E3 has come and gone, which means everyone is excited over games at least three to four months out and the recent release schedule has been paltry at best. What a perfect time to dig into the backlog a bit. I was deciding between Gravity Rush and Ori and the Blind Forest and, clearly, the Xbox One game from Moon Studios prevailed. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful platformer short enough to be completed in a few sessions but difficult enough to demand a lot from you.
- TL;DR: Supreme beauty and punishing difficulty make Ori’s journey a great one
- Platform: PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One (reviewed)
- Time Played: 8:45
- What I Played: Completed the main campaign with 79% completion after dying 541 times
Ori and the Blind Forest is a classic platformer with a classic story. The hero, Ori, is a small white spirit who lives in the forest of Nibel. Kuro, a black owl, destroys the light of the forest causing it to fall into decay. Ori and his partner spirit Sein must gather the three elements of water, wind, and warmth to restore Nibel.
First and foremost, Ori and the Blind Forest is beautiful. Playing it is like walking, running, and jumping through a piece of art. It runs at 1080p and 60FPS, with the only small stutter I noticed happening right before my Xbox decided to randomly shut off, so I’m not going to fault the game for that. Nibel is bright and vibrant in some sections while being dark and gloomy in others. There is a snowy, wintery environment and a desert environment. The backgrounds change frequently, yet there are no loading screens. The entire map scrolls along as you move, something I took for granted and didn’t even notice until I started looking up some information for this article.
Ori and the Blind Forest is a Metroidvania game with all the bulletpoints: ability-gated doors, save points with fast travel between them, and most importantly platforming. You have to be careful not to take the excellent environmental design for granted. There are plenty of one-hit kill spikes in the forest and most of them don’t stick out with a different color or a faint outline. You have to be very aware of your surroundings.
While the platformer/combat scale is definitely weighted towards the former, the latter is just as important in Ori and the Blind Forest. Ori finds another spirit early on, Sein, who helps him in combat. Sein shoots small tracking missiles called spirit flames to damage enemies. That’s just about your only way to take on the horrors of Nibel. Sure, you can power the spirit flames up with extra damage, faster shots, and a charge shot, but there’s no gear or extra combat abilities to learn. This forces you to learn each nameless enemy’s patterns and to use it against them.
Combat rewards you with spirit light and filling up your gauge will earn you an ability point. There are three skill tree paths: one for combat, one for movement and energy use, and one for altering map markers and pickup range. There are, naturally, other pickups around the world for full skill points and to increase your max health and energy. Energy is a valuable resource in Ori and the Blind Forest even with a grand total of one combat ability. Not only is it used to fuel your charged shot, but it’s also used to create save points. Yes, you have to spend precious energy to create a soul link with the forest each time you want to save. I highly recommend investing in the “reuse a soul link to save again” skill as early as possible, otherwise you’ll be spending an energy each time you want to save rather than to create a reusable soul link. Energy is scarce and while the respawn time is practically zero, it still sucks having to trudge through a whole section that you’ve done over and over and over again. These save points don’t heal you, either. Soul links are also where you spend ability points on the forementioned passive upgrades.
You won’t be giving Ori and new combat abilities but he does receive a handful of new techniques through spirit trees, which definitely feel like chozo statues from the Metroid series, over the eight to nine hours of play. Staples like a double jump and a powerful, higher jump make appearances but the most important ability, at least for me, is bash. Bash let’s you essentially jump off of an enemy or a projectile. When you engage a bash, you’ll have about two seconds to aim Ori before he slings off in that direction. But, and possibly more importantly, the enemy/projectile you just jumped off of will go in the opposite direction. This opens up the door for things like killing enemies with their own shots, throwing enemies into spikes, climbing to an unreachable area on a chain of fireballs, redirecting an exploding enemy into a weak section of wall, and more.
Bash is definitely an integral piece to the three escape sequences in Ori and the Blind Forest. You can’t save during these rather difficult sections either, meaning you’ll be going through a lot of trial and error. Complete three jumps, get swallowed up, respawn, complete four movements, run into some spikes, and so on. I wonder how many of my 541 deaths came during these three sections.
There’s no way around it — Ori and the Blind Forest is a tough game. The developers wouldn’t have added a death counter to the pause screen if they didn’t think it was. Hard hitting enemies, auto-kill spikes, and infrequent save points all contribute to the challenge. As the Polygon review points out, though, finally executing the perfect input combination to finish an escape or to navigate a particularly challenging area feels really, really good.
Ori and the Blind Forest is a classic platformer that focuses on the best parts of the genre. It’s hard not to stop and look around in awe at the beautiful, highly detailed settings. Timing jumps and movements correctly is difficult but oh so satisfying when you finally get it right. Combat is an important element, but there are no big boss fights or waves of enemies to worry about. Ori and the Blind Forest is more about navigating a visually stunning environment with precision. I had a lot of fun doing that.