Have you ever started playing a game for the first time, and within just a few moments you immediately realised you were playing something truly special? I’m pretty sure the last game that had that effect on me was Journey, but going forward when I think back to the most recent experience that gave me such a feeling, my thoughts will rest solely with Ori and the Blind Forest.
In the first ten minutes of the game, Moon Studios threw a haymaker of emotion and beauty that landed straight at the center of my heart and took me to the edge of tears. It was at that moment that I knew there was no way I wasn’t going to see the end of this game, and it left me wondering that if they had done so much with just the introduction, what else was in store? I’d like to be able to talk more about the story itself, but almost all of it really needs to be experienced in its original context to be truly appreciated, so I’ll stick mainly to how the game looks and feels.
I hate to focus on visuals so early in a review but it really is the first thing you’ll notice. From the first time you lay eyes on Ori, a forest spirit that takes the form of a small white creature, to the end of the final scene, every character, level, enemy, and visual effect look like they were created with a substantial amount of love and detail, and the vistas you find yourself viewing in the distance look like they were pulled straight out of an oil painting.
The way that you traverse this 2D world is every bit as satisfying as it is to look at. You control Ori as he goes on his way, bouncing around different areas of the forest in an attempt to restore life and vitality that was recently stripped away. As you continue your journey, new character abilities are unlocked and they’re almost always immediately used on the path that lies right in front of you. The pace at which the game hands out these new skills is extremely well done, and there’s almost nowhere you can go in the forest that doesn’t afford you the opportunity to use all of them.
As you combat the large variety of enemies and bounce your away throughout the land, a glowing life orb named Sein floats at your side. While Sein is always traveling with you, you can compile new orbs that allow for upgrading your maximum health, how often you can save your game, and you’ll even gain new combat and character abilities beyond what the game makes a point to give you.
This upgrade path is wonderfully spaced and you don’t really have to worry about any of it to finish the game. Having said that, exploration for more orbs and abilities is great fun and ultimately makes the voyage to the final act a little easier. These unlockable extras offer a layer of RPG-lite depth that’s fun to work toward if you’re into that kind of thing, but most of them aren’t entirely necessary if you prefer to stick to the beaten path.
The character abilities the game gives you at regular intervals really highlight how well each level is designed. They’re all visually stunning and very distinct from one another but it goes much deeper than that. Sometimes I found myself backtracking through an area I’d already been through, but there were suddenly all these new ledges and small sections that I could now access that I was unable to previously. Moon Studios was very obviously well aware that moving back through older portions of a game isn’t always fun, so they built those early stages with later upgrades in mind.
Ori’s combat and platforming techniques are constantly put to the test, particularly in the later portions of the game. However, the game does a pretty good job easing you into the more difficult sections, and I was a solid few hours into the game before I ran into anything that required more than a couple of tries. That said, this game does get very difficult. Certain levels require near perfect movement to successfully complete objectives, but the rock-solid platforming mechanics offer the tools you need to succeed, and at no point did any section feel unfair or poorly designed.
The game’s musical score is another area of tremendous strength. The suggestive and emotional audio pairs perfectly with the cinematics to deliver the desired effect, while the ambient noises and exciting music during chase sequences were expertly composed and timed. The sound effects also felt spot on, and I hated seeing Ori injured just because of the heart-wrenching yelp he lets out.
I come up mostly empty-handed when I try to think of negatives to talk about. The game does get brutally difficult in the later stages, and there were a couple of times where I wished I could’ve saved a little more often, yet the sense of accomplishment when I completed each task immediately melted away any semblance of frustration I had previously. And it would’ve been nice if I could’ve kept exploring the world after I finished the last sequence, but the game makes it very clear that’s not possible before you go into the final act. Also, there were a few framerate hiccups here and there but they didn’t crop up very often and were very short-lived.
Great platforming games don’t seem like they come around that often anymore. These days it can be a little tough to find a 2D platformer that’s fun, visually appealing, and finds the balance between challenging and achievable in just the right way. It’s even harder to find a game that matches that criteria but also tugs at your heartstrings with an emotional story about love, hope, and having the right intentions.
Ori and the Blind Forest does all these things and is by nearly all accounts a masterpiece in video games. It has a little something for just about everyone, but more than enough to satisfy even the most galvanized platforming fans. Its difficulty might keep some from seeing the credits roll, but the sense of achievement and experiencing how the story ends makes any hardship along the way well worth the ride.
Version tested: Xbox One