Review: Ori And The Blind Forest

21 03 2015

Of the various announcements and upcoming games shown at E3 2014, through the onslaught of sequels and reboots there was a small unassuming flower blossoming amidst the giants. Developed by Moon Studios under Microsoft Games Studios, Ori And The Blind Forest soon became one of the talking points of the show with its captivating graphic style. However any seasoned gamer could tell you that looks aren’t everything and that both style and substance are indispensable with regards to quality games. Is Ori And The Blind Forest a prize bloom or lost amongst the weeds?

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Within the vast forest of Nibel, a small mysterious creature named Ori comes into the world. Happened upon by chance by the benevolent Naru, Ori is taken in and lives a simple but happy life in Naru’s company. However, within the workings of the great forest, all is not well. The land’s beauty begins to fade and shrivel away, and Ori is compelled by a strange and ancient presence to venture deep within the hidden corners of the forest to restore its splendor and save everything that he knows before its brilliance disappears. As Ori leaves the comfort of his old home behind, the shadow of the fearsome and enigmatic Kuro looms over the trees; one who would see the light extinguished forever.

Ori And The Blind Forest is a 2D platformer game with exploration in the style of “metroidvania” games in which the player must traverse a variety of challenging landscapes and as they uncover new abilities and movement options new areas and hidden secrets become accessible. There is also an RPG-esque leveling system that allows players to augment Ori’s combat abilities, exploration methods, and endurance with experience that accumulates from defeating foes or finding hidden boosts tucked away within the different areas. Ori’s adventure is concise and focused without feeling restrictive or railroad-y, taking about 10 hours to complete.

Of all of the things that would draw a player into the experience, the stunning visuals are the main hook. Absolutely magnificent and wondrous to behold, Ori And The Blind Forest may be the most gorgeous game I have ever beheld. Every single moment of the game radiates an incredible sense of beauty and magic; each environment is painted lavishly to have character and visual punch in every aspect. In an era of modern games with heavy emphasis on hyper-realism and graphic fidelity, the painterly look and fantastically rendered world fills a space that was dearly lacking. It is difficult to put to words how unbelievably beautiful the scenery is, so here, have a look for yourself:

Adding to the brilliance of the experience is the wonderful sound design. The majestic and haunting score hits all the right notes at the right moments and is as much a part of the soul of the game as the exquisite visuals. The sound effects of all the different facets of the environments and characters fits perfectly and makes it as much a treat for the ears as for the eyes.

Aesthetics notwithstanding, Ori is a winner in the gameplay department as well. While there’s little that hasn’t been done before in similar platformer-exploration games, Ori And The Blind Forest delivers solidly on its conventions and melds all of its mechanics elegantly. Ori handles well; his movement is natural and responsive making the platforming element of gameplay–which is the core of the experience–a solid foundation demanding just the right amount of planning, reflexes, dexterity, and timing to feel difficult enough to provide a sense of exhilaration and accomplishment but surmountable enough to keep the game’s pace flowing and provide the simple pleasure and sensation of continuous movement. The sense of progression as the player acquires new abilities feels just right, introducing new methods of movement at regular intervals that allow Ori access to previously unreachable areas and offer new approaches to navigating previous sections. Each addition lets you view retreaded segments in a fresh perspective, as dangerous areas become trivial to speed through and enemies become tools for moving around in clever ways. Puzzle elements comprise another large part of Ori’s adventure and are done well, encouraging thoughtfulness and use of Ori’s capabilities in unorthodox ways without being too obtuse. The game is undeniably challenging but rarely punishing due to Ori’s Soul Link ability which allows the player to save the game at virtually any time, allowing instant retries to particularly tricky sections of traversal or combat; there’s no “game over.” During my playthrough I accumulated nearly 230 deaths but never once did I feel like I skipped a beat.

On top of everything else, Ori And The Blind Forest also has a fantastic story woven throughout the game. A simple but powerful, moving narrative of love and sacrifice underlies Ori’s adventure that will strum at your heartstrings as it unfolds through the gorgeous sights and sounds. The plot is mostly storybook affair, but rather than reducing to a simple struggle between light and darkness Ori’s tale rides on some meaningful themes and at times is deeply touching.

There is very little to complain about as far as stumbling points, but at a few times throughout the game the difficulty suddenly seems to jump dramatically and will demand of you one-perfect-run for a lengthy gauntlet of hazards. If there was one feature I would have wished for, it would have been a way to teleport to waypoints across the fairly vast world instead of having to navigate all the way through the areas again to retread for previously inaccessible pickups. There are a few imperfections on the technical side, but they occur so infrequently that they are forgivable. There is very occasional slowdown on the Xbox One version of the game during intense action with lots of particle effects, but almost never in a way that affects the flow of the gameplay or jolts you into fumbling a precise series of maneuvers.

If there was ever a decisive piece of evidence for the games-as-art argument, it is this one. Beautiful in both visuals and play, it can be confused for nothing else but a work of art, and a superb one at that. Every aspect comes together to form a truly amazing game that you never knew you needed until it is in your hands. For the modest asking price of $20, Ori And The Blind Forest is an experience that simply cannot be missed.