Monday 27 September 2021

I finished Owlboy today and I'm not completely sure how I feel about it so I wanted to write something out, get words flowing through me, and hope I land on solid ground. This will contain spoilers, so be warned.

The game gets referred to as a metroidvania although now that I look, this is more a community thing than the developers themselves. The steam store page describes the game as a "story-driven platform adventure game", which is accurate. One of the labels was "metroidvania" but I know that's set by users. At its core, Owlboy is a fun game to play. It feels good to move around, flying, dashing, and spinning. The element that makes people describe it as a metroidvania are the abilities of the characters that accompany you: one has a gun, one has a larger gun (that also sets things on fire), and one has a grappling hook that allows you to cross certain areas. There's some gating behind having these abilities but for the most part it's almost all directly after you get them, and you don't need to go back to earlier areas generally. You could call it a metroidvania but it really doesn't scratch that itch.

The game also doesn't have a map, what is it with these kinds of games not having maps recently?

While Owlboy is fun to play it's certainly not fun overall. The game has a darker story than you'd expect from something so colourful, and at times it genuinely hit me hard. The game opens with your mentor Asio telling you that you haven't been doing well in your studies so he tries to teach you to fly instead, but when you don't get it right the first try he complains and says your ineptitude pains him. Throughout the game interactions with Asio continue like this, he humiliates you and at times calls you a liar. The game continues with this theme, no matter what you do you are not good enough. Even when you do beat a boss, the pirates still end up with the relics instead of you, and the situation gets worse and worse.

Even the game's ending makes you feel like you never do anything right, if you had actually succeeded and destroyed the relics like you planned the floating continents would have drifted out to space and everyone would have died. Only an ancient owl machine can stop the end of the world, and the pirates have been tricked into collecting the relics so it can be used.

The biggest kick in the teeth is the epilogue, where Asio gives you a job well done speech, and tells you that he always believed in you. Asio never believed in you, he hated that you were a failure, and it feels like Otus being a mute is actually down to not wanting to speak to the people who treat him so terribly. What leaves me so unsure here is how I feel about this relationship in particular. It feels realistic. People often give false platitudes when you succeed despite deriding you for years. It's genuine, but when it comes to playing games, watching films, consuming media in general, I want some sort of satisfying ending. What would have been satisfying is Asio apologising, saying he'd been a bad mentor and then telling you that you'd done a great job, but he just side-steps being a better person. I feel like I'm too close to this game. I feel Otus' struggle of everyone thinking he's useless. This is why the game has made me upset.

"Art wasn't supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something"

Owlboy did both.