While we were captivated by Ori and the Blind Forest at Microsoft’s E3 Press Conference back in 2014, the team at Moon Studios have been working on this game for four years. As one of the most anticipated games of 2014’s E3 show, it was quite a wait for us. For the developers, it must have been agony waiting this long to launch. Thankfully, not only is Ori and the Blind Forest a triumph of a game, it might also be the best thing Microsoft have backed in years.
Anyone who has seen the first ten minutes of Up and became emotionally invested are advised strongly to have a handkerchief handy. Ori and the Blind Forest opens with a strong emotional haymaker, but the tale as a whole is centred around the themes of misunderstandings and how the seemingly evil all have their own things to protect. Much like Disney movies, it has a strong morale message and seems to convey it rather well through player/NPC actions rather than exposition, which is a refreshing change of pace.
Unless you were living under a rock, the first thing you would have seen would have been the gorgeous presentation. Inspired by Studio Ghibli and Disney to an extent, the art team have certainly injected each hand-drawn background and sprite with love, care, and its own unique personality; while the soundtrack is a triumphant score plucked from greatness. Perhaps a bit of an odd observation, but Ori and the Blind Forest‘s artistic direction reminds me a lot of the style behind Dust: An Elysian Tail, mainly the amount of detail that has gone into the backgrounds. Yet this doesn’t subtract from the appeal of the visuals in the slightest. On occasion there is a small frame rate drop, but having the entire world without loading points is also commendable.
Good Metroidvania games are hard to find, but Ori and the Blind Forest focuses on platforming challenges as opposed to combat. That isn’t to say combat isn’t there, just not the main focus. In fact, the vast majority of your “attacks” also help you traverse the world. Bash, for example, allows you to bounce off enemies and some projectiles, launching them in other directions. While this is useful for killing foes quickly, it can also be angled so the projectile launches so they can unearth that hidden secret. Not a lot of the mechanics are original per se, but they’re at least competently pulled off as the controls are tight and precise.
I never found myself getting bored as Ori and the Blind Forest nicely paced the point where you learn a new skill. Mastery of said skills has been key and there have been a lot of deaths as a result. Eventually, the game does ramp up the precision though this is always welcome to prevent your game from getting stale. You also gain ability points to spend on new skills and while they’re largely focused on upgrading certain skills, you do get the odd one or two that are exclusive – yet not particularly interesting.
Where you’re likely to have a little bit of trouble is with saving. Early on you get the ability to create your own checkpoints that can restore a bit of health. This is both a blessing and a curse, depending on how frequently you use them. Plenty a good spell of gameplay can abruptly come to an end with a misplaced step, causing a painful slap on the forehead when you realise you forgot to checkpoint recently. The onus is most certainly on the player though there are a few wells that also act as save points just in case. A few more of these would have been nice, but not essential.
It might not be the longest game out there, but Ori and the Blind Forest is a stunning tour-de-force. Its exquisiteness is not just skin deep as it’s a blast to play, not afraid to keep you on your toes when it comes to ramping up the challenge. Beauty comes in several forms here and only serves to be a boon to the game’s appeal. Perhaps the only thing that could take you out of the bubble Ori and the Blind Forest creates is how the game saves, but careful players will probably not notice this as much. Well on the way to being one of the best games released this year, it just goes to show that four years of hard graft and a stunning design can garner such magnificent results.