A painting in motion
Ori and the Blind Forest is gorgeous inside and out and is the best game I’ve played since 2013’s The Last of Us. Portraying a vibrant colour pallet, some would say that Ori and the Blind Forest may be an unperturbed experience for younger audiences, but its innovative save system and unrelenting challenge would prove them otherwise. Ori and the Blind Forest is a successful homage to the traditional, Metroidvania-esque action platformer; encompassing brilliant level design, breathtaking escape sequences, a forgotten sense of challenge that’s never too punishing or unforgiving, a sublime orchestral composition, and a simple, yet endearing coming-of-age story that will undoubtedly pull on your heartstrings. Ori and the Blind Forest is a near masterpiece, easily joining the ranks of my favourite games of all time and is currently the best title on the Xbox One. Moon Studios have crafted such a tranquil, vivacious world that could rightfully fit into the established Disney Universe and Ori himself is an adorable mascot that mirrors the charm and innocence of Simba. Ori and the Blind Forest is a beautiful, endearing experience and does so much right that what little it does wrong is overlooked effortlessly.
I’ve expressed how Ori’s reveal trailer at E3 was one of my favourite game trailers of all time, and how if the full game could replicate at least half of its emotional quality, then Ori and the Blind Forest would be an unforgettable experience. Unforgettable experience is a severe understatement. The melancholic elegance of the game’s intro is a feat in itself and mirrors the initial sentimentality of Pixar’s Up. Sorrow could’ve been easily implemented in a distasteful, clichéd manner but luckily Moon Studios were clever in their direction and allowed player interaction in the opening sequence, allowing for a greater attachment to these characters and creating a successful melancholic reaction to the tragic reveals. Ori and the Blind Forest encompasses a beautiful story of loss, sacrifice, responsibility, and the true beauty of paternal love. Yes the story is fairly simple and predictable at times, but neither detract from the beautiful sensation that Ori brilliantly evokes. The art design is impeccable to say the least. Catering to a hand-drawn art style, similar to the gorgeous Ubiart Framework, Ori and the Blind Forest looks like a painting in motion. Its attention to detail is stellar, every little component in the game’s background is individual and unique, with none duplicated whatsoever. Its vibrant colour pallet also adds the slight, but necessary touch to bring this fantastical world to life. Ori isn’t just beautiful visually, its audio counterpart is equally as staggering. The soundtrack is a beautiful work of art and compliments the gorgeous visuals extremely well; at times the orchestral score pulls on strings of innocence and discovery, having a simple yet tranquil melody, while during heart-pounding escape sequences, that simple melody is appropriately tweaked and explodes into a bombastic forte. Being a fantastic ensemble of art direction, melancholic writing, and poignant composition, it’s evident that the folks at Moon Studios were heavily inspired by the astounding work of Studio Ghibli. Ori and the Blind Forest is an excellent example of how to successfully create a vibrant, living world with an endearing story without hindering any aspect of the essential gameplay; in similar fashion to The Last of us, Ori and the Blind Forest perfectly harmonizes gameplay and story into one fantastic experience.
