It takes a special kind of game to capably tow the line between a living work of art and an engaging video game. They don't come along often, but when they do, they bring an ear-to-ear grin across your face that never leaves until the story is over. Ori and the Blind Forest is such a game, with Moon Studios not only crafting a breathtaking world with an enchanting character and awe-inspiring atmosphere, but one that's a pleasure to jump through and figure out.
A Forest Elegy
Ori and the Blind Forest begins with the title character falling off the enchanted Spirit Tree, finding himself blown away across the land, far away from home. He's picked up by a large forest dweller named Naru and they live a happy existence, picking up fruit and frolicking in the woods. That's when the darkness starts to set in. Ori's caretaker perishes, leaving the little sprite to fend for himself, just as an evil owl called Kuro strips the forest of its light, leaving it a lifeless husk. Ori bumps into a helper orb called Sein, who is tied to the Spirit Tree. Together, they look to restore life to the forest and bring Ori home.
With hand-painted art reminiscent of a Miyazaki film and a narrative to boot, it's hard not to get completely sucked in by Ori's story. It's a remarkable feat, given that there is no spoken English dialogue, as the story unfolds through action, gestures, and minimal text that breezes by the screen and is blown away as fast as it appeared. The landscape is almost distracting in its beauty, with multiple layers of animation on display. Creatures will even appear, out-of-focus, along the foreground, walking along the very camera lens before appearing along Ori's 2D plane. And while the atmosphere is a dark one, with Kuro's purple hue of evil enveloping the world, along with the dark blue and gray storm clouds, it's all contrasted beautifully by Ori's light-filled character model.
Perhaps none of the scenes are more gorgeous, however, than the scenes in which Ori confronts the much-larger Kuro. The shadowy owl is a beast to behold, with a majesty that's only equal to its menace. All of it adds up to the kind of visual flair reminiscent of past indie darlings Limbo and Journey.
The Blooming Light
Ori's gameplay mechanics are every bit as deep as the game's art style, employing the tried-and-true Metroidvania formula that sees the title sprite's abilities grow from scratch. Sein will act as Ori's main attack source, using light attacks to ward off enemies. While this isn't much to start with, Ori will soon gain additional abilities in a few different ways. By defeating enemies and gathering other yellow orb drops, Ori can gain Ability Points that will let players upgrade his abilities through a skill tree. Ori can also find lesser guardian trees, which will grant various abilities, like a double jump and wall jump, to proceed further into the world.
The abilities take some time to master, such as the Bash that can send Ori dashing towards one direction and enemy projectiles flying in another. The puzzles are incredibly well thought-out, taking full advantage of Ori's abilities and not just in a one note manner. Some of the puzzles require stringing together some of the abilities, such as a sequence that requires Ori to send an enemy projectile shooting through three tubes to lead it to a breakable door. While somewhat complex at first glance, the controls are so crisp and responsive that they're reasonably challenging.
The main mechanic that sets Ori apart from its contemporaries is the Soul Link. The Soul Link will use Ori's energy meter to create a save spot at nearly any point in the world, where he can respawn safely and also look through the skill tree. There are certain spots where the energy meter isn't easily refillable, meaning a certain amount of care is required before making a save spot. Furthermore, the energy meter is also tied to other skills, such as Ori's Charge Flame that can defeat powerful enemies and also open up new areas. Knowing when to save is a key part of this game and a mechanic that's well-executed.
A Glimmer of Brightness
Ori and the Blind Forest is excellently crafted, both artistically and mechanically. It's the single-most beautiful game I've seen in 2015, with fluid, hand-painted beauty that comes off as a painting come to life. With deep mechanics like the Soul Link system and Ori's myriad of unlockable abilities, as well as cleverly-crafted puzzles that put the user's mind to work, Ori is also a challenging piece of work and one that's worth racking your brain over.
Moon Studios has a cinematic marvel on its hands, knowing exactly where to balance the light and the dark, both visually and narratively. It's a short game, coming in at about 7 hours for me, but it's worth every precious second.
This review is based on an Xbox One download code provided by the publisher. Ori and the Blind Forest will be available tomorrow on Xbox One and PC as a downloadable title for $19.99. The game is rated E.
Ori and the Blind Forest
- Gorgeous cinematic presentation
- Crisp and responsive platforming
- Great use of unlockable abilities
- Strong puzzle variety
- Background pieces sometimes look like they're in play
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Ori and the Blind Forest review: a sight to behold
This is the first I have heard of this game. Will pick it up off steam at some point. Looks really good.
Avoided everything but your final paragraph. Hype! Thanks for the early review!
Awesome been tracking it and waiting for it for a while am so looking forward to it.
Thanks for the rev Ozzie
How hard is it? I'm guessing not too bad but I'm tired of these ultra hard Metroidvania games.
It gets pretty hairy at points, especially during certain sequences where they momentarily take the Soul Link save away. But it's all reasonable and nothing I'd call masochistic.
Glad it's getting great reviews was looking forward to this.
Definitely interested in this game. Saw it at PAX and it was gorgeous, but I actually didn't realize it was a Metroidvania until now. Interest++