The Insight: Baldo: The Guardian Owls Seemed To Be An Awesome Fantasy Tale. And Then, This Happened.

By Makeda Byfield

I’m a sucker for mystery. Baldo: The Guardian Owls, recently released on the Apple Arcade, offered tons of it! The adventure game followed a young man named Baldo as he attempted to solve several quests’ throughout his village. What fun!

Young Baldo is a chosen kid, and the townspeople need him. The guardian owls have buried a heartless creature in the depths of this town, and only a “child of pure heart” can save them. Baldo’s small physique and childish wonder make him the perfect candidate to send into the caves; dungeons and puzzles lie ahead, calling out for somebody to get through them.

Players must discover how to play – as they play. In fact, the game offers few instructions. Tasked with figuring it out on my own, I’ve walked off countless cliffs and fallen through several unstable floors. Trial and error is the name of this game. I had no problem with that; learning through play is fun and it helps me understand what the character himself is going through. But as I continued through the game, I wondered how effective this tactic was.

Players can speak with villagers throughout the town to discover tips that will help one complete various quests and mini quests. One of the first mini quests I played asked me to help a farmer-woman find her missing chickens; after following a chicken into a dark cave, I encountered a guardian owl. Finally, the real adventure has begun!

This guardian owl gifted me a horn that came in handy deep in the dungeons. The “owl” song plays a melody that has the power to open locked doors. With the horn in my hand, I made my way into the first dungeon in a cave across town. 

The labyrinth-like rooms were filled with monsters and locked doors that could keep you occupied for hours. The lack of instruction made it a little hard to navigate, but the game gave you ample opportunities to learn from your errors. If you lost all three of your lives in battle with a monster, the game would simply replenish your lives and reset you to the start of the room. While it was a little tedious, I had no issue with this process at first. I actually think this was a helpful choice made by the game developers.

My issue lied mostly with the mechanics of the game.

Getting through the rooms was time-consuming. I wouldn’t have found it so annoying if the game wasn’t constantly glitching. I initially assumed that I was the problem. Or maybe it was my device. I started on my iPad and switched to the phone when the controls stopped working. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one responsible for my failure this time. The game controls were a bit choppy and sloppy, maybe because they were so close together. When I did manage to press the right button, the response time was sometimes slow. These glitches would cost me during battles. “My” late reflexes gave monsters time to attack me; by the time my action was processed by the game, I already lost a couple of lives.

The app would also crash several times. No problem, I can just reopen the game and get back to action- right? I open the game again… and the same thing happens. I try to restart again. After doing this three times, the app just wouldn’t start again. I was about to try on my iPad when I stopped and asked myself why.

Why am I trying so hard? Why do I want to keep playing? Is the game fun now? Do I think that the outcome and helping these townspeople will overshadow all the issues that led up to it?

I honestly hoped that the game would redeem itself as I made progress. But if the problems weren’t enough to send my frustration through the roof, the monsters in the dungeon sure did.

These monsters, appearing in the form of blue squid tentacles, frequently blocked treasure nests and room entrances. It was impossible to get through the game without defeating them. There were weapons around the room that you could use to defend Baldo, though slow response times would get you killed before you could attack back.

In the end, I decided that it wasn’t worth it. I was up for owls and adventure, but the developers’ inattention to detail and the general confusion that I felt made a wave of anger rise in me whenever I thought of picking up my device for another few hours of play. The current rating of 2.7/5 stars on the App Store shows that my issues aren’t unique; a wave of other players share my grievances. I think we were all excited for the world of drama ahead of Baldo! He has so much more to learn from the owl guardians. Unfortunately, I have no interest in joining him on that journey. We can thank the glitches and confusing gameplay for that. If the developers had taken just a few more months to develop the game, maybe I’d have a different review.

Makeda Byfield is one of our newest New York Videogame Critics Circle contributor/interns, part of our ongoing partnership with Bronxworks.

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