If you think Ori and the Blind Forest looks amazing, then I am happy to report that it plays even better. Ori is my favourite modern 2D platformer and is even on par with 3D platforming greats such as the exceptional Super Mario Galaxy 2. The platforming is smooth and extremely responsive, no latency or floaty controls can be found here. Right off the bat, the fantastical world of Nibel is available to explore; in true Metroidvania fashion, some areas are unattainable until you unlock a specific skill, encouraging backtracking to old locales. Combining Ori’s newly attained double jump and agile wall running allow him to get to those hard-to-reach points with ease, becoming a swift, agile acrobat. Ori can also unlock the ability to deflect projectiles, aiming them back at the enemy, or towards the ground, launching himself straight into the air, gaining exposure to a once unattainable portion of the world. These clever abilities make traversal all the more interesting and rewarding. While its limited combat is indeed enjoyable, Ori and the Blind Forest is a traditional platformer at heart, and its emphasis on platforming is extremely apparent in its later puzzle sections. These phenomenal segments mirror the sheer joy and complexity of the mind bending puzzles of Portal and the anti-gravity mechanics of Super Mario Galaxy, a fantastic hybrid if I do say so myself. Tackling puzzles and other challenges cater to a trial and error manner of gameplay, so in short, you will die continuously. For the most part, you’re only allowed to save your game (create soul links) when you have an energy cell at your disposal. Energy cells can be used to create soul links, project a charged spirit flame, and unlock hidden pathways, making backtracking all the more relevant; so they are to be used discreetly. Soul links act as checkpoints, so if you die at any point, you will respawn at the most recently created soul link; if you don’t have enough energy cells or fail to create a soul link in the meantime, then you’ll lose all progress made thus far and respawn at the most recent checkpoint/soul link. Giving players this innovative control of checkpoint management is a smart and clever gameplay decision and truly adds a new layer of consequence to death in gaming. However, if you place your soul links at the right opportune moment, then you’ll be able to tackle puzzles and challenges at length, until you succeed through trial and error. These soul links don’t come to play when you’re entranced in one of the heart pounding escape sequences. After restoring the light to one of the three elements of Nibel, you must utilize your platforming arsenal and escape the rejuvenated, respective element (whether it be water, wind, or fire), as it envelops the very temple you liberated, ultimately revitalizing and restoring that element to the decayed Nibel. These wondrous segments are intense and at times, extremely punishing. I say punishing because, as I previously mentioned, soul links are not available during these escape sequences, so you will essentially have to complete this difficult challenge in one go. The escape sequences are the true embodiment of the trial and error gameplay. Despite its initial frustrations, these escape sequences are jaw-dropping, extremely fun, and are easily my favourite part of Ori and the Blind Forest. These segments truly showcase your platforming skills and how well you utilize your repertoire of abilities, and is a bona fide spectacle to mindlessly observe. They are extremely challenging however, so the immense satisfaction of completing one of these sequences is an unparalleled sensation. Tied together with the exquisite, heart-pounding soundtrack and the exceptionally gorgeous visuals, these escape sequences are arguably the best that gaming has to offer and are absolutely breath-taking to say the least.
Ori and the Blind Forest is a near masterpiece that will rightfully pull on your heartstrings before and after the credits roll. I began playing Ori for its heartfelt narrative and gorgeous art design, but found myself truly staying for its addictive platforming goodness and innovative checkpoint management. I knew Ori would be a good game, but I most certainly didn’t expect it to be this good. The genuine story, breath-taking art direction, and hauntingly beautiful musical score pay a successful homage to the animating legends of Disney and Studio Ghibli; the trial and error gameplay, non-linear path design, and unlocking new areas of old locales shed light to Ori’s clear inspiration towards the Metroid and Castlevania series. Clocking in my playthrough at about 10 hours, it’s really difficult to not recommend Ori and the Blind Forest due to its addictive nature and reasonable $20 price tag. However Ori’s tragic omission of a much needed new game plus mode and its lack of post-credits exploration slightly hinder its replayability. I would’ve loved the ability to start a new game with all my current abilities intact and re-experience the elegance of Ori’s story and Nibels’ fantastical world with level scaled enemies. The ability to re-explore the illustrious landscapes of Nibel in any capacity is unfortunately missing and would’ve been a satisfactory inclusion. Despite its omissions, re-experiencing this gorgeous world is still a wonderful endeavor, but this time around, completionists will have to collect as many power-ups as possible before approaching the final element as there will be no opportunity to do so afterwards. Ori and the Blind Forest is an endearing experience and surprised me left and right. Its brutality is subtle and charm is flamboyant, and both are the fundamental key as to why Ori and the Blind Forest just works. It has all the lovability and charm of the iconic platforming Mario and Sonic, but compliments the audacious challenge of Mega Man and Castlevania, a perfect harmonizer of the best qualities. Ori and the Blind Forest is one of my favourite games of all time and my personal game of the year thus far. If anything will have the capability to top it remains to be seen, but let’s just say that I don’t plan on holding my breath for that.