Ori and the Will of the Wisps

posted in: Reviews 0

Ori and the Blind Forest was an early Xbox One exclusive that helped validate Microsoft’s struggling console. The sequel, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, would have been the perfect way to cap off the Xbox One generation, but performance issues reportedly dampened that prospect. Fortunately, Microsoft’s strategy shifted since Ori’s debut and their first party published games are also available on Windows 10 via Xbox Game Pass for PC service. My aging NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 was able to deliver a steady 4K 60FPS with (what I assume to be) asset loading related hitches. 

Options outside of the game paid off for Moon Studios and there were even more ways to play within as well. Combat expanded significantly to include a number of abilities to accommodate different playstyles. Ori could wield a giant energy hammer, or fire energy bolts, or even summon a sprite that attacks enemies automatically. There’s a very light layer of strategy required but most enemies were dispatched with ease at the default difficulty. The challenge laid elsewhere.

Like its predecessor, Will of the Wisps was a challenging but forgiving platformer. Generous checkpoints and instantaneous reloading allowed the designers to include tricky jumps, hops, and dashes throughout the game without the frustration of replaying large chunks of the game when Ori failed. The most challenging and thrilling sections were the escape sequences which pitted Ori against an auto scrolling obstacle course of death. I felt they managed to execute and implement these sequences better in this game thanks to improved signposting which resulted in fewer retries. Nothing robbed an escape sequence of its thrill quite like a dozen retries of the same sequence. 

I initially thought the boss fights were going to be as challenging as the platforming. I mistakenly believed Moon Studios was going to pursue challenging combat like Team Cherry’s Hollow Knight. They did not. In fact, I would argue that the boss encounters were a bit too easy. I was able to brute force my way through most of it through healing and being flush with health orbs. I’m guessing things would be a bit more challenging at a higher difficulty though and if I didn’t bias Ori’s Shard loadout towards damage output.

Speaking of Hollow Knight, the Shards system should be familiar to anyone who played that game. It allowed me to increase enemy health for more in-game currency, or reduce energy costs for special moves; there were a fairly large variety of shards that allowed me to customize my experience in meaningful ways. To be honest, I think I made it too easy for myself. It didn’t make the platforming easier but it did take the bite out of much of the combat.

The Blind Forest’s soundtrack was one of those excellent scores that worked both in-game and outside of it. I revisit that soundtrack at least once per year since it’s release and I will do the same with the Will of the Wisps’. In some ways, it felt like an expansion of the style and atmosphere from the first game. Will of the Wisps soundtrack was allowed to breathe and steep in different moods. Some pieces reminded me of themes from different properties like Pirates of the Caribbean or Harry Potter; full of whimsy and emotion. Every time I think about it, I want to put on my headphones and experience it again.

I loved every minute of Ori and the Will of the Wisps. It’s one of those Metroidvania style games that I uncover every bit of the map for. I don’t even do that for Metroid games that I like. I don’t know if I love it enough to attempt a “no death” run, but I can easily see myself revisiting it at a higher difficulty. While the technical shortcomings are a bummer, I felt like Moon Studios realized their full Ori vision with this game. It’s my favorite Xbox exclusive of 2020 and that’s with new consoles coming later this year. It’s just that good.

I love it

Ratings Guide

LTTP: Ori and the Blind Forest (X1)

posted in: Reviews 0

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

Ratings Guide