I know what you played last Season….
Four people, scattered all over the world, communicating mostly through Skype, four years of development, a ton of „Best of E3 2014“ awards, A ton of “Best of 2015” awards, 14.000 positive reviews on Steam … meet Moon Studios, meet Ori and the Blind Forest, a „Metroivania“-like 2D plattformer game in the spirit of (so the developers) Super Metroid and A Link to the Past.
With the pure facts out of the way: Ori and the Blind Forest is a stunningly beautiful, highly emotional and intense experience which yet has to meet its rivals (I am talking to you, Unravel, you up for it?). You play as Ori, a forest spirit, who has to rekindle the life of the forest and prevent Kuro, a giant bird, from stealing its light. Because: reasons. (Don’t want to spoil the very beginning here, now do I.) Well, that sounds straightforward enough, right? Wrong. The story begins grim and sad and gets even darker as you progress through the various stages to collect elements to restore the light of the forest. It is commented on by a gravely voice speaking short lines in an artificial language reminding of Japanese – like most of the lore and names actually. We follow Ori through a series of trials, jumping, swinging, climbing and fighting his way through a dangerous, hostile environment full of thorns, ravines, poisoned water and a variety of nasty creatures who are all out to get him.
Who am I kidding? I waited that long to write a review because I couldn’t think of words that didn’t sound trivial and boring (see above parapgraph) to describe how incredibly stunning this game is. How much you will want to beat the game and help the little guy succed but at the same time then the game will be over and you really want to stay. How much you play through the pain to master that one series of jumps or that set of traps no matter how much your wrists and shoulders hurt by now after hours of playing! How much you will fall in love with the little white, innocent creature you are navigating through areas full of carefully crafted details with a color scheme mostly in saturated greens and violets, contrasted by the reddish purple of the enemies and the shining white of Ori himself. The whole art has an overall sense of magic to it that I believe is best shown in screenshots.
That magical, dreamy but ultimately sad and desperate atmosphere is also carried by the strong, unique soundtrack by Gareth Coker (available as DLC on Steam). Also the sound effects convey the characteristics of Ori as innocence personified – whenever he hurts himself (and he will hurt himself a lot) he makes this really thin, high pitched sound which sounds a bit like a very sad kitten. So, yes, I see what you did there! Through the art and music the game takes you on an emotional rollercoaster with peaks of incredible joy and relief and valleys of despair and an ever present fear of death by thorns. (Seriously, those thorns are all over the place!)
As for the gameplay: Ori is a test of dexterity, precision and patience. It starts innocent enough (jumping, climbing) but it gets really challenging really fast as you travel deeper into the forest. I sometimes found myself yelling „jump, bitch!“ at the screen, only to fall silent and feeling sorry for breaking the magic with my impatient rudeness (also: kitten noises!). As mentioned before: There are four stages, each of which ends with a fast-paced escape scene – and those are quite insane. Here is the first one:
Interestingly enough: The chances of dying are much higher at the beginning of the game (especially on your second playthrough) when Ori has yet to learn all of his powers – yes, it has a very slight RPG element to it which allows you to unlock abilities through experience points additional to the skills that you will inevitably pick up on your journey. (There is an achievement on Steam though to play the game without spending those ability points – just saying.)
Let me go back to those stages I mentioned before:
The game is not linear. Sure, there are certain areas you cannot reach if you didn’t unlock a skill and the „element“-stages have to be done in order as they build up on each other, but the game expects you to return to already visited regions by placing collectibles (like more life and energy) in at first unreachable places. Should you just start walking into whatever direction your curiosity (or your secret-hunting, more on that in a moment) takes you however you might end up somewhere you’re not supposed to be (yet). On my first play-though I suddenly found myself at the entrance to the last stage (wondering why I kept dying and how the hell this is supposed to work and how I even got there) just because I went exploring. No worries, there is a map (unlockable through map stones scattered throughout the forest). There are also a bunch of very well hidden secrets to find (usually something that helps Ori to survive) so exploring and taking your time is highly recommended to get the full experience out of this – especially because freeing the elements opens up new paths and places to go. And you want to stay as long as you can, trust me! There are speedruns on YouTube beating the game in under 36 minutes, a normal play-through should come down to 10-15 hours, sometimes longer (if you, like me, really like to find every last secret). Oh, and about that advise on Steam to use a gamepad? They’re not kidding! It is possible without one but it’s sure a lot easier – especially in the end (remember that escape scene earlier? That’s when I folded.)
So, if you are either into challenging, fast paced plattformers, enjoy a nicely, beautifully crafted story with deep, heartfelt emotions or just like beautifully intense art and sound then this game is for you!
- Visuals – 99
- Sound – 99
- Playability – 85
- Story / atmosphere – 95
So, here are some numbers – I actually gave the 99 only because 100 would look to much like crazy fangirl-voting and while that might be what’s going on here it still looks … weird. I found the playability without a gamepad to be challenging at best and lacks (in my experience) precision when it comes to – say – dashing (an ability that allows you to “throw” Ori in a specific direction, to be seen in the linked video). The story is beautifully told and the atmosphere is immersive and consistent – so if I have to put a number on it, that’s it. But all in all: 94.5 ain’t bad!