Ori and the Blind Forest is one deceptive son of a gun. There I was, expecting a casual yet enjoyable platformer and why wouldn’t I? The boot up tile, it shows our protagonist and friend hugging it out. The title, it sounds like a fable you tell to kids to make them think twice about coolness of littering. The art style, looks like something Studio Ghibli would put out. So, does any of this scream brutal, unforgiving platformer to you? No? It didn’t to me either. And you know what? I really kinda dug that surprise.
Ori and the Blind Forest starts off strong and wastes no time finding your feels and proceeding to punch directly through them. Taking a page from UP‘s ‘how to make an intro that causes you to lose 80% of your bodily fluid in tears’ approach, we’re introduced to our protagonist Ori. Ori is a tree sprite who got separated from the equivalent of this world’s Deku Tree by a wicked evil Owl. Being as its nature is wicked evil, the Owl then decided to also kill the Spirit tree, causing nature to flip out. You know, the usual forest dying, water turning poison, super bugs taking over kinda deal. Ori, being the last remaining tree sprite, must go on a quest to gather the three elemental mcguffins and bring the Spirit tree back to life.
Regardless of the not so original over-arching story, the first 10 minutes do an amazing job of establishing Ori as a character, the world, and Ori’s own personal quest without the use of dialogue, instead using only universal emotion and an amazing score. It’s basically like playing a Pixar short, insanely gorgeous visuals and all.
You know what? Insanely gorgeous is probably underselling how good this game looks but I’m at a loss for better adjectives. Ori’s 2D world is presented in a beautiful watercolour art style, which is given depth by layered background and foregrounds, all enveloped by this mysteriously radiant lighting. Working in pure harmony with this art style is subtle and smooth animation, for, pretty much everything. Flowers bob as you brush past them, water ripples, the world just feels alive and engaging, demanding that you explore it. And explore it you shall!
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As surprising as this might be, Ori isn’t just a pretty thing to look at. Oh no. At its core it’s a brutal, Metroidvania-style platformer. Thankfully the controls are spot on here. Ori feels light and nimble, with the just the right amount of after touch mid jump to navigate the countless deaths that await her. Prepare to rely on twitch reflexes and patience. I’m talking Super Meat Boy and Dark Souls comparisons here. Who saw that coming?
Being as it’s taking the Metroidvania approach to level design, the world is one big ol’ sprawling map, with your progression hindered by ledges just out of reach and walls with cracks in (which look like they could totally be exploded or something). As you progress through the game you unlock extra abilities like everyone’s favourite ‘The Double Jump’, Wall Climbing and a nifty glide. Every new ability you gain comes with a real sense of empowerment, with the game demanding that you master them, often making you string multiple moves together to overcome some challenges.
The most interesting ability Ori gained was something called the Dash and Bash. It’s kind of a counter move, where pressing Y near an enemy, projectile or lantern will allow you to launch off them in any direction you choose. Not only is this ability used for launching yourself through some ridiculous encounters- and I’m taking crazy ridiculous- you can also use it to fling projectiles back at enemies or throw them into spiked walls. If that’s your kinda thing.
The other rad ability at Ori’s disposal is Soul Link, which allows you to create a checkpoint. That’s right, you create the checkpoints. It uses up some of your energy that you use for other abilities and more powerful attacks, creating great a risk for reward situation. The amount of times I’ve forgotten to make one or sometimes when I just felt too awesome to need one, I lost, like, a whole area’s worth of progression. Damn you hubris!
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Ori and the Blind Forest is a game that’s really hard to fault. Its art style is stellar, the gameplay on-point and it effectively breathes new life into the old Metroidvania-style platformer. If I had to scrape the barrel for one criticism, it was that sometimes, when things got real, projectiles became camouflaged amongst all the other glowing orbs on screen. But, seriously that ain’t no thing.
If you dig platformers, exploring, amazing art or drinking 6 cans of Red Bull and posting inhumane speed runs on leaderboards: Get on this. Like now. Screw it, I’m gonna go play it now!