Ori and the Blind Forest Review

Metroidvania. The very word brings to mind images of tightly constructed platformers with challenging combat, non-linear progression, a constantly snowballing number of abilities and player directed backtracking and exploration. In recent years the subgenre has seen a resurgence with numerous quality titles emerging with Shadow Complex, Dust: An Elysian Tail and Guacamelee! To name but a few. The latest exclusive for Microsoft’s Ecksbocks One is Ori and the Blind Forest, yet another title in a suddenly congested market. So how does it fare against the competition? Let’s find out…

In Ori and the Blind Forest, players take on the titular role of Ori, a cuddly looking half-breed rabbit/monkey energy being that is linked to the forest. After Ori is separated from the heart of the forest in which it resides, the landscape takes a turn for the worst, withers and dies. Following a brief introduction that smacks you about the face, stomach and feels with an emotional sledgehammer similar to Disney’s ‘Up’, Ori is forced into the wilderness on a quest to restore life and balance to the forest.

For those familiar with the genre, Ori and the Blind Forest is a sterling example of a Metroidvania platformer filled with an assortment of tightly constructed jumping, timing and combat-based platformer gameplay. As players progress through the game, additional skills are unlocked which allow players to open up new locations as well as backtrack to find additional secrets and uses for their new found abilities. Of course there are plenty of hidden collectibles such as nice chunks of XP, as well as health and energy power ups to be found and the further you progress into the game, the more abilities you’ll unlock and the more of these you’ll be able to find. The backtracking and exploration is surprisingly addictive and even those not prone to ravenously chase 100% completion will feel a strong compulsion to do so.

Despite its cutesy protagonist and the beautifully crafted world, Ori and the Blind Forest is a very challenging game. Moon Studio’s Blind Forest is a deadly place in which everything can kill you extremely quickly, whether it’s the obstacle laden platforming or the combat and array of vicious enemy types. The combat is especially challenging. Players are accompanied by a floating orb named Sein who does all of the attacking whilst Ori does the platforming and avoiding of incoming attacks. The distance between the two can be distracting as players need to keep track of both whilst dodging and attacking simultaneously which can get quite hectic with multiple enemies on screen, but the challenge makes it immensely satisfying.

Whilst Ori and the Blind Forest does take quite a few cues from established series’, the game also incorporates a few novel features to put its own unique stamp on the genre. A good example of this is the use of an RPG-style perk system in which players can invest skill points in one of three trees based around combat, exploration and health/checkpoint usage all of which are designed to make your life in the forest slightly easier. It’s a nice touch and one that makes this surprisingly difficult game a little less brutal.

The other major shakeup to the mechanics is the game’s saving system.  Ori and the Blind Forest only offers sparse checkpoints at major story sections and save locations at specific wells within each zone which are more often than not located quite far apart. This can be challenging as the game will not save any progress at all unless you reach a save location and as such dying will have you needing to re-collect any collectibles, re-solve any puzzles and re-do all of those combat/platforming sections over and over again. Fortunately, the game has an interesting solution in that players are able to create a checkpoint to save their game at almost any time.

Regrettably, these Ori-controlled checkpoints require players to spend hard-earned energy to produce. As it takes plenty of time and effort to accumulate enough energy to generate another checkpoint, the save system becomes a delicate balancing act between putting down a checkpoint to secure your current advancement through the game or risk a few more enemy encounters and jumps to preserve progress a little further along. Placement can be incredibly important and making the wrong call can be infuriating as accidently saving in the wrong place can see Ori having to repeat tricky areas and suffer multiple setbacks.

Ori and the Blind Forest’s presentation is absolutely sublime. Drawing favourable comparisons to Ubisoft’s Child of Light or Rayman Legends/Origins, the game looks and feels like an interactive painting. It is rich in detail, with each of the various surroundings providing a living, breathing game world. The visuals are striking and with a nice diversity to the various zones, numerous subtle foreground/background animations and well realised environs, the game just looks amazing from start to finish.

The aural side of the equation is almost as good as the game’s visual presentation. The sombre, melancholic music does a superb job of matching the on-screen activities. Ori and the Blind Forest really does provide an excellent example of how a great musical score in combination with some interesting environs and the beautiful art style, manages to encapsulate a unique sense of immersion and atmosphere that few games can top.

There is very little to dislike about Ori and the Blind Forest. The difficulty can be a little extreme, especially as towards the pointy end of the game and during a series of set piece ‘World Events’ in which players need to make their way through lengthy and quite difficult platforming sequences without the use of checkpoints and have to begin again from the start upon death. The checkpoint management system can also be frustrating and result in having to replay lengthy platforming or combat sections… to be honest though, for the most part it’s the player’s fault for forgetting to save, not the game’s.

Whilst the core of the game will be nothing new to fans of the genre, its ingenious use of checkpoints, platforming puzzles with just the right amount of difficulty, challenging gameplay and some interesting abilities make it well worth checking out. When you consider that those same mechanics are paired to one of the most visually beautiful game worlds in a long time, an excellent musical score, palpable atmosphere and a well delivered, emotional narrative, well, it’s an absolutely must buy.

Ori and the Blind Forest is one of those rare games that is a truly special experience that everyone should try.

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