This week Shacknews is counting down its top ten 2015 Games of the Year, as tabulated by both staff votes and input from our own Chatty community. Coming in at #5 we have a beautiful new studio debut with tight-as-clockwork mechanics and a moving story, Ori and the Blind Forest.
Steve Watts, Editor-in-Chief: As much as I appreciate mechanical mastery, my real passion for video games is in how such an exciting storytelling medium is coming into its own. One of my favorite aspects of modern game design is how stories are becoming more personal, which creates a connection between the creator and the player. Like films and novels, a game can just hit you at the right time in your life and impact you far differently than if you had experienced it any earlier. As a new father this year, Ori and the Blind Forest is that game for me.
The melancholy fable carries themes of loss, obsession, tenderness, and a common kinship between parents that reached a stirring conclusion on par with any film I've seen in recent years. That alone would have been enough to give it a special place in my heart. On top of that, though, the nascent Moon Studios piled on the most gorgeous 2D animation I've ever seen in a game, and mechanical underpinnings so intuitively fine-tuned it felt like an extension of my own hands was reaching into the screen.
Tough as nails and with a heart of gold, Ori and the Blind Forest was my game of the year.
Ozzie Mejia, Senior Editor: In terms of the tone, the themes, and even the mechanics, I was reminded a lot of Limbo. It's incredible how Ori was able to tell a beautiful, emotionally resonating story without saying a word. And there it was, right there to pull right at your heartstrings.
But what really put Ori over the top for me was that it played with a lot of the more frustrating tropes of this kind of game, particularly saving, and actually turned them into mechanics of their own. This game is much, much tougher than it looks and it's one of those games where if I had hit a tough stretch and had to go back and complete mundane stretches to get back to that stretch, I could have gotten frustrated and walked away. But here, I was able to make my own save spot, which made repeated death a lot more palatable. And because that option to just save wherever was there, I feel like Moon Studios didn't hold back on the difficulty.
SW: Totally agreed. Usually a story-rich game from a small studio goes in more of a puzzle or RPG-oriented direction. Since they're not as skill-based, those genres lend themselves to story progression with some reasonable assurance that players will be able to make it all the way through. Ori and the Blind Forest didn't pull any punches with its difficulty, making the platforming extra-tough. The DIY save points are not just a necessity to save some frustration. Like you said it becomes a mechanic as you reach tough points.
That difficulty makes the excellent story all the more fulfilling to see, because it feels like you earned it. It's absolutely worth seeing all the way through.