From the first glimpse we saw of Ori and the Blind Forest, it was clear that it would be something special. The original trailer showed off a beautiful world, a sweeping score and strokes of joy and sadness, all within a short teaser. Ori and the Blind Forest not only delivers on those initial impressions, it actually manages to offer amazing gameplay to go along with its evocative style.
The beginning of Ori and the Blind Forest sets the stage for a truly magical ride. It all starts with the emotional score, instantly setting a mood of mixed feelings of happiness and sorrow. We meet Ori, a forest spirit who has been cast away, and Naru, a kind creature who takes in the orphan and raises it as her own. Early moments are filled with delight as the two play and grow together. However over time the storybook forest they live in starts to decay and a somber tone starts to take over. Ori is forced to go out alone in hopes of restoring the forest.
Throughout the tale Ori faces all kinds of challenges and the game constantly plays with your emotions. Ori is truly a child at heart but he must cast aside his playfulness as the fate of the entire forest is placed on his shoulders, against a foe that is frightening and determined to see the light of the forest extinguished. It’s a tale of growing up, about showing courage in the face of danger but also about showing compassion and love. It will keep you hooked from start to finish in a way that few other video games can.
The graphical style of Ori and the Blind Forest greatly helps to tell this mystical tale. The entire world of Nibel feels alive and the various parts that Ori visits feel distinct yet grounded in the same reality. The animation is nothing short of stunning with Ori bounding about with the grace and energy you would expect from a creature born of light. All of the characters and environments are beautifully hand drawn and the power of the Xbox One is subtly shown with gorgeous graphical effects like fog and foliage that make everything feel like a living story book.
Just having an experience that keeps you hooked both visually and emotionally would often times be enough to get a game by. However Ori and the Blind Forest also manages to impress with the quality of gameplay that is delivered. It’s a true “Metroidvania” game at heart but platforming and exploration take significant prominence over any type of demanding combat. Ori is a nimble creature and he bounds around and climbs objects with ease. However, in true “Metroidvania” fashion, he gradually learns new abilities that will test both Ori and the skills of the player. Most of Ori’s new abilities are fairly straightforward, such as double jumps, wall climbing and ground pound attacks. What’s most impressive about the platforming is how easy it is to quickly combo various moves together to solve increasingly complicated puzzles.
However, Moon Studios does have one pretty amazing new trick up their sleeve with the bash ability. Learned around the midpoint of the game, the bash move instantly changes everything you thought you knew about how to play the game. It allows you to do a quick dash any time an enemy or projectile gets near you. It can be used for traversal, letting you bounce around in the air from creature to creature without needing to stop. The bash move also throws the enemy/projectile in the opposite direction that you dash, allowing you to use it offensively or defensively to deflect projectiles or launch enemies into nearby hazards.
Platforming is the clear gameplay mode in Ori and the Blind Forest but that doesn’t mean there aren’t loads of enemies to kill. A simple flare attack locks in on enemies automatically, letting you bound around the environment without worrying about how and where you attack your enemies. There is also a subtle RPG system that lets you upgrade your character on three distinct trees: one for combat, one for exploration and one for traversal. The “Metroidvania”-ness of the game is also in full effect with life and energy power ups to find, many stashed away in places that are only reachable once you’ve acquired a certain ability.
One thing that can definitely be said about Ori and the Blind Forest is that it is not an easy game. The platforming challenges can be grueling at times and there are several “escape” moments throughout the game that will put your skills to the test both in how well and how fast you can execute. And perhaps the most interesting mechanic of the game alleviates this difficulty in how save points are handled. With a couple rare exceptions, save points are left completely up to the player. At any time, as long as you are away from enemies and on stable ground, you can stop and save the game, creating a checkpoint at that exact point in the game. However, saves are not unlimited, instead being bound to your energy meter. It’s an impressive show of freedom for the player to be able to instantly and frequently create checkpoints whenever they desire. You’re no longer dependent on the developer deciding what is a good moment to save the game while also freeing you up to experiment without fear of losing progress.
There are very few aspects of Ori and the Blind Forest that left even the slightest bad taste in my mouth. The only real annoyance was the aforementioned “escape” parts of the game. They are exhilarating, heart pounding sequences that greatly test your platforming skills. But they are also the only part of the game where the save system is taken out of your hands, forcing you to replay the entire escape should you mess up at a single part. While the sequences are still fantastic and finally beating them leads to amazing rush of adrenaline, it doesn’t take away that I died repeatedly in an effort to cobble together that perfect run and finally get past it. My only other small complaint is that once the game is over, it’s truly over, with no way to go back and collect items or explore the world. What you have at completion is what you get, unless you choose to start another run.
Even with those small objections, Ori and the Blind Forest proves to be a masterful experience in every way you want out of a game. Its story is thought-provoking, its score will affect you emotionally and the gameplay will get your heart racing. At the end of my eight hour playthrough, I was legitimately sad that my experience was over, not because the game felt too short (it doesn’t). I just didn’t want it to end. And that, to me anyways, is the true test of a fantastic game.
SCORE: 9.5 out of 10
A copy of Ori and the Blind Forest was provided to Pixel Related for review.