Ori and the Blind Forest: one of the biggest surprises we’ll see
Moon Studios would have us believe that Ori and the Blind Forest is a heartwarming story about the adorable little guardian spirit Ori and his adoptive mother, Naru. Much of the early artwork and screenshots focused on the two companions, but their story only scratches the very surface of a much harsher one.
Much of Ori and the Blind Forest comes as a surprise, from the unexpectedly heavy narrative to a gradually increasing difficulty scale, but what’s more than obvious at the start is how beautiful the game looks. Even confined within a 2D plane, this action platformer takes full advantage of the Xbox One’s graphical capabilities.
The interactive prologue showcases the hand-drawn visuals that continue to delight throughout the many hours to come. In these first few minutes of light gameplay, the player is introduced to Ori and Naru, and then treated to a charming sequence depicting their growing bond as young forest spirit and surrogate mother. Tragedy follows quickly, however, and a sad turn of events sees their home Nibel Forest rapidly fall to decay. Without his mother or a home, the little spirit inevitably embarks on a journey to discover the secrets of the forest in order to save it, guided only by a tiny light and the echoes of his lost kin.
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Ori and the Blind Forest is certainly beautiful, but perhaps the most appealing aspect of this platformer is how easy it is to pick up. Everything about Ori is welcoming to start, where skills are introduced over time and the challenges feel perfectly approachable with whatever new ability you’ve just learned. The controls are simple and feel as crisp as the game looks, ensuring the small white creature on your screen is always responsive to every button press. Rarely does Ori go where you don’t want him to, or miss a jump due to input delays.
Yet within the first couple of hours, this deceptively gentle learning curve gives way to teeth-clenching lessons in sharp reflexes and skill mastery. Even the most minute error in judgment and timing could result in a swift death, leading to so many expletive-laden moments of frustration or outright despair, where even the sight of cute little Ori flipping through the air could not extinguish my brief bursts of platformer-induced anger. Honestly, I’ve never hated lasers more in my life than I do after playing Ori and the Blind Forest.
That being said, the game never feels too punishing. Yes, mistimed jumps and the tiniest moments of hesitation will result in Ori being killed by way of spiders, boulders, lava, or (most commonly) thorny briar patches. Still, no situation ever seemed too daunting, which is impressive given how action platformers tend to be hit-or-miss when it comes to scaling difficulty. Abilities are introduced gradually and always followed by a generous span of game time, where the player can learn to effectively utilize new skills and work them into the existing repertoire of jumps and attacks.
Another major design element that’s rather unique to Ori and the Blind Forest is the Soul Link save system. Checkpoints are few and far between, so to counteract this, the game lets you save almost anywhere. So long as Ori’s Energy reserves aren’t completely dry, one orb of said Energy can be sacrificed to create a checkpoint. This saves all previous progress while also giving the player a chance to spend unused Ability Points. Energy doesn’t exactly come freely though, and the resource is shared with a few rather vital abilities, thus leading to moments where you’ll need to decide which is more important.
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Even with a rich (and unexpectedly sad) narrative, don’t expect Ori and the Blind Forest to stretch quite as long as your favorite RPG. You could still easily lose several days to this game, however, with the ten-or-so hours it spans. The story is also masterfully paced, always keeping in step with level progression and never tapering off. Even the backtracking doesn’t feel superfluous.
For me, personally, the replayability factor isn’t too apparent, but completists hoping to make a dent on the leaderboards will undoubtedly be making several return trips to Nibel. The world map is massive enough where not everything can be easily uncovered during a blind first playthrough, though players who don’t mind the backtracking will find themselves falling down a rabbit hole of improved abilities and formerly unreachable areas.
Without a doubt, Ori and the Blind Forest is one of the biggest surprises we’ll see. On the surface, it’s a gorgeous platformer brimming with style and story, drawing curious players in with all its charm and intuitive design. In truth, this is a sprawling adventure that dares to play with our emotions and taunts us with never-ending challenges. I can say with absolute certainty that Ori is already one of my favorite games of the year.
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