(Posted to my Facebook page on July 7, 2015)
Platforming is dead, some say, only living on in the likes of Mario, kept alive by nostalgia. If there is any game to prove that the genre is alive and well, it is Ori and the Blind Forest.
Ori and the Blind Forest, designed by Moon Studios, focuses around the story of Ori, a tree spirit living in the forest of Nibel. As an infant, a storm blows Ori away from the Spirit Tree, where he is found and raised by a creature named Naru. The two grow up together until one day, the forest begins to wither around them and Ori must journey across the forest to put things right before the forest dies forever.
If it sounds like I was especially vague about the story, it’s because it’s a short, simple story (There are only like five or six characters, and only two of those actually talk). It’s masterfully told, but to say anything more would be giving everything away. Trust me when I say it’ll tug a few heartstrings. Nothing like To the Moon, but it’s well told in its own right. There isn’t much else to say without spoiling anything, except that the ending features a very small cop-out. I won’t go into details because it would ruin most of the story, and I think it did ultimately end up working, but it just struck me as a little too convenient… you’ll know it when you see it.
The game is a sort of “Metroidvania” style platformer, focusing on finding new abilities to help you traverse the terrain and upgrading your existing abilities. Wall-Jumping, Double jumping, and several rather unique abilities that make traversing Nibel an utter joy. Ori controls fairly well and has a sort of fluid motion to him that only adds to the great feel of the game. You’re always checking over you map to return to old areas and find hidden collectables that you weren’t able to reach before, and being able to breeze through an area that gave you trouble earlier with your new abilities is just as satisfying as it is in games like Shadow Complex. The game only clocks in at somewhere in the 6-7 hour range, but that’s a good value for a $20 game (Cheaper, if you find it in a humble bundle or on sale on Steam) and it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Its runtime is just as long as it needs to be, but it does make me wish we have a few more areas to explore… not because it wasn’t varied enough, but because I just want to see what these artists could do in a few more settings. Oh well, maybe another day.
If the gameplay aspect has any weaknesses, I’d have to try to nail down two. First is the combat. The combat isn’t bad and in some of the more creative moments can actually be quite fun, but seems somewhat uninspired (At least until later in the game when you unlock some of the cooler tricks) and boils down to a lot of button mashing. It seems like the combat should flow like the platforming does… but it just doesn’t. The only other issue is the save system. On one hand, it’s a pretty cool idea, namely that you can expend energy to make your own save points (Which also serve as places to upgrade your abilities), but it can lead to some pretty frustrating moments when you forget to save for a while, die, and get booted fifteen minutes back. Also, this system doesn’t allow you to save in certain spots (Like places you could get locked into an infinite death loop, obviously), which is great except that it also stops saving during certain cinematic moments and boss fights, leaving you to the mercy of the game’s very unforgiving autosave feature. It will save after many important story moments so you don’t have to sit through the cutscenes again which is great, but it lacks any sort of mid-boss-fight checkpoints, which can make certain parts (The final boss fight especially) turn into a frustrating grind when you make it most of the way through, aren’t sure what to do, and get instakilled, forcing you to dredge back an epically cinematic fight that you’ve already seen fifteen times just to get another shot at it. Overall, however, these are minor complaints, and the bottom line is that the gameplay is classic metroidvania at its best.
The real strengths of this game, however, are the visuals and music. Gorgeous doesn’t even begin to do it justice. This is a game that creates a style and then completely owns it. It’s a sort of watercolor style that gives the game a warm, cheerful feeling that is just a pleasure to look at. You can keep your “Realistic Military Shooters” which features 1080p closeups of every shade of brown and gray, what we have here is real artistic beauty. We have warm fields, frigid craves, boiling volcanoes… man, when I think of places a game can take me, this is what I’m looking for: A true place of fantasy that takes every advantage of its setting and turns itself into a work of pure art. The only weak place in terms of the art are the enemies. There are a lot of rather uninspired designs (Many enemies are just blobs), but this is also made up for with the absolutely amazing and shit-your-pants terrifying main enemy of the game. It’s a very simple design and concept for an enemy overall, but it fits the theme so well that it ends up just being one hell of a design.
But I’m not done. In addition to the stunning visuals, we have one of the most beautifully composed soundtracks I’ve ever heard in a game. It has cheery upbeat songs that just make you want to see Ori sprint, sad melodies to accompany the more somber moments, and pulse-pounding jams that know just how to turn up the tension at the right moment. I’m really awful at trying to describe why a soundtrack works, but this one does. Don’t take my word for it though, take a listen to the soundtrack I have included, it’s really a treat.
In the end, Ori may go down as one of my favorite platformers of all time. It’s energetic, fun, beautiful, emotional, and it just manages to do almost everything right. If you have a chance, do yourself a favor and give this game a try; it’s well worth the price of admission and can be admired as though it were a fine piece of art because, honestly, it is.
I give Ori and the Blind Forest a 5 out of 5.