Consoles will generally be specialised in something or, at the very least, a large portion of fans will remark to friends “oh yeah, so and so is made just for blah, blah”. Example: Many regard the Super Nintendo as the home of the JRPG, the Xbox 360 during its release was regarded by many as the home of the online shooter (before any PC gamers want to kill me, remember, we are talking about consoles here). Could it be said, then, that in 2018, the Nintendo Switch is becoming the home of the much loved Metroidvania genre of games?
It is a bit too early to label the Switch anything (apart from being incredible!) as it is only just over a year into its life cycle. However, there is a strong number of Metroidvania games available for Nintendo’s hybrid console, and one of the best has landed on the eShop, the magnificent Owlboy.
Set in the Land of the Sky, you’ll play as Otus, who is a member of the half-human, half-owl species who live in Vellie, a village in the Land of Sky. Straight from the start, you’ll feel attached to Otus as a main character because he isn’t the usual strong and able hero you find in Metroidvania games. For one, he is a mute, something some of the Human-Owl population like to tease Otus about. Actually, tease probably isn’t a strong enough word, ridicule and taunt would be more fitting.
Another adhering quality of Otus’ is that he seems to be a bit, shall we say, clumsy. During the first 10 or so minutes into Owlboy, you’ll be taught the game mechanics by what seems to be an elder of the owl-human village. At the start he has great hopes for Otus, he remarks that he might be the greatest Owl he has ever trained. This optimism lasts all of about 30 seconds. It is clear from the start that Otus isn’t destined for great things, but fate, it seems, had a different idea. During Otus’ patrol of the village, Sky Pirates attack and, after they find what they are looking for, Otus is the Owl that must save the day, much to the dismay of the village.
When Otus is sent out into the world, it is apparent from the start this can be a hostile and dangerous land. Otus’ only real skill is his ability to fly. Other than that, Otus is not blessed with the fighting skills of other heroes. In fact, Otus can only manage to spin and dash, not exactly a skill set that will bring peace and order to the world. Thankfully, right from the start you’ll have Geddy. Geddy appears to be a normal human (well, he certainly isn’t an Human-Owl), and he is Otus’ best friend. He offers to help Otus on his quest, and without him, Otus wouldn’t get past the first test of his adventure!
Taking hold of Otus and using the right analogue stick and right trigger, you’ll be able to control Geddy’s short-ranged pistol. This really is the base of Owlboy’s combat and turns the game into a well functioned twin stick shooter. This isn’t the only way to deal with enemies, however, and sometimes the pistol method won’t work at all, and you will need to be a bit creative when it comes to dealing with the tougher enemies you’ll encounter and the bosses too. The combat is perfectly balanced in Owlboy. It is never too easy, never too hard, it is not repetitive nor too scarce. The boss fights are a lot of fun and work like many other Metroidvania-style boss fights would, in that you find a weak point and exploit it.
You will also discover two more companions on your journey whose specific skills will help you in future levels and also levels you have previously done. There is no burden of having to choose one companion before the start of a level because you can switch between all three with the simple press of a button thanks to the teleportation feature you’ll discover right near the start of Owlboy.
This teleportation feature isn’t just a simple way to select a companion, it also lends its hand to solve some of the various environmental puzzles you’ll discover throughout your journey. It will mainly be used with your trusty best bud who tries to be brave but is often quite scared of the goings on around him, so he will ask you to make your way past some scary gnomes, for example, and once safely away from those little monsters, you can teleport Geddy to safety.
The puzzles are great fun in Owlboy, none of them too taxing for the old grey matter, but some will have you thinking for a few minutes before figuring out the solution. The other NPCs you’ll find around the world can mostly all be spoken to as well. All of them look great thanks to Owlboy’s fantastic and beautiful retro-styled graphics. The world is a perfect blend of colour and the absence of it.
The aim isn’t to get through these levels within the small, albeit well laid out, open-world as quickly as possible. Exploration is rewarded in Owlboy in the form of coins which can be exchanged with the shopkeeper to upgrade abilities and, more importantly, your health bar. Often, solving a puzzle or defeating a specific number of enemies will reward you with a chest with the coins needed for these upgrades.
There are other collectibles to find as well, but these have no effect on Otus’ abilities, rather they act a bit like the bits of information you would find while playing Resident Evil, they just help paint a picture of the world and lore, and it is highly recommended to find these, even if some of them will provide a stiff challenge and some backtracking. Completionists will also be right at home with Owlboy as readily available on the pause menu is a list of how many coins you have found in each area you have visited. This will be a huge challenge as, generally, a lot of the levels can be quite long with various winding paths, so trying to find hidden chests here can be a bit frustrating.
Developer: D-Pad Studios
Publisher: D-Pad Studios
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 29th May 2018