Eagle Island

A game by Pixelnicks for PC, Mac, Linux, and Switch, originally released in 2019.
Eagle Island stars a boy named Quill who is an ornithologist exploring islands in search of rare bird specimens to study. He is accompanied by his two owl companions, Koji and Ichiro, as they fly alongside his boat. Suddenly, the trio are overcome by a storm, battered by hail and surrounded by lightning. Somehow – and apparently not as a result of lightning – Quill’s boat bursts into flames. He feels something grab him around his chest and lift his body upward, causing him to black out. He awakens on an island none the worse for wear, and still accompanied by the two owls, one of which is abducted shortly thereafter.

The game is divided into two modes of play: a persistent interconnected overworld and several randomly arranged roguelike dungeons. Any progress made in the overworld is retained throughout the game, whereas getting killed in a dungeon resets the player's progress within it. The overworld is fairly small, and not much time is actually spent here, as the core challenge is completing each of the dungeons. Dungeons are accessed via doorways in the overworld, and completing them awards the player with permanent powerups or new abilities which may be used in future dungeons and in the overworld.

Quill is able to perform a 2x variable jump, and he keeps his arms at his side when jumping, giving him the appearance of a diving bird. He can also grab ledges and pull himself up onto them, and he can swim along the surface of the water. Powerups later in the game allow him to perform a bird-assisted double jump, swim underwater, and use his bird to reach higher platforms, per metroidvania conventions.

Early into his adventure, Quill earns a falconer’s glove that allows him to command his owl to attack. One of his owls follows him wherever he goes, and Quill can quickly summon the owl to his hand and then cast him off in eight directions to attack enemies. The owl makes for something of a slow projectile, and it has a medium range, so it is somewhat difficult to use against mobile foes. Missing the intended target adds frustration by making the owl temporarily unavailable for a follow-up attack, leaving the player vulnerable, slowing the pace of combat, and doubly punishing the player for his mistakes.

When the game begins, only the story mode is available, although the game also offers a standalone roguelike mode and a weekly speedrun challenge once the player completes the main campaign. Starting the game presents the player with three possible rulesets, which act as its difficulty levels. Core rules represent the game’s recommended difficulty setting, giving the player three units of health, with enemies dropping 1-unit health restoratives when the player achieves a 4-hit combo. Hardcore mode also gives the player three units of health, but he only earns restoratives after performing a 6-hit combo, and shopkeepers have higher prices and don’t offer health increases. Finally, a casual mode doubles the player’s starting health, grants restoratives on a 4-hit combo, offers health restoratives in treasure chests, and lowers shopkeeper prices.

The trouble with the recommended difficulty level is that it can be quite difficult to perform a 4-hit combo, and doing so often puts the player at risk of losing additional health. There is a tight time limit between attacks to keep the combo meter going, and using a tossed owl as a projectile significantly slows the rate at which the player can attack. Furthermore, many enemies have area effect attacks or projectiles that make getting in close dangerous, with some enemies emitting deadly clouds that remain after they have been killed. As such, it’s much better to avoid losing health altogether than to try to restore it, which encourages players to take things slowly and play it safe. Also, losing two units of health sets off a grating low health alarm.

There are two types of currency offered in the game: golden seeds and silver coins. Golden seeds can be used to open chests within the dungeons, although the player is not able to see what is inside a chest before he pays to open it, keeping powerup distribution largely random. Coins and seeds are dropped by killed enemies and occasionally found in large quantities in blue treasure chests (which do not require payment to open). In a few well-hidden areas, the player may encounter red treasure chests, which are very expensive to open, but they offer two units of health restoration.

The player occasionally encounters bird statues that let him teleport to other statues within the dungeon. Most of these areas feature a shopkeeper that offers a random assortment of powerups that may be purchased using silver coins, along with health and magic restoratives that may be purchased at a low price. The player has four slots in which to equip these powerups, but they wear down over time and eventually break. When acquiring a new powerup from a shopkeeper or a treasure chest, the player has the option to slot it into an empty space, replace an existing powerup, or toss it in the trash.

Some powerups are quite useful, particularly those that increase your health meter, but many are virtually useless. For instance, several powerups increase your movement abilities by allowing you to jump farther from ledges, wall jump, perform higher jumps, or ricochet your owl off walls… but levels aren’t designed to take advantage these new skills, so there is no real advantage to the player in acquiring them. This stings all the more when the player spends golden seeds on a random powerup only to discover that it essentially serves no purpose.

