Ori And The Blind Forest Review
“When I lit the skies ablaze…”
Ori and The Blind Forest may not be a particularly original game, considering its heavy reliance on the ‘metroidvania’ blueprint as you were; but it is nonetheless a fantastic one, with mesmerising artistic design backed up by incredibly refined mechanics in its core gameplay. Moon Studios has augmented the ideas associated in this genre in a way that few if any have even come close to. The platforming is inch-perfect, making Ori an absolute joy to play.
It tells the coming-of-age story of Ori, an adorable little forest spirit left orphaned after a storm ravages the sacred Nibel forest. The achingly beautiful opening sequence really pulls on the heart-strings and is genuinely affecting, which is quite an achievement in my case as I’m a fairly cold-hearted bastard these days but I digress. Desperate and alone, Ori must restore the vitality of the once-vibrant Nibel through the three elements of Water, Wind and Warmth to save his home. The narrative is light, with lengthy cutscenes tossed in favour of on-screen text that cleverly doesn’t interrupt the ongoing gameplay. It’s neat and well-executed, additionally the story being about pluck ties in with the overall design of the game. Ori progresses through challenge after challenge, getting stronger upon learning more abilities.
To accomplish this task of restoration, you’ll have to master the Metroidvania-style gameplay that’s on offer here. You’re equipped with a mid-range slash attack at the start, and even in these early stages does the combat feel ever so satisfying to wield. It’s untrue to insinuate there’s no level of strategy involved either, there’s a real nuance to negotiating the 2-D environment to get the right angle on enemies to launch an attack, and similarly to avoid their attacks too.
Combat is certainly significant, but Ori’s greatest asset is mobility, and the game is designed to empower the player through precise, nimble movement. The platforming as already stated, is perfectly weighted with jumps that feel deliberate and responsive. Before too long, basic jumps will be expanded to include wall-jumps, double and triple jumps and even a slingshot move where you can gain momentum from enemy projectiles. It needs to be emphasized how elegantly Ori unlocks these abilities for use to the player in a way that feels natural; it’s quite simply superb gameplay design.
Let’s talk about that design some more, the onus is on exploration, progression and light puzzle-solving in a non-linear 2D world with new areas of the map becoming accessible once you’ve unlocked the skill needed to get there. The more skills you get, the more opportunities you have to manipulate and discover additional secrets within the world. None of this is new of course, but Ori is so deft in the way it teaches the player technique, how it expands moves far beyond the limitations that the player may have originally envisioned for it.
It needed to nail this too considering the surprising difficulty level of the game, behind that cutesy façade lies a cruel platformer at heart; with lengthy sequences requiring absolute precision to progress to the next area, one miscued jump and you’re done for. This isn’t the case all the time mind you, a cool mechanic in Ori transforms quicksaves into a resource. You can use your limited supply of energy to create a save point at any time, enabling you to restart from wherever you want. For example, if there’s a tricky section you need to navigate through, create a save point and hence if you die it’s not nearly as aggravating since you pick up pretty much right where you left off. The flip-side if that this pool of energy you draw from can also be used for powerful offensive attacks that are a real boon against tougher enemies. This balancing act is most acute in the early stages of the game where your abilities are at their weakest, as you earn additional experience you’ll unlock more space to use this energy source. Ori grants you control over this mechanic and it’s all the better for it.
What undoubtedly draws players to Ori meanwhile is the stunningly stylized visuals, every element comes together to form one cohesive whole, from the characters, to the backgrounds, to the water and energy effects. It’s quite simply one of the best-looking games ever made period; every frame is a work of art with a vibrancy that more than matches a Studio Ghibli production.
Ori and The Blind Forest may be deceptive, after all beneath that ethereal art is a punishing difficulty level that will leave the unprepared somewhat startled. But what’s also here is an exquisitely designed platformer underpinned by impeccable pacing; with every element being refined to near-perfection and with the deftest of touches. This is a work of rare craft and beauty, and absolutely essential to anybody who owns an Xbox One or PC.
I for one can’t wait to see what Moon Studios goes on to make next.