Dark Forest, Beautiful World
Ori and the Blind Forest is the first game since The Last of Us to have me in tears within the opening minutes of the game.
It’s even more impressive to note that it manages this with barely a word, through the emotive interactions between Naru, a creature of the forest, and Ori, a cat like guardian spirit, blown far from the spirit tree to the forest below. As the miyazaki-esque Naru cares for and raises Ori, we see their relationship blossom in ways rarely seen in games, before the dark inciting moment hits to thrust Ori on his adventure.
It’s the way developer Moon Studios made me care so much about Ori and Naru that only made me more excited to continue after being faced with the wave of death and despair that washes over Nibel Forest, and Ori himself early on. As the spirit tree’s light is extinguished the forest goes dark, and it’s up to Ori to restore the forest to what it once was.
The emotive style of Ori extends far beyond just the characters, reaching the visuals that bring the world to life. In a hand drawn style similar to UbiArt Framework titles like Rayman and Child of Light, Nibel Forest is easily one of the most stunning and memorable locales for me from recent games – it’s just a joy to sit and watch as each intricate part of the scenery sways and shifts in the breeze.
At its core, Ori and the Blind forest is a platformer, built like the early Metroid games. You’ll be jumping, climbing and running through quite an impressively large labyrinth of forest passages, revisiting areas to collect secrets, abilities and explore newly opened routes. From doors to be unlocked as you progress to secrets and power ups to collect, each time you make your way through the environment it feels like there’s new things to do.
Ori is a joy to play too, with a real rhythmic feel to the controls. Throughout the game I found myself falling into a really fluid state when leaping, dodging and blasting that felt really natural on the gamepad. Ori moved as I willed with responsive and tight controls that are perfect for some of its more tricky platforming sections.
As you explore Nibel forest through caverns, mountains, trees and lakes, the game does a great job of pacing out combat and challenges. You’re always afforded a moment to soak up the new place you find yourself in without being bombarded by some of the forest’s nastier inhabitants, but nor are you trudging through endless empty sections. There was enough side paths to keep me more than enraptured in my discoveries, but these never pulled me away from my main objective for long. I never felt pushed or rushed in my journey, but I was always eager to see what was beyond the next door.
Ori and the Blind Forest lulled me into a false sense of security with its beautiful, expansive world; I was not expecting to be as challenged as I was, especially early on. Ori really doesn’t pull its punches, and I loved it for that. Even as my death count clicked higher and higher, I was having more fun here than in a lot of other recent titles. It was a process of trial and error, learning how the puzzles worked, and I never got stuck in the same spot for too long.
One of the most interesting mechanics that plays into the difficulty is the checkpoint system. To save your game and checkpoint you activate a Soul Link, which also allows you to access the skill trees. Activating a link uses the energy you’ve gathered, so you learn fairly quickly how tactical you need to be with setting your checkpoints after dying and being set back further than you’d like. Initially I found this kind of frustrating, with a few of my poorly thought out energy uses seeing me regress further than I’d like, but by the end I’d really come around to the idea. It’s just something to get used to, but being able to set where I could reattempt puzzles from was quite nice.
The way in which Ori and the Blind Forest pulls everything together is the real triumph here. There is no aspect of the game that doesn’t perform well on its own, and when they all come together to create Nibel Forest it’s so easy to get lost in the world. Even the score of Ori ebbs and flows with the pace, setting the atmosphere amidst the noises of the forest.
Ori and the Blind Forest is undoubtedly one of the best games to be released in 2015, and I’m confident in that statement this early on in the year. It’s a beautiful and emotive tale that challenges you while letting you explore and discover, never outstaying its welcome with overly-padded sections or lengthy challenges. All in all, Ori is a neat and tight adventure that will satisfy all your platformer needs. After their triumph here, I can’t wait to see what Moon Studios does next.
Developer: Moon Studios
Platforms: Xbox One (Reviewed), PC
A review code of the game was provided by the publisher.