world is kind of empty, you were only told that everyone was okay, but still don't get to experience it. Which, in a video-game, experience is the objective.
With the many unique implementations of gameplay, they were unable to properly execute them, giving an overall disappointment. What we found very appealing about this game from the outset was the beautiful pixel graphics that made up the world, likeable characters, and nice story, and the flight that you have to explore it. The farther you progress though, the more stress is placed on creating a challenging game experience, something that the imprecise nature of the physics does not accomplish well. In a failed effort to make a good challenge, it simply interrupts your enjoyment of the graphics and story. It seems as though they missed what it was about their game that really made it enjoyable.
So, the game is not very enjoyable to play, but the first while of the story is very good. However, at the same time, the story's end result was not satisfying. This, along with the amazing graphics, we decided to give Owlboy a 2 out of 5 star rating.