Saturday 20 October 2018

Owlboy review: In thrall to the good old days

Owlboy (XO/PS4/Switch/PC) ★★★★★ Age: 12

Owlboy
Owlboy
Ronan Price

Ronan Price

Nine years in gestation, Owlboy made a low-key debut on PC in 2016 but this retro platformer about a hapless young owl battling sky pirates always deserved a bigger audience. Now ported to the leading consoles, the experience has been rendered unchanged, its pretty 2D aesthetic a throwback to the 16-bit era of pixelated visuals.

The creators openly admit being in thrall to 80s Nintendo classics such as Super Mario Bros 3 and Kid Icarus. The latter is a key inspiration in that while, notionally a platformer, Owlboy spends most of his time airborne, navigating dungeons, dodging enemy projectiles and exploring picturesque villages suspended in the sky.

The twist lies in the three pals he acquires on the journey, who can be swapped on the fly to provide firepower and extra abilities that open up new areas of the map, Metroidvania-style.

Owlboy feels like more than the sum of its parts. The combat can feel clumsy but there's a challenge to quickly find the right partner for the opponent, before briskly swapping to the next for another enemy. The skyscapes and dungeons sometimes look too samey but now and then you'll come across a gorgeous location where it's impossible not to linger.

Best of all, the game mixes up its elements frequently, segueing from frantic battles to stealth to puzzle-solving, all in one breath. Playing Owlboy is like rediscovering a long-forgotten classic.

Beast Quest

(PS4/XO) ★★ Age: 7+

This children's adventure book series now runs to more than 100 titles, written by dozens of different authors under one pseudonym. Little wonder the belated videogame tie-in is a little bit of a mongrel itself.

With graphics that look more at home on consoles from five years ago and a finicky control system, Beast Quest doesn't make a good first impression. No doubt its target audience of under-10s will be more forgiving, but they're unlikely to enjoy the unchallenging combat, which resembles the turn-based skirmishes of an RPG. It's harmless enough entertainment hampered by a small budget but fans of the books deserve better.

Frantics

(PS4) ★★ Age: 12+

Novelty seems to be the selling point of Sony's PlayLink series, multiplayer party games controlled via smartphone apps. Once you've played a few rounds of each instalment, you'll have seen it all and grow weary.

So it is too with Frantics, another self-consciously wacky collection of mini-games that may well seem hilarious with friends the first time after a long night in the pub. Several actually prove enjoyable (the jetpack one, the curling one) but the trouble is there aren't enough of them. Boredom is the inevitable result.

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