I should start this review by saying that I don’t hate Owlboy. There are a lot of positives to the game but despite all the critical acclaim this game receives, I still struggle to enjoy it.
Let me explain why that is.
- Fantastic hi-bit visuals
- Beautiful animation
- Great writing and characters
- Dull gameplay
- Awkward controls
Let’s start with the best thing about this game, the visuals. Every screenshot you’ll see of Owlboy is like a Sistine Chapel of pixels. You cannot fault the look of this game and you can tell that a lot of time during its 9-year development was spent on the artwork.
Just look at footage of the game and you’ll see the beautiful hi-bit visuals brought to life with magnificent animations, too. It’s clear the same love and care went into the animations as the art itself.
The story isn’t bad, either. With great-looking characters, the writing makes them more than just avatars for the player to control, befriend, or kill and the story will make you want to find out what happens next.
But I don’t love playing it. Every time I pick up the game, I feel like I’d rather be doing something else because I find the gameplay slow and uninteresting; there’s no weight or oomph to any of it. You should be swooping around with all the majesty of nature’s nocturnal hunters but instead it feels like you’re moving a cursor across a spreadsheet.
For example, attacks (while visually impressive) don’t feel like they do any damage and the detailed visuals can get in the way of the gameplay. It’s often difficult to discern what’s happening and what you should be doing as the backgrounds and main characters blend together.
The controls didn’t help make the gameplay more enjoyable, either. Switching between abilities doesn’t feel intuitive and a lot of the time, my hands looked like they were trying to find the end of a roll of adhesive tape rather than enjoying a game that was worked on for the best part of the decade!
Fortunately, Owlboy is critically acclaimed and I can’t deny that the game is visually and narratively engaging. However, when it comes to playing it, I reckon the gameplay could’ve been tightened and refined during production. It’s trying so hard to look good that it often feels that it would be better off as a pixel-art short film rather than making me play the unappealing sections of gameplay between story beats.
You can tell that a lot of work went into the production of Owlboy and I’m glad that the effort has been rewarded with praise and sales, but I’d like D-Pad Studio‘s next game to have more focus on the gameplay than visuals. They’re clearly a talented bunch and I’ve no doubt that they’ll improve with every game they release.