Title: Ori and the Blind Forest
Platform: Xbox One, PC
Platformers can easily fall into the trap of being just another boring repetitive experience. Uninventive mechanics, bland visuals, and lackluster design plague many games from this genre; thankfully, Ori and the Blind Forest suffers from none of these.
Ori starts off with heart-wrenching storyline that creates an atmosphere that will pervade the tale. A booming narrator speaks in a foreign tongue to explain your quest, popping in just frequently enough to create a sense of cohesion without becoming annoying. It’s a fresh take on story for this genre, as serene yet foreboding gentle music flows seemingly naturally from the magical and spiritual forest environment. Words can’t describe it; you need to experience it to understand.
This game is gorgeous. From the opening title screen to the cutscenes, from character design to the vibrant setting, everything just oozes with style. The game utilizes a unique color palette that leaves an impression on the player from start to finish.
The gameplay admittedly felt a little bland for a platformer at first. You’re fairly limited in what you can do, and what’s there just isn’t that interesting. But once you start leveling up, and in particular, once you acquire the double jump ability, the gameplay immediate jumps to the next level. Before you know it, you’re tasked with performing intricate jumps and gliding through thorns and other hurdles that create a real sense of trepidation, all while making you feel incredibly powerful. Which is ironic, given the extremely small size of your character. The game controls are brilliant and tight – it’s the player’s fault if they die, and never the result of faulty controls.
While the enemies that were there were interesting, they lack variety. They usually usually appear as a single fluorescent color, and it quickly grows stale dealing with the same enemies and patterns time and time again. As I write this, I’m aware of the irony that I have given Mario Galaxy 2 a 10/10 despite the Mario series reusing goombas ad nauseam for 25 years, but for some reason it doesn’t get old in those games, perhaps because they are used in interesting innovative ways as well as conventional enemies. Ori feels like it throws the same enemies at you in exactly the same manner each time, often simply crawling along on the ground or else dashing at you. They become boring.
The bosses are also a let down. One of my very few critiques of the Zelda series is the lack of difficulty from bosses, and unfortunately that issue continues here. Beating a boss should create a feeling of accomplishment – you’ve just beaten an entire level, and this one character is the culmination of all your work – but the bosses in Ori are just one-and-done fights. They never lasted long at all and I rarely died (despite dying hundreds of times on the main campaign). Bosses don’t necessarily need diverse attack patterns either; some of my favorite games of all time are Megaman games, and those bosses just repeat fairly simple patterns. However, they’re also tough as nails in some games, and that provides a real feeling of satisfaction when they go down. That satisfaction never came from boss fights in Ori.
The game has a really nice mix of variations on typical upgrade skills typically found in platformers. The bash technique you learn early on is a novel way to experience movement that isn’t just your run-of-the-mill platformer challenge; I really enjoyed experimenting with your options for combat and traversal.
Ori has a fresh way of thinking about saving as well. Not content with throwing in auto-saves all over the place, you are provided with a limited (but slowly increasing throughout the game) number of saves, which can also be used as a weapon in certain situation. Thus, you’re tasked with deciding when to be the aggressor and when to play it safe. It’s a gamble that adds excitement to the game.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the music is really something special. It does a fantastic job at creating an awe-inspiring mythical atmosphere. The music during some scripted sequences where you have to navigate your experience on rails is especially memorable – at the risk of sounding cliché, this is the stuff that dreams are made of. Some minor gripes aside, this game is fantastic. Do yourself a favor and play it in any way that you can – it’s an experience you don’t want to miss.