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VideAU Games Review: Ori and the Blind Forest (Xbox One, 2015)

Ori and the Blind Forest marks a return to a kind of game we haven’t seen for a while, that most enjoyable of beasts, colloquially known as a “Metroidvania”. It bears all the hallmarks of those 2D exploratory juggernauts but looks for clever ways to update that formula for the modern era. In this, and almost every other area that Ori turns its hand to, it is wildly successful.

The game follows the titular Ori, a little white guardian spirit. Adopted and raised by a huggable Baymax type creature named Naru after it (Ori has no gender) fell from the Spirit Tree, Ori is devastated when a catastrophic event decimates their forest home, leaving the Spirit Tree corrupted and the forest “blind” and dying, Naru passes away, leaving the little spirit to explore the forest alone. With everything it cares about in peril, Ori - accompanied by a forest sprite named Sein - sets out to save the forest and restore the natural balance.

The first thing you’ll notice about Ori is how incredible beautiful it is. Despite it’s 2D platformer heritage, there’s just so much going on visually that you’ll spend quite a bit of time pulling up just to look at it. I grew up in the age of 8- and 16-bit sidescrollers, I played hundreds of them in my youth, so I want you to understand my amazement when I noticed developers Moon Studios were doing shit with parallax scrolling I’ve never seen before. There are quite literally hundreds of layers to the game’s visuals, all of them animated fluidly. The result is a consistent, singular environment that really does feel alive. It’s tremendous work and everyone involved in creating the art of Ori and the Blind Forest should feel extremely proud of themselves.

I mentioned earlier that this game fits squarely into the Metroidvania mould. From the moment the game gives you full control after it’s heartbreaking prologue the esteem in which the developers hold games like Super Metroid and Castlevania 2 is readily apparent. You are presented with a large map that extends into many disparate areas of the forest, many of which can’t be accessed without using special moves or attacks. It teases you with upgrades and goodies held just out of reach or in areas you can see but can’t access yet.

Special mention must be made of Ori’s controls. They are as responsive as they are easy to get to grips with. Ori itself moves at the perfect speed for judging jumps or attacks - there were sections I’d never been in before that saw me complete them in a single, graceful run. It feels great when you accomplish these things because much of the game is spent being very circumspect. Ori and the Blind Forest is far from an easy game and that’s largely down to one of Moon’s points of difference from Metroid.

In Metroid there were plenty of enemies that were sluggish, crawling creatures. They didn’t shoot anything, they just moved from side-to-side and got in your way. Easy enough to avoid and even easier to farm for health and ammo drops. Ori affords you no such luxuries with every single enemy being one that you need to keep an eye on because, particularly in the early part of the game, your three or four little starter yellow health orbs won’t get you far. Some attack in massive leaps that deal big damage, others split apart into smaller and smaller versions of itself forcing you to backtrack briefly. You have to on your guard at all times because the moment you lower your defenses, you’ll be dropkicked back to your last save.

Saving is another area that Moon have sought to differentiate themselves. Rather than having save stations or an autosave system, Ori relies on you to save the game manually. You do this by collecting blue orbs which sit opposite your health orbs. These blue orbs can be spent on powerful attacks but they can also be spent on creating a save point in the world. Provided you have a blue orb to spend, you can save at almost any point, and you should because if you die you are transported back to the last one you created. Push too hard or simply forget to put one down for a while and you’ll have to do it all again. I actually really liked this mechanic because if I died and lost a bunch of playtime, I really had no-one to blame but myself. PS: The game totally tracks how many times you died like Dark Souls 2. I’ll say it again - this is not an easy game.

There’s a bit of an XP system there too with XP counting towards points you can spend on a three-prong upgrade tree. Filling out this tree will turn Ori from quivering cherub to Punishment Engine but it’s quite a bit of work to get everything done and upgraded. In terms of length, I was able to turn Ori in at around 7.5 hours, and capping the campaign at around this length is actually another really strong decision. It feels like Moon have been able to cut loose and work hard on everything else once they had a hard and fast campaign locked in.

Ori and the Blind Forest is smart, beautiful, challenging, graceful and so much fun. It’s considered in its design and dazzling confident in it’s execution. Ori and the Blind Forest is independent game design at it’s very, very best and you owe it to yourself to play this. An early and serious contender for my Game of the Year.

Review Score: 9.5 out of 10
Highlights: Beautiful art; smart design reminiscent of Super Metroid
Lowlights: Zero. None. There is no downside here. Go and buy it.
Developer: Moon Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Released: March 11, 2015
Platform: Xbox One, PC

Reviewed on Xbox One