Played on Xbox One (Also available on PC)
Astounding visuals, smart progression, and an immense challenge create the best experience of 2015 thus far.
Arriving exclusively to consoles for Microsoft’s Xbox One, and coming from indie developer Moon Studios, Ori and the Blind Forest has been on my radar since it’s first appearance a few expos again. It’s brilliant and unique art style instantly had me hooked, along side the promised “Metroidvania” elements of gameplay. So now that I’ve completed the game, does it live up to the hype?
In short, yes.
Ori and the Blind Forest tells the story of Ori, a guardian spirit who is adopted by a bear-like creature called Naru. Living in the forest world of Nibel, an event causes everything to corrode, and Naru is killed. Thus begins your adventure as Ori sets out to restore Nibel to it’s natural order.
Once you’re into the action, you’ll pick up on three things right away. The first thing you’ll notice about Ori and the Blind Forest is how utterly gorgeous it is. The art is picturesque and looks handcrafted from top to bottom. The animation matches the quality of illustrations, and makes the game stand out and feel fresh compared to similar titles in it’s genre. Next, you’ll quickly discover how punishing this platformer is. You have a life bar, but many enemies deliver one-hit-kills, and much of the world consists of overgrown vines, or other environmental threats, that can similarly end your life with a quick graze. This, thankfully, is mostly counteracted by the 3rd element, which is a smart progression system. In classic “Metroidvania” fashion, the game teases many areas early on, with obvious visual flairs that indicated you’ll return once you’ve acquired more skills. There’s about a dozen skills you pick up during the game, plus multiple skill trees you can build on via gain experience points, and I found I earned them pretty regularly as I played.
That same progression translates to the ramped up challenge throughout, for the most part. Puzzles start out simple and eventually spiral into a large series of mind melters used to navigate the incredibly clever final zone. You also have to balance your resources, as part of your attack meter also allows you to create save points at almost any place. It creates an interesting risk / reward experience for the player.
One of the game’s definite weaknesses comes from the occasional difficulty spike that seems out of place. Throughout playing you’ll reach certain “dungeons”, and upon completion have to escape in a quick fashion. They’re super challenging, but not due to figuring out the pattern of skills you’ll need to evade, but because the camera shakes violently, causing you to lose track of your character, who also isn’t centered on screen by the camera. They’re not the end of the world, but I did die a lot in those zones, and it felt a little cheap, especially the very final moments of the game.
The other cause of death’s for me came from some technical errors, which seemed pretty unacceptable. I’ve read that the issues seem to only happen on Xbox One, but across my 7 1/2 hour experience I had to reinstall 2 times, and reboot numerous times. These came from intense moments of slowdown, enough that I died ~50 times just trying to progress before I deleted the game and redownloaded it. Other issues included clipping through the levels and chunks of the game not loading. I had to do some weird things to fix it, and almost had to throw in the towel a couple times. Apparently a patch is coming, but for a short length game, this should not be happening, and really hampered my experience.
Ori and the Blind Forest is a fantastic game. And it is brutal. I died close to 500 times before the credits rolled. It’s not without it’s issues, but those will eventually be resolved, and the remaining title is the best of 2015 thus far. You’ll scream and cheer at your TV in equal amounts, and hopefully enjoy both ends of that spectrum. It’s a huge win for Microsoft, and much needed in their relatively small pool of indie titles. And for $20, it’s longer than The Order: 1886.