Owlboy is described a 'hi-bit' game, a title with 16-bit-style visuals where you can fly and explore a world in the clouds. Owlboy needs to pick up friends and bring them along as he explores the open skies. He also needs to overcome obstacles and greater enemies.
The adventure starts in the village of Vellie, a close knit community carving out a living on the floating islands. Otus and his best friend Geddy are tasked with patrolling for sky pirates but they charge off to catch a bizarre laughing troublemaker. The duo stumble across a forgotten cave full of ancient owl mysteries. After the trail goes cold and the two head home, the village is swarmed with sky pirates. People are shaken up but it looks as if the pirates were preoccupied with something else and the capital city of Advent. Asio (the mentor of Otus) tasks the two to make haste and attempt a plan to stop the pirates.
You play as Otus, a mute owl who is thrust into the role of protecting his friends and family from pirates. He is unable to fight for himself so he relies on his friends ready to fight for him. Using an ancient and mysterious owl relic, gunners can teleport into the player's hands at an instance. Using the controller, the game plays similar to a twin-stick shooter. Otherwise control Otus with the keyboard and aim with the mouse.
Gameplay is reminiscent of classic franchises like Metroid, Zelda, Wonderboy, Kid Icarus, and Kirby. The game is both a love letter to classic games while being something new and modern due to the open exploration.