by Tom Mackey
reviewed on PC
There has not been a game in the past year that has captured my imagination in quite the same way as Ori and the Blind Forest. It harks back to the retro 2D platforming that we know and love and does it all whilst being breathtakingly beautiful and fun. But that’s not all there is to it. The mechanics and gameplay are both varied and challenging, this is not a game to be taken lightly and will certainly test you at points. Light-hearted gamers out there beware, you will die again and again before finally getting past certain puzzles. It definitely took me a few respawns to complete the game. Ori and the Blind Forest is an emotional breath of fresh air in platforming, let’s find out why.
Developed by Moon Studios, Ori has been described as something of a genre mix. The developer themselves have described it as a Metroidvania game but with a stronger platforming focus and light RPG elements all set within an atmospheric world. They have also linked it to gaming heavyweights like Zelda, and if you ignore the stunning visuals it does feel like one of those old fashioned platforming RPGs, the kind of game that I used to sit down and tackle for hours at a time. Hours are what I put into this game. Hours that weren't just spent finding the countless secrets and upgrades available, but also investing myself in the touching story.
Ori has a wonderful, atmospheric and emotional story punctuated by a wonderful soundtrack. It is set in a mythical world populated by what can only be described as ‘weird’ creatures, which, while being somewhat alien also have a sense of the familiar about them. Bizarre hybrids of animals that actually exist and in some cases, creatures that definitely don’t. The opening ten minutes of the game focuses solely on Ori and his companion and is what you’d describe as an emotional roller-coaster; think Pixar’s UP and you are on the right track as this game certainly knows how to pull on your heartstrings from the beginning. It is a great welcome to the game and it’s world, before you and Ori dive head first into the blind forest. I won’t give anything away story-wise, but you go on a journey of discovery and rejuvenation. Despite the complete lack of conventional dialogue, it succeeds in tempting you through to the finale, ever intrigued to see what secrets this land and it’s creatures hide. The actual aim of the game is relatively straightforward; you are really just trying to bring life back into the forest. To do this Ori has to visit all of the regions on the map and replace the life force that has been stolen from the land. But the story, cleverly keeps you revisiting the same areas for different reasons. It gives you plenty of incentive to explore everywhere, even when you think you are done.
Dodging and jumping
Ori, the titular and only playable character, is some kind of glowing white fox/dog hybrid that’s got an indie cuteness about him. He moves about the world with a fluid kind of grace and is certainly not the largest character you’ll ever play in a platformer. This does, understandably, mean that Ori is not a hard hitter when it comes to combat in the game. You do get a flame attack near the beginning but it is really quite light and doesn’t do a great deal of damage. It works as more of a buffer to push enemies back, unless you are determined to stick around and finish the job whilst doing a fair amount of leaping and dodging. In general you are better off using Ori’s graceful acrobatics to jump and dive around your enemies rather than face them head on.
You do get to upgrade your attacking abilities as the game progresses, but even then the best approach for me remained dodging and jumping out of harm’s way. Upgrading your abilities is achieved by collecting XP from the environment and for attacking enemies, so you can’t avoid combat all together. The upgrades are split into three different ‘categories’ so the incentive to collect more XP is not only focused on improving your attacks. That graceful leaping that Ori does so well can also be upgraded, giving you the ability to dash through the air and up walls as well as perform double jumps and other familiar platforming moves. It’s in the later stages when you have really upgraded your acrobatics that the game gets unbelievably fluid and satisfying as you almost fly through the forest without touching the ground.
The save mechanic is fairly unique; you can only save if you have enough energy collected in your energy bar. If you do have the energy then you can save wherever and whenever you want to. It’s also only at these save points you create that you can access your ability tree and upgrade Ori.
Touching and satisfying
At first glance Ori and the Blind Forest is beautiful and you might think that that’s all it has to offer. But it is a challenging and satisfying platformer and it kept me wanting to play right through to the end. As you level up and progress you find that you can reach new places and discover new things in the areas that you may have assumed were complete. While this might seem like back tracking it never really felt that way, as each ability upgrade and every new venture into an old area felt fresh and fun. If you are looking for a challenging game that harks back to classic platformers of old, whilst taking the genre in new and interesting directions, then Ori is a must play. The beautiful visuals, satisfying gameplay and touching story should be more than enough to tempt you into visiting the mystical Blind Forest.
Beautiful style, challenging and satisfying gameplay, touching story.
Occasionally a little too difficult.