An opening sequence to a video game has never been more important than in Ori and the Blind Forest. It gives Moon Studios the chance to show off sublime graphics, an uplifting and sorrowful score, as well as the foundations of a heartfelt plot. These first 15 or so minutes revolve around the relationship of two characters. There may not be any words, but there doesn’t need to be, because the animations depict so well how they care for one another.
It’s hard not to get lost in how beautiful this game actually is, despite its unexpected prologue. There is a wonderful colour palette to Ori and the Blind Forest – with little to no grey tones – and the white, Stitch-like character moves so fluidly throughout the environments.
This 2D platformer will halt your progress behind large, mystical doors unless you’ve learned a particular skill. Once those doors slam open, the thrills of traversing the world are heightened again. Controlling Ori around the forest floor, even in mid-air, is a delight. The game kicks up a notch after our titular protagonist unlocks his double-jump and wall climbing abilities, allowing players to navigate previously undiscovered areas of the map. Ori responds to your commands swiftly and with precision, whilst having you on edge over whether you’ll jump past that huge gap or be impaled by those demonic thorns. These subtle movements send him flailing in exactly the right spot, with death only resulting from player error.
Similar to Child of Light, Ori also has a companion, in the form of a small sprite, along for the ride. The tiny spirit is responsible for Ori’s offensive abilities, in the form of a quick-fire orb attack and a huge area-of-effect charged blast move. The combat in Ori and the Blind Forest can get hectic quite quickly, as creatures of all shapes and sizes arise from the forest’s floor, walls and canopy to hinder your progress. But it is very satisfying to pull off that AOE blast in a cluster of five or six enemies, sending a plethora of experience points your way. It’s doubly gratifying when Ori learns to deflect incoming projectiles, such as exploding spider eggs or green kamikaze stones, back at enemies.
The title’s biggest game changer, though, is a mechanic called bash. This gives Ori the power to propel himself forward using the momentum of enemies and their missiles. Using it on something like a glowing lantern is simple enough, but eventually players will be dodging bullets and somersaulting over enemies like Neo himself. The bash ability is at the core of Ori and the Blind Forest’s most thrilling scenes – one of which requires you to defy the odds by outrunning a giant wave in the midst of a colourful and eye-catching backdrop.
One of Ori and the Blind Forest’s small issues is the amount of trial and error it takes to overcome some of the game’s obstacles. Be that as it may, the map Moon Studios have created here is fantastically designed, as bypassing a puzzle completely may derive players of rewards, such as precious skill points or paths to link several areas together.
The HUD plays a big part in Ori and the Blind Forest and is used to great effect, as well. Part of the reason the game is so enjoyable is because Moon Studios haven’t clogged up the screen with four or five different indicators jostling for attention. It’s minimal and unobtrusive, simply displaying your current energy cells (blue; required for AOE attack and making your own checkpoints), number of ability points with an experience tracker (yellow), and your life cells (neon green; life points Ori has remaining).
While the HUD may be effective, you will find continuously checking and re-checking the game’s map for the quickest route or maybe a hidden one, which highlights another one of its shortcomings: the absence of a waypoint marker or ‘path of light’ (ala Fable) to your chosen objective. It was desperately needed here; all those minutes eventually add up and it could’ve saved a lot of time.
The completists among us will find it particularly time consuming when hunting for collectibles; players may be atop the Valley of the Winds before realising they’ve missed a container of experience next to the starting area. Ori and the Blind Forest’s lack of fast travel stations can make it somewhat cumbersome to retrace your steps, and there’s no opportunity for post-credits exploration. Furthermore, some areas can only be explored once in the game, as they become sealed off after certain encounters – although these often result in epic, heart-pumping escapes, and are met with moments of euphoria and stunning visuals.
As the game progresses, various elements come into play to give Ori and the Blind Forest an unparalleled sense of charm. For example, Ori will learn to use a parachute, floating in the air like a butterfly. After each effortless leap, lush, luminescent plants will open and close at Ori’s touch, springing him back into action, where he’ll dive into lakes and defy gravity once more.
It’s all too easy to dismiss this title as being nothing more than visual eye candy. But Moon Studios impressively combines The Blind Forest’s stunning graphics with an entertaining and sound story, where the narrator’s booming voice echoes in an unknown tongue. The game prides itself on frequently surprising players with picturesque backgrounds, plus challenging and addictive level design with a decent difficulty curve.
With a bit a dawdling, I poured almost 15 hours into my first playthrough of Ori and the Blind Forest. It’s reinvigorated the 2D platformer genre; it isn’t anything new, but it’s mostly everything done right. It stands head and shoulders above this year’s AAA titles thus far and, by all accounts, deserves to be shortlisted as Game of the Year.
A wonderful trek through a fantastical world.