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Seeing The Forest From The Trees: Ori and the Blind Forest Review
A common trope that games tend to follow at the beginning of a console’s life span: prioritizing beauty over substance, graphics over gameplay, and doing their best to show off the hardware’s capabilities, while neglecting the very basis of what makes games fun to play. The current roster of released next-gen games, unfortunately, does not repudiate this. While they may look like a dream, they are either remarkably short or as enjoyable as the infamous Big Rigs.
So, what a wondrous breath of fresh air Moon Studios has gifted us with Ori and the Blind Forest.
It is not to be misconstrued however, that Ori is a bad looking game. On the contrary, as these screen shots demonstrate, Ori has made an astounding argument for the award of best looking game. Ever. Its hand drawn art style is breathtakingly resplendent, its bright and varied color palette a striking contrast to a other recent contender of the same category. The animation is perfectly smooth and the range of Gareth Coker’s magnificent orchestral soundtrack couldn’t have added more character to the charming package. Every frame of Ori is a screen-saver worthy piece of art.
Ori and the Blind Forest is a Metroidvania style platformer. You are largely free to go wherever you will (although the camera will subtly pan to where you are supposed to go). The only constraint are the obstacles in your way. To overcome these, you encounter ‘abili-trees’ which are found throughout the game and grant Ori new abilities such as double jumping and wall climbing. My personal favorite is bash; it allows you to use projectiles, enemies and their attacks to propel yourself in any given direction, flinging whatever was used in the opposite. Bash becomes one of the mainstay features: an ability you use for combat, puzzles and navigation.
The Metroidvania format is tried-and-true and as such, any mistakes become glaringly obvious. Thankfully, Moon Studios has seemingly made few, if any. The player is forced to master each new ability swiftly in order to progress, the game demands perfect integration alongside those skills that were previously acquired. This pace provides a constant difficulty increase that spikes in the three dungeon-esque levels, culminating in stringent end chase sequences. This is where Moon Studios have created something truly memorable. These heart pounding escapes necessitate pinpoint accuracy, quick thinking, and lighting-fast reflexes. Any and all mistakes or even the slightest missteps are punished with death. Completion of a chase sequence is immensely satisfying and quite literally leaves you breathless. Thankfully, the games controls are as tight and responsive as the jewel of the genre, Super Meat Boy. Much like this title, blame for any and all deaths in Ori resides solely with the player.
The game is set in the diverse land of Nibel where you control the adorable avatar Ori– a cat-like being who was taken from his home, the spirit tree, by a raging storm only to be found and raised by the maternal creature, Naru. Through organic interactions and overall fondness of one another, you quickly become invested in the duo and their well being. The introductory ten minutes makes it impossible for Ori to not swiftly settle into your heart. The main antagonist of the game is a titanic owl named Kuro- arguably the most terrifying bird in gaming -who you become rather familiar with. Familiar in the sense that every appearance from this avian jerk results in a bladder check and sweats you haven’t had since prom night. Whenever Kuro is on screen the tension is dialed up to ludicrous levels; his presence is akin to that of an old testament God. Just pray.
For such a seemingly innocent title, trial and error is the name of the game. Learning from repeated failures until you succeed results in a rewarding experience and instills a sense of satisfaction and achievement. By the time the end credits roll, your death count will rival that of the most punishing games (you are thoughtfully provided with a death counter, viewable at any moment in the pause menu).
Moon Studios dodges the severe frustration this may entail though with a simple feature. Akin to quicksaving, at nearly any opportunity you are able to create a checkpoint through a simple button press. This allows you to instantly retry whatever obstacle or enemy just bested you. This move only requires one energy cell, too. Energy expeditiously becomes abundant however, which allows the save system to be used flippantly. The only other things that require the use of energy is unlocking certain (optional) doors or a special area of effect attack that, aside from three moments in the early game, is never really needed. The saving mechanic is a design decision that I feel must have been debated about a lot during development; undeniably it makes progressing easier and drastically reduces frustration. On the flip side, it does reduce the games length by around a hour or so and it could also be argued that it makes progressing a little too easy.
One flaw that Ori and the Blind Forest possesses that has not been discussed much is that the save system system allows players to unwittingly get themselves stuck in game breaking situations. There have been a few reports on various forums about situations like this, where players who had been exploring the game world (as is encouraged) decided to err on the side of caution and save after they nearly perished. A sound strategy. Not so however, if they had ended up someplace they should not have been, at least not without the required ability.
The most notable place this can happen is around two hours into the game just before you obtain the vital double jump ability. Vital, in this case, because its the only way you are supposed to be able to enter and leave this area. However, it is possible without double jump, it only takes the majority of your health to do it. If you happen to save here -justifiably after such a seemingly close call- you find yourself under the realization that you are unable to leave. Attempting to do so results in death and a prompt respawn back into your new makeshift prison. You have effectively trapped yourself. Reloading the game just returns you to your last save point, resulting in players, who in order to actually continue playing the game, being forced to create a new save and start over again.
The satisfaction obtained in Ori and the Blind Forest is, like before mentioned, one of trial and error. The feeling of improvement and the gratification felt after finally managing to overcome that seemingly impossible section is where the enjoyment lies. The pacing of the game is brilliant and is constantly challenging. After a respectable six and a half hour run time when you are back at the title screen, you want nothing more than to return to Nibel. This is where I find a missed opportunity, or one of possible growth? I wanted to blitz through the game again, but I desired more. I wanted an even greater challenge. It could have been a simple one-hit-death mode, or even better: a turbo option (Capcom’s trend it seems) a small or even drastic increase to the game speed would have been perfect. After the skin of your teeth finale, I wanted to experience it all again but I needed the challenge to continue on, even if it became seemingly unfair.
Moon Studios clearly loves and respects the world they’ve created as well as the characters that reside in it. As a result the players cannot help but do the same. For example, while there is no spoken dialogue, the unintelligible noises used to represent the characters speech are brimming with personality, so much so that reading out the lines feels like it would be doing the characters a disservice. The story itself while relatively simple, is still engaging and unpredictable until the very end.
Ori and the Blind Forest is one of the best 2D platformers available. The game’s standout opening, a piercing blade that doesn’t dull with repetition; the amazing audio effects and music, a trend it seems that the best indie games follow; and last but not least, the stellar visuals, even more so in motion. The world of Nibel is a gorgeous place to explore and the atmosphere is palatable. The emotional punches Ori throws are powerful and the mechanics are even stronger.
At such a low asking price, I recommend anybody with even the slightest interest in the genre to purchase the game. Ori and the Blind Forest is undoubtedly the best game currently available on the Xbox One. Owners of the console need this game in their library because that is a fact that does not appear to be changing any time soon.
This review is based on a retail copy played on the PC.
- Picture-perfect visuals
- Responsive platforming controls
- Simple but touching story
- No new content after completion
- Few game breaking bugs
- Heavy focus on trial-and-error gameplay