Owl­boy

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Otus is not ex­actly your reg­u­lar videogame hero. He’s mute for a start, and as such un­able to give back the ver­bal past­ings he gets from his men­tor. And he gets a lot of those since, for an owl, he’s not too great at fly­ing. He’s pretty ter­ri­ble in a fight too, with a spin at­tack that sees him get hit more of­ten than not, and a dodge roll that’s in dire need of some in­vin­ci­bil­ity frames. So Otus is prob­a­bly not the first owl you’d go to in the event of, say, a band of pi­rates turn­ing up and try­ing to de­stroy all of owl­dom af­ter hunt­ing down a series of an­cient, all-pow­er­ful relics. And yet here we are, weav­ing in and out of a vol­ley of hom­ing mis­siles, try­ing to get be­hind a pi­rate craft so that it’s struck by its own ord­nance.

Luck­ily, there are other things Otus is pretty good at. Car­ry­ing stuff, for in­stance. He’s good at mak­ing friends, too, de­spite his in­abil­ity to speak. Be­fore long, he finds him­self com­bin­ing the two: mak­ing pals, then pick­ing them up. His first re­cruit is Geddy, a sweet if rather hap­less sol­dier who fires his blaster at en­e­mies from the com­fort of Otus’ talons in one of eight D-pad di­rec­tions. Later he’ll be joined by Alphonse, a de­serter pi­rate whose shot­gun blast is an es­sen­tial tool for deal­ing with large groups of en­e­mies, and Twig, who can fire off webs to freeze foes in place. All have their roles to play out­side of com­bat too, in a smartly gear­gated world – de­stroy­ing dif­fer­ent bar­ri­ers, per­haps, or us­ing a grap­ple hook to reach dis­tant plat­forms.

Owl­boy has been in de­vel­op­ment for the best part of a decade, some­thing most ev­i­dent in the way in which its world has been painstak­ingly pieced to­gether. While no­tion­ally a Metroid­va­nia, only rarely must you re­mem­ber some long-passed cor­ner of a level that a new power can take you through. In­stead you’re pro­pelled by smart level de­sign to­ward the next com­bat en­counter, puz­zle cham­ber or set-piece. A sur­pris­ing high­light are gen­tle stealth sec­tions, which place scenery on par­al­lax lay­ers, al­low­ing you to hide from pi­rates be­hind boxes.

Yet other ele­ments be­lie Owl­boy’s trou­bled, pro­tracted de­vel­op­ment. Otus’ move­ment is stiff and un­gainly, and at times you feel like you’re wrestling with the con­trols a lit­tle too of­ten, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to drop­ping one ob­ject and pick­ing up an­other, or switch­ing be­tween al­lies in the thick of bat­tle. Check­point­ing can be miserly, too. But you’ll per­sist, just as Otus does; if he’s not pre­pared to let his short­com­ings stop him from sav­ing his fel­low owls, then nei­ther are you. With a smart, wry script, a warmly up­lift­ing nar­ra­tive and a like­able cast, this is a game with its heart in the right place, even if some of its other parts feel a lit­tle out of whack.

These winged fel­lows are the first en­emy you’re in­tro­duced to. While they’re eas­ily dealt with early on, later they at­tack in large swarms and gain ar­mour that only Otus’ spin at­tack, or Alphonse’s shot­gun, can break

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