Greatly inspired by games of past and present, Ori and the Blind Forest is the epitome of the 'Metroidvania' genre and is enveloped in a strikingly elegant art style coupled with an emotional story and soundtrack to make a very memorable experience. Ori and the Blind Forest has had a lot of hype behind it since it was revealed and I'm glad to say that it not only lives up to it, but exceed expectations.
+Stunningly gorgeous visuals and art style.
+New benchmark for Metroidvania's.
+Impressive storytelling with very little use of dialogue.
+No loading times or reused assets.
-Massive difficulty spikes at random.
-Some sections require absolute perfection and multiple retries.
Unveiled almost a year ago at E3, Ori and the Blind ForestUnveiled almost a year ago at E3, Ori and the Blind Forest caught a lot of attention almost instantaneously simply for its unique visual art style which is quite impressive during the onslaught of E3 reveals and AAA games. Ori has been four years in the making and is heavily influenced by the classic and current games such as the Metroid series, Legend of Zelda, and Rayman. Intended as a 'love letter' to those games and genres, Ori utilizes many mechanics found in games previously mentioned, but also carves its own spot into the 'Metroidvania' genre with its own unique gameplay mechanics and ideas in an almost perfect package.
I'm a sucker for very visually appealing games, not realistic graphics, but unique art styles and hand drawn much like recent releases such as Rayman Legends and Child of Light, so needless to say that Ori instantaneously struck a chord with me and made me want to delve into its gorgeous world. Even just moments into starting Ori, it felt special from the very beginning with the opening cinematic. Usually it takes time to create an emotional connection with characters, but from the opening moments when events unfold, I already felt connected to the characters introduced which is made even more impressive given that there's very little dialogue throughout the whole game. The bar is set very high from the beginning and luckily it keeps this strength continuous all the way until the credits roll.
You control Ori, a mystical white spirit guardian who is found as an infant by a bear-like creature who takes her in and raises her as her own. Tragic events unfold and Ori is left alone and must begin her quest to restore balance to their world by exploring the massive and mysterious forest to set things right. Ori is befriended by a wisp-like creature named Sein who will help her on her adventure to restore the great Spirit Tree back to its former self. There's more to the story but to avoid any spoilers I'll refrain from mentioning much more as it's a wonderful story with different undertones layered throughout that should be experienced. Given that the story unfolds with virtually no dialogue is impressive and you're only given small nuggets between the main sections of the overall campaign.
Due to this fragmented storytelling it can feel a little disconnected at times, especially if it's been a long time since the last story segment, but it does all tie together quite neatly with its memorable characters and stunning backdrops. Just like any good game in the 'Metroidvania' genre, Ori starts off very weak without any abilities other than being able to jump, but as she progresses and with Sein's help, she eventually obtains more powers and abilities along the way which will be crucial for progressing further on her adventure.
Ori at its heart is a 2D sidescrolling platformer akin to Metroid and Rayman and successfully recreates that special magic that few games get to achieve. While Child of Light was more RPG focused in its gameplay, Ori and the Blind Forest has a much stronger emphasis and focus on exploration and the platforming mechanic which is enhanced by the atmospheric setting of Ori's home. To have a great platforming game you need to have perfect controls, and Ori does just that. Never once did I blame the controls, even with my death tally reaching into the hundreds (yes, that is tracked), and all of my deaths were due to the increasingly difficult puzzles and input required with some sections being brutally difficult as absolute perfection is needed at certain points.
One of the most interesting abilities that Ori possesses is the talent for creating "soul links" at any time given that she has enough of the resources saved. Soul Links gives the player the ability to use it as a save point at anywhere in the game as long as there isn't a nearby enemy. Given that the automatic and in place checkpoints and very scarce, you'll need to learn to use this ability when possible, based on your skill level, as the resources needed to create Soul Links aren't always common. As Ori levels by gathering XP orbs she will be able to spend ability points across three different skill trees to emphasize your play style, some of which will allow Ori to heal a certain amount whenever a Soul Link is created. This unique save mechanic does take some getting used to, as for a first few hours I would forget to create Soul Links and lose up to 20 or 30 minutes of progress because of my forgetfulness. Once it becomes second nature though, it's a fantastic way to play into your strengths and you can use your previous resources to save less frequently when you become more accustomed to Ori's controls.
You're going to die, a lot, and while this isn't inherently a criticism, the gameplay does take a lot of trial and error to progress in some sections, which is where the brilliance of user made saves even more necessary. There are some random spikes in difficulty that do tend to skirt the fine line between unfairness and perfection, but once you complete these sections you'll feel very accomplished. There was a section that I was stuck on for at least a half hour (and probably at least a hundred deaths), forced to redo it over and over until I got it absolute perfect. It can be frustrating at times when most of the time Ori is forgiving in its difficulty, but be ready for the few sections that will force you to have absolutely zero faults before you can progress.
While the Ori's home may look inviting, don't let that fool you, as Moon Studios has crafted some very challenging environments that will take precision reflexes to advance. While the visual style and earlier levels may be inviting to a more casual crowd, the latter half of Ori's campaign will challenge you greatly and will require some serious concentration and puzzle solving skills. Each the main areas that you eventually explore each have not only their own theme and tones, but sometimes specific mechanics as well. For example, there was an area that I was stuck in for quite some time because a new gameplay element was introduced and it had a steep learning curve to perfect.
At one point you'll have a Light Vessel that when carried disables all of the powers and abilities you've been previously using to get to this point, but will allow you to safely touch areas that would have earlier killed Ori. This Light Vessel also allows Ori to defy gravity in specific situations and even reverses controls in specific situations. While this mechanic isn't terribly new, it is executed almost perfectly with complexity and challenging puzzles. Sections like this take a great amount of experimentation and perfection but plays into Ori's strengths and fantastic gameplay.
While platforming is the bulk of Ori's gameplay, there is a combat element to the game as well along with some light RPG foundations. You gain XP orbs from defeating enemies and as you progress further in Ori's story, you'll encounter many different types of enemies, each of which have their own patterns of attack and weaknesses. Some enemies won't be able to be damaged until you come back at a later time with a new ability, so expect to run to and fro from section to section at times to obtain previous inaccessible hidden secrets. New abilities are introduced at a steady pace and you'll become trained in how to use it properly to not only reach the next area needed, but survive each area's specific challenges.
If Ori's only strength was its unique stylized appearance, it would be a shallow experience, but given that it also exceeds at its gameplay element as well, it makes for a wonderful game that I highly recommend if you're a fan of the genre. The orchestral score fits the mood of the visual presentation perfectly and makes for a complete package with its fantastic gameplay foundations as well. Each area feels unique and there's apparently no reused assets throughout the whole game which is impressive for a game of this style and length (it's roughly 8-10+ hours long depending on how much exploring and secret hunting you do).
Ori and the Blind Forest appears as if it's a gorgeous piece of artwork that is moving and flowing naturally and knows how to pull you into its story and gameplay quite easily. While there is the odd framerate dip, though very seldom, it never took away from the experience or enjoyment. There aren't many titles that release in this genre these days, so when one does come out it's not only welcome, but should be applauded when it's done with this much care. It would be an easy argument to have suggesting that Ori and the Blind Forest could now be the benchmark that other games in the 'Metroidvania' genre should aspire to be with all of its elements coming together to create a cohesive and memorable gaming experience.
Review based on a Xbox One version of the game, supplied by the Publisher.