Ori and the Blind Forest
Developer: Moon Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platform: Xbox One (Reviewed), Xbox 360, Windows.
Genre: 2D Platformer
Ori & the Blind Forest is one of the most incredibly beautiful games I have ever seen, it truly is a piece of art. Visually with its unique art style I’d have to compare it to the gorgeous ‘Dust: An Elysian Tale”. At first glance you might think it’s just another Rayman clone (not that there is anything wrong with that) but there is so much more going on here. If I were to compare Ori to any other game it would be Metroid. The introduction plays out exactly like Limbo, you don’t have any on screen prompts for controls or what to do you simply control Naru or Ori by walking and jumping nothing else is available. This allows for the first ten minutes of the interesting and beautiful story of their friendship to be unfolded in front of you with such a great narrative, for example when traveling back to your cave you get to see memories of the Naru and Ori appear as ghostly figures this helps speed the story along really well but also adds depth to the two characters relationship. I’m not going to get into the story I’d prefer to leave it as spoiler free as possible but I will say the transition from cut scene to gameplay is seamless.
After the introduction to the story and to Ori the main character of the game you will start to see on screen prompts for controls, some basic puzzle solving and enemies also begin to appear. Collection and puzzle solving are the two main ingredients here to progress just like most platformers, and to so you will need to unlock the Spirit Gates blocking your path and the only way thorough them is to collect Key Stones with some gates require multiple key stones. This is where you will start to see influences from the Metroid and Castlevania series along with light RPG elements like enemies having a health bar or while exploring you will come across objects, items or places on the map you can’t access which becomes obvious you need to come back after you get some upgrades.
Locating the first skill upgrade ‘light’ gives you the ability to attack at short range with fire, but you mainly upgrade Ori by collecting Spirit Lights (yellow orbs) which will fill your upgrade wheel eventually earn you points to spend on upgrading Ori or finding a Spirit Well also allows you to save your progress and restore health just like Metroid. Collecting energy shards (green orbs) from green plants or defeating enemies will replenish Ori’s health. Also collecting Energy Cells (blue orbs) will allow you to create a Soul Link by pressing B which allows you to save your progress anywhere and also upgrade Ori and triples as your respawn point if you die. The upgrade tree consists of three main ability branches, the red branch allows you to upgrade your attack, the Blue branch if for your abilities like double jump and other random goodies while the purple branch gives you health and map upgrades. It’s a very simple system but it works very well allowing you to choose what type of upgrades you want for yourself. Another way to upgrade Ori through progression is by locating ancestral trees the first one giving you the wall jump skill, do I need to mention Metroid again? You can also upgrade your maximum health and energy cells allowing you to have more Soul Links in your inventory.
The enemies early on are like spores once again very similar to Metroid, just avoid the spikey things and watch out for the jumpy things which are rather cunning and attack you with great accuracy so upgrading Ori is a must even early on, the game controls so smooth especially with how fast and agile Ori is and it’s all perfectly balanced you would swear someone like Nintendo with all their experience had made this game. Solving puzzles and fighting enemies at the same time can be a bit tricky, also when returning to areas enemies respawn so you are never safe. The difficulty can get a bit on the hard side when trying to collect hard to reach items and the ability to create a soul link is removed, think Indiana Jones trying to escape a trap filled cavern! I did let a few f bombs slide after getting oh so close only to die right near the end. But once you overcome these tricky, perfectly timed acrobatic obstacles the sheer pleasure of accomplishment is well worth the effort.
With a lot of 2D side-scrollers coming out over the last few years thanks to the awesome indie scene we have now and the big three publishers giving them more support Ori and the Blind forest is one of the best games in the last few years you will ever lay your eyes on. I know it’s easy to say this as it’s a 2D game but honestly visually it’s just breathtaking. The backgrounds and foregrounds are constantly moving with life, you are immersed in a world that is truly alive. The audio is also spot on the music is a nice and mellow almost too good it could put you to sleep but it also changes its tempo when you are under attack or low on energy. Overall, I fully recommend this game to anyone who likes platformers or adventure titles or pretty things. It doesn’t really bring anything new to the table but it does some old school and new school things really well and they actually work and it’s a lot more interesting than the Rayman series. On a side note, if you are like me and must have a 100% complete save file, either make a copy towards the end of the roughly 10 hour adventure or back track and find everything before completing the final level.