|System: PC, Xbox One*|
|Dev: Moon Studios|
|Pub: Microsoft Studios|
|Release: March 11, 2015|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Sean Engemann
We have seen a resurgence of late with two-dimensional platfomers, from those embracing bit-era technology such as Shovel Knight to others stretching the graphical limits with modern techniques like the renewed Rayman series. Ori and the Blind Forest fits in the latter category and rests at the top of the list. The breathtaking handcrafted environments, sublime musical score, tight controls, and progressively challenging gameplay are weaved into a story that tugs at the heartstrings from the prologue, only strengthening the emotional bond as the journey unfolds.
Plucked from the venerable Spirit Tree in the wrath of a great storm, the fledgling spirit Ori is whisked through the forest of Nibel, coming to rest near a sloth-like creature named Naru. A nurturing soul, Naru cares for the lost child as the two form a tender relationship. Heedless to the calls of his true parentage, Ori and his surrogate mother witness a cataclysmic blight that saps the life from the world, decaying the flora, perverting the fauna, and displacing the two in tragedy. Forced to struggle onwards in solitude, Ori's journey shapes into one of maturity and self-reliance. Their separation is disheartening on an emotional level, but it also removes the possibility of symbiotic gameplay between the two physically different characters, which could have provided an interesting juxtaposition.
This criticism is quickly dismissed, however, when Ori showcases the breadth of his skills, sure to satiate the thirst of any gamer looking for a challenging platforming experience. Your trek begins with no more than the ability to jump, which itself is only for traversing the environment. You soon discover your first attack - spirit projectiles that hone in on enemies at a relatively close range. As you progress, new skills such as double and triple jumps, charged burst attacks, dash maneuvers, gliding, and more cohere into a stunning amalgamation of tools to challenge both the environment and the denizens within. The game does a masterful job of introducing each new skill and then releasing the reins, allowing you to discover how each power can be manipulated alone or in tandem with other skills.
The background gracefully transitions as Ori returns life to the forest, but also delivers a world where every frame feels like one that has been newly crafted, not revisited. Whether its scaling the core of a giant tree, braving lava filled caverns, or gingerly moving through icicle pierced mountains, you'll always find a new configuration of hazards and enemies to best. Controlling Ori and using his skills is as smooth as the flowing animations. Abilities can be canceled into each other, ensuring that each success and failure is decided by your skill alone. The game delivers a beautiful balance of somewhat relaxed exploration heightened with segments of high stress action, which are wholly satisfying when surmounted.
A unique and clever feature of Ori and the Blind Forest puts the checkpoint system under your control. Apart from a few fixed Spirit Wells, checkpoints are created through the use of the Soul Link ability. This save skill requires the same energy resource that is used for other abilities, thus challenging your ego on how far you will tempt Ori's resolve before setting down an updated Soul Link.
Developer Moon Studios has been upfront about taking inspiration from classic platformers when creating Ori and the Blind Forest, describing its genre as "Metroidvania." Elements from both the Metroid and Castlevania series are readily apparent. The world, for one, is completely connected, save for a few dedicated "dungeons." Opening the map reveals a detailed cross section of Nibel, complete with a legend to identify important sites and items. Explored sections are nicely colored in while uncharted areas remain gray, with special Map Stones revealing new sections when obtained. There is also a steady increase in your maximum energy and life through the acquisition of Energy Cells and Life Cells.