Fight­ing against owl odds

XBox: The Official Magazine (US) - - CONTENTS - Vikki Blake

We’ve all felt a lit­tle like our epony­mous hero, Otus. We’ve had those times when some­one’s talked down to us and be­lit­tled our ideas, called us names, and snig­gered be­hind our backs. We’ve all felt small and hu­mil­i­ated, acutely aware of our mis­takes and fail­ings. And that’s the magic of Owl­boy, re­ally; though its story is an­chored firmly in fan­tasy—a story of a float­ing world heav­ily in­flu­enced by an an­cient race of wise old owls—it’s a tale that, sadly, most of us can iden­tify with.

The open­ing tu­to­rial alone—which ex­ists pretty much to show­case your in­ep­ti­tude to the masses—is enough to draw a sym­pa­thetic frown as you watch, not for the last time, as Otus’ ears pull back in dis­may and his shoul­ders sag mis­er­ably. He starts his lessons so full of ex­pec­ta­tion, only to have that chipped away as Asio—Otus’ im­pa­tient, quick-tem­pered men­tor— re­al­izes that Otus is, well, a lit­tle bit clumsy. A lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent. And be­cause he’s mute you’ll spend much of the time lis­ten­ing to oth­ers talk for Otus, or—even worse— at him, as though this lack of speech makes him in­ca­pable of any­thing else, too.

And that’s what Owl­boy is; it’s a story of suf­fo­cat­ing ex­pec­ta­tions and fail­ure, but also one of quiet courage and the need to keep on keep­ing on, trust­ing your clos­est bud­dies with your life to get stuff done, even when no­body’s watch­ing, even if the bul­lies and naysay­ers won’t be­lieve a word of what you’ve done. It’s about the power of friend­ship, sac­ri­fice, and self-be­lief. Oh, and there are sky pi­rates, too.

Pre­sented as an old-school 2D plat­former, Owl­boy’s nos­tal­gic in more ways than one, and shouldn’t feel un­fa­mil­iar to any­one who’s spent time run­ning around in old SNES-es­que ad­ven­tures. The story is told via an at­mo­spheric, pixel-per­fect world that feels at once both clas­sic and con­tem­po­rary thanks to its stun­ning use of sound and vi­su­als, each area bright and dis­tinct, of­fer­ing its own re­wards and chal­lenges. It’s a tra­di­tional plat­form game in ev­ery sense of the word—from its pre­sen­ta­tion to the dun­geons and tem­ples and boss fights—but in its de­fense, it very much re­tains its own unique style and sub­stance, too.

Good com­pany

While Otus’ own abil­i­ties are pretty lim­ited (he can spin a bit, roll, and fly), it’s the friends you’ll meet and make along the way that round out Owl­boy’s com­bat. At first you will see the arse­nal for what it is—weapons that help you neu­tral­ize in­ter­fer­ing foes— but you’ll soon re­al­ize that they of­fer much more than that, too, es­pe­cially as you start to ex­plore a bit, stum­bling upon hid­den walls and en­trances dot­ted around the world, places you might not even have no­ticed the first time around. Best of all, team­ing up with th­ese friends doesn’t mean you’re lum­bered with la­bo­ri­ous es­cort mis­sions, ei­ther; you can lit­er­ally pull your pals from thin air when­ever you

“It’s not of­ten we en­counter a game that con­veys so much with so lit­tle”

need them thanks to an in­ge­nious tele­por­ta­tion de­vice—some­thing you’ll come to rely on more and more as you progress through the game.

You might find the twin-stick me­chan­ics a lit­tle tricky to adapt to at first, though, es­pe­cially as the ret­i­cle floats about quite wildly when there’s a lot of en­e­mies on screen. The dark sec­tions can be cum­ber­some, too, if you’re not very care­ful, and, oc­ca­sion­ally, the 2D graph­ics can be a lit­tle mis­lead­ing when it comes to on­screen props and depth per­cep­tion (magma sec­tion, we’re look­ing at you).

But while the game is stripped back and sur­pris­ingly sim­plis­tic, Owl­boy’s world is not easy to con­quer, and you’ll need a lit­tle in­ge­nu­ity to top­ple some of its more ro­bust en­e­mies. Like us, you might spend too much time chuck­ing your BFFs into the near­est wall (we’re so sorry, Geddy!), and like us, you might no­tice how hard it is to re­cover from a boss bat­tle smack­down (par­tic­u­larly the ones that also send your bud­dies fly­ing across the room— hon­estly, it was an ac­ci­dent, Geddy!). Ex­per­i­ment­ing with your friends’ skills is key, es­pe­cially if it feels like you’ve hit a dead-end. While there’s a lit­tle bit of back­track­ing in Owl­boy, it’s never fruit­less, and you can usu­ally find some­thing new to see or do if you’re ob­ser­vant enough.

To-do list

No, the run time isn’t par­tic­u­larly great—you could prob­a­bly get this done over the course of a week­end, or even a sin­gle day if you’re up early and have noth­ing else to do—but there’s plenty of va­ri­ety in the lev­els and mis­sions, each one painted with aching at­ten­tion to de­tail. The story’s pretty lin­ear, granted, but there are plenty of se­crets stuffed through­out the world, in­clud­ing hid­den coins that can be spent in a store with the world’s most adorable as­sis­tant.

It’s not of­ten we en­counter a game that con­veys so much with so lit­tle, es­pe­cially one that uses no spo­ken di­a­logue at all. But Owl­boy’s de­ceiv­ingly sim­plis­tic de­liv­ery be­lies an en­vi­able story, a charm­ing cast you can’t help but fall madly in love with, and a sur­pris­ing, and pleas­ing, nar­ra­tive twist. Seems it was worth the ten-year wait, eh?

Far Left Look out for fruit that help light the way in dark sec­tions.

right Not pic­tured: The bit where the boss smacks us and we throw Geddy head­first into the wall.

Left The world feels both clas­sic and con­tem­po­rary.

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