A compass powerup displays the locations of treasure chests, teleportation statues, and the dungeon boss on the game's metroidvania map. Temporary invincibility does what it says on the tin, but the timer immediately begins counting once the player equips it, and it disappears when the timer runs out. Some powerups affect your owl, allowing you to cast it off more quickly, allowing it to return more quickly, faster recovery after missing an enemy, longer range, increased damage, or allowing the owl to steer toward enemies. Several powerups also enhance the owl’s magical abilities by adding area effects.

The game is divided into segments, with three dungeons in each, although the earlier dungeons must be played in sequence. In the first three dungeons, the player earns magical feathers that allow his owl to take on one of three elements: electricity, fire, and ice. Electricity allows the owl to hit multiple targets in succession, as long as they are in a straight line; fire allows the owl to perform explosive attacks that deal extra damage; and ice freezes enemies. Each of these magical attacks consumes one blue gem from a 6-unit meter, and gems may be acquired by attacking enemies or opening chests, or they may be purchased for a low price from the shopkeeper.

Dungeons are made up of interconnected rooms, and the player is free to backtrack as he likes. However, given that powerups cost money and there’s a decent chance of getting useless one, there’s not much to encourage players to risk their health to explore side paths. Most dungeons are fairly straightforward, with one main path and a few short side paths, but there are some dungeons later in the game that require the player to find keys, and these dungeons require some backtracking.

That said, killed enemies remain killed for the duration of the run, and there are bird statues that allow the player to teleport back to earlier parts of a dungeon. In addition, some doorways can only be opened by killing a certain number of enemies, but often you’ll find that you’ve already reached the required number of kills by the time you reach these doors, so long as you’re regularly engaging enemies.

Each dungeon contains a large treasure chest, which requires the player to complete a challenging combat sequence or environmental puzzle in order to open it. These chests contain a golden coin, which fills one of your powerup slots, but you’ll need to collect them all if you wish to reach the game’s true ending. Doorways leading to large chests are color-coded, so players may opt to skip them if they don’t want to risk losing progress on a good run.

Enemies come in a few varieties, with some palette swaps in later levels. Many enemies are stationary or move in a straight line, which is good given the limits of your weapon, and most die in one or two hits. As mentioned, flying enemies can be difficult to hit, and some will begin pursuing you if you miss your shot. Players need to be careful not to put themselves into situations where multiple enemies are closing in on them at once because it’s easy to lose a lot of health quickly when overwhelmed by foes. Attacking on the run also makes it more likely that you'll miss your intended target and have to wait for the owl to recover before it can be used again. That said, when you do strike an enemy, the owl recovers instantly, allowing you to perform a quick follow-up attack, and you can hang in the air for a moment when performing multiple strikes in succession.

There are some areas where the player has limited control over how he engages enemies. For instance, there are mine cart sequences where the player cannot control his movement and must dispatch multiple mobile foes along the route, and there are levels that feature hazards that limit where the player can move within the room to engage enemies. Also, some level designs make it more difficult to collect coins and seeds, particularly since seeds float in the water and coins sink to the bottom.

Dungeon bosses are visually spectacular but actually not much more difficult to fight than standard enemies, despite taking more hits to destroy. Most bosses have long openings for you to attack, allowing time for you to get in 5-10 strikes in succession. Bosses can often be defeated on your first attempt, which is a blessing and a curse, as the this makes the bosses somewhat less interesting to fight, but the flipside is that losing a fight against a boss requires you to play the entire dungeon again from scratch. Completing a dungeon reveals a rank based on your average combo length, how much damage you took vs. the number of enemies you fought, and your time to complete enemy encounters, along with an indicator showing whether or not you found the special golden coin within the dungeon.

Aesthetically, the game is bright and colorful, with some nice lighting effects and an appropriately whimsical soundtrack. There are loads of little flourishes that add life to the game world, such as little bunnies hopping around, fish swimming, dodo birds wandering, grass waving slowly in the breeze, and dandelions that give off a burst of floating seeds when you run past them.

NB: Based on player feedback (and this review), the developer has released a patch that alters several gameplay aspects. Among these is a new Lite difficulty mode that awards a health restorative after performing a 3-hit combo. The game also offers 360-degree aiming as an option, the ability to select runestones at the start of a run, a chance to gain new runestones at the ends of levels based on the number of enemies killed, and the option to keep runestones from being destroyed over time, as well as a few balance tweaks. In all, these changes make the game a more forgiving experience.

Eagle Island was developed by Pixelnicks, headed by solo developer Nick Gregory and developed over the course of four years.

The game was published by Screenwave Media, which also published the Angry Video Game Nerd game series.