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Ori and the Blind Forest Review

Ori and the Blind Forest Review
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The opening minutes of Ori and the Blind Forest are stunning. Establishing the story of a forest spirit adopted by a maternal bear-like figure, the beautiful animation, sweeping music and spare storytelling sells you completely. You’re in. It ranks alongside The Last of Us and BioShock as one of the best game openings in recent years.

The last section of Ori and the Blind Forest is annoying. Challenging the player with a punishingly tough platforming sequence that draws on all the skills and abilities amassed up to that point, it’s deliberately impossible to do first time. You’ll die, start from the beginning of the section again, remember what killed you before, make it a little further, die at the next bit and start from the beginning again. At least, that’s what I did. I didn't enjoy it much.

In between all this are about 9 hours of the top quality puzzle platforming, following a broadly Metroidvania pattern. Exploring the forest, you’ll encounter inaccessible areas, then return later with a new ability like a double jump or a charge, allowing you to cling to a previously unreachable ledge or destroy a previously invulnerable barrier to progress. In many ways Ori and the Blind Forest plays it straight-up old-school.

There’s nothing old-school about the visuals though. Developer Moon Studios has stated its aim for the game was to “make every single screen in Ori look like a painting come to life” and they nailed it. All of Ori and the Blind Forest’s environments, from the ice glacier to the lava-spitting volcano, are utterly gorgeous. You’d be hard pressed to find a better looking game on any platform. It’s a triumph.

There is one, slight downside to Moon Studios’ approach to the visuals, however. Occasionally when fighting some of the forest’s nasties, there’s so much lighting bloom on their projectiles and your attacks that it’s hard to see what’s going on. In a platformer that demands precision, obscuring the player’s view isn’t the best idea. It’s a minor grumble in an otherwise gloriously attractive game.

Ori and the Blind Forest is just so wonderfully designed. Beginning with simple platforming, the game expands to encompass fantastic puzzles that challenge your ability to discover the possibilities in any space. Getting from A to B isn’t just about perfectly-timed button presses, it’s about sizing up everything around you and working out how your abilities can exploit them. And then it’s about split-second timing and perfect execution.

Making everything a little easier is the save system. You can save at pretty much any point in Ori and the Blind Forest, as long as you’ve collected a certain amount of spirit energy from crystals in the environment. So if you’ve just managed to squeak past a particularly difficult section, you can save and never have to worry about doing it again.

It allows Moon Studios to be far more aggressive about the challenges it throws at you, while also adding a great deal of tension to proceedings when you don’t have the spirit energy to save. There’s nothing like surviving for five minutes, pulling off some expertly-timed jumps, finding a spirit energy crystal and then saving your progress to a great wave of relief.

The real quality of Ori and the Blind Forest’s level design hits you when you’re backtracking. As with any Metroidvania you’re going to be revisiting areas while travelling in the opposite direction. On the first trip through the area might be a tricky platforming section, but going the other way it might challenge you to carefully fall through the environment while avoiding obstacles, or leap up towards the sky with a series of catapult twangs. That Moon Studios is able to craft not one but two brilliant levels within a single space, something they repeatedly do, is testament to their design talents.

There’s just so many ideas here. The catapult manoeuvre, the charged leap, the spinning almost Sonic-like slam, the feather parachute rising against thermals, the gravity-twisting platforming - it’s all so inventive and so well realised. I’m not sure what Moon Studios plans to do with its next game, but I’d love to see it attempt another platformer. Aside from a few niggles I had with the double jump (it’s a tiny little bit fuzzy sometimes) this is best in class stuff.

In fact my only reservations with the game came from the section I mentioned in the intro. In Ori and the Blind Forest there are four “World Events” that you have to complete, each of which tasks you with entering a specific space, triggering a change in the environment and then getting the hell out of there quickly. In these sections the save system goes out of the window. Failure sends you right back to the beginning of the sequence, regardless of how far you’ve made it.

I found the first of these World Events to be thrilling. Attempting to escape from a tree as water rose and the enviroment tumbled around me, pushing me ever onward, I managed to get out first time, somehow. It felt like such a great achievement and the tension, the drama of the scene was fantastic. But subsequent world events become increasingly hard and start throwing things at you that you just won’t be able to predict first time. Succeeding in the final World Event comes only after numerous deaths, the memorisation of all the patterns and flawless execution.

I found it teeth-grindingly annoying, especially as I knew I was so close to completing the game. Yet it also made the relief of finally making it through all the sweeter. Beat Ori and the Blind forest and you’ll have earned your platforming spurs. Just prepare to die a few times along the way. Gorgeous, clever, inventive, touching and only occasionally frustrating, Ori and the Blind Forest is the most enjoyable game I’ve played so far this year. Get it downloaded.

 

Ori and the Blind Forest’s score is wonderful, its piano and strings themes communicating tenderness, love, sadness, drama and danger, helped along by some angelic vocals from Aeralie Brighton. Composer Gareth Coker deserves all the plaudits.

After playing Ori and the Blind Forest for the first time I called it “Xbox One’s most beautiful game”. After completing it, I feel exactly the same. Environments are stuffed with detail and characters are bought to life with exquisite animation. Difficult to fault.

Ori and the Blind Forest is packed full of great ideas that constantly change how you play the game. There are enough ideas here for five games but Moon Studios manages to cram them all into one. It’s a tough game, you’re going to die a lot, but only very rarely does it feel unfair.

You couldn’t ask for more. Ori and the Blind Forest will take you around 10 hours to complete and the quality of the adventure makes nearly every moment enjoyable. Finding all the secrets will take you significantly longer, but you won’t need much of an excuse to go back.

There’s plenty of familiar stuff on Ori and the Blind Forest’s list, but while “collect all the Xs” achievements can feel lazy elsewhere, here they’re elevated by the fact that you’ll not only have to find the “Xs” but work out how to reach them. With a few creative achievements thrown in for good measure, this is a strong list.

Ori and the Blind Forest excels in so many areas. The fantastic level design, the inventive abilities, the touching story, the wonderful score and of course those scintillating visuals all stack up for one hell of an experience. Demanding a place in your collection, Ori and the Blind Forest is the best game I’ve played this year.

 
 
 
Game Info
Developer:
Moon Studios
Genre:

Release:

US March 11, 2015

HDD Space Required : 7.68 GB
Price: $19.99USD
Collection:255
Wishlist:42
 
 
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