I knew of Moon Studios’ Ori and the Blind Forest was a beautiful and challenging game with a “Metroidvania” structure. I knew all of those facts before playing it and yet I was still surprised by it.
I was sold on Ori by the few early trailers I gleaned from the Microsoft’s tradeshow appearances. The trailers showed a wonderfully animated action adventure game not unlike Dust: An Elysian Tale. What the trailers failed to convey was the game’s cohesion. After the first ten minutes or so, it was apparent there was high level craftsmanship at work here. The different pieces — like the music, the visuals and the game mechanics — complimented each other perfectly.
I was introduced to Ori and his adopted mother, Naru, through a warm and fuzzy opening. It didn’t take long for that warmth to turn grim as the surrounding forest suddenly withered away many lives along the way including Naru’s. Ori wasn’t alone for long though. With the help of a mysterious spirit named Sein, Ori embarked on a journey to restore the forest and the surrounding lands to their former glory.
The story was told through beautiful cutscenes and never overstayed their welcome. I found Ori’s tale heartwarming like Disney’s The Lion King which isn’t surprising when the creators went out of their way to specifically name that movie as a source of inspiration.
Similar to The Lion King video game, Ori was a game that was more challenging than its visual aesthetic would indicate. It wasn’t an a pleasant stroll through a forest. I had well over 200 deaths by the end of the game but not a single moment of frustration. There were challenging platforming segments that would not be out of place in Super Meat Boy. And like with Super Meat Boy, Ori curbed frustration with liberal checkpointing and super quick game reloads.
In Ori, the developers gave me the ability to create checkpoints (or Soul Links as they’re called) at any safe spot. Hurdle a few obstacles, create a checkpoint. Hurdle a few more, create another. It was like they gave me the ability to quick save and load but with the checks and balances to not screw myself over.
The only spots where they didn’t allow checkpointing were the infamous escape sequences where I was given what I would call platforming exams. I was forced to cobble together all that I learned up to that point into one minute long uninterrupted escape sequence. They were tough and I racked up a large number of deaths but they didn’t feel cheap. I learned after each death and essentially employed trial and error through all three “exams”.
Despite the challenge, I still took the time to smell the roses along the way. I relished every new section and soaked in the detailed multi-layer backgrounds. I loved the music and how it carried a common theme throughout its numerous tracks. I was fixated with details on the levels themselves, keeping an eye out for secrets but also nifty touches like how the water reacted with Ori. Don’t ask me why but I was very impressed by the water in this game.
Before I wrap this all up, I want to give the music more love. It was the perfect fit for this game and it’s the piece that tied the entire package together. No matter what the situation was, the notes were there on cue. It punctuated each of those escape sequences with an elated relief and accomplishment. And it cushioned sadder moments with slower but familiar tones. I simply adored it all.
I imagine Ori and the Blind Forest as the logical succession of Super Nintendo side scrolling action adventure games that were so prevalent then. The developers over at Moon Studios drew inspiration from notable sources but they made something refreshing and wholly their own. Having just finished Axiom Verge, I thought I would burn out on a similarly structured game like Ori but that wasn’t the case at all. In fact, where I felt a little genre fatigue by the end of Axiom Verge: I felt revitalized with Ori. What an exceptional game. It’s just a shame that I couldn’t go back to find those two remaining collectibles.
I love it