Ori and the Blind Forest is a game that repeatedly defies initial expectations in the best possible way.
You might have seen some of the game’s art and screenshots and noted that Ori is a good-looking game. Indeed, the game looks stunning, more so than it has any business being.
Even so, looking at screenshots of Ori is nothing compared to seeing it in motion, and the game’s ten-minute prologue sells it more than anything a review can say. The creators at Moon Studios took inspiration from Disney and Studio Ghibli, and it shows. The prologue is not just pretty, but cinematic and even tear-provoking, and it sets the scene for a lovely story throughout. This is all upheld by a beautiful orchestral soundtrack, the quality of which merits listening to entirely separate from the game.
On a more technical note, if you’re a PC gamer you should check the required specifications. My five-year old desktop made it through, but not without a great deal of slowdown and a couple of crashes. It’s a more technically demanding game than you’d assume for an indie title.
Regardless of personal PC issues, the fact that I persevered speaks to the game’s credit – it’s seriously almost impossible to overstate how good the game looks and sounds. Almost every asset is unique, much of it being hand-painted. Still, the prologue leaves the impression that Ori and the Blind Forest is a game that places presentation above gameplay. That’s not by any means a bad thing – Telltale Games, for example, have made good business and good games by doing exactly that. Bad or not, though, that’s not what Ori is.
You might imagine that Ori plays somewhat like Limbo; a slow and methodical platformer with some puzzle elements. Platformer is right, but more specifically the game is structured in a “Metroidvania” style. In other words, you’re free to explore the game’s large map, and uncover hidden power-ups, as far as your current abilities will allow.
As you pick these abilities up over Ori’s roughly eight-hour length, the platforming takes on a new life. In fact, surprising as it may seem, Ori ends up introducing almost Super Meat Boy-esque sequences of fast and precise platforming, infinite wall jumps and all. That’s certainly not a light comparison to make, but this gamecan be very, very difficult at times.
The unique save system can work as a massive help in some of the game’s trickier areas, but it can also be a source of frustration if you forget to utilize it. At the start of the game, you’re given the ability to create your own save points, provided you’re standing in a relatively safe area. This helps to break up the hard parts into bite-size platforming challenges… provided you remember to use it.
Only on rare occasions does the game checkpoint you, and if you forget to save you will regret it. On top of this, creating a save point uses up the same energy that the player needs to execute certain attacks. Balancing the use of this power certainly makes for an interesting metagame – but it doesn’t always work to the player’s enjoyment.
There is some combat in the game, although even calling it combat is a stretch. The focus was clearly not placed on this aspect, and it serves as more of a window-dressing to Ori’s platforming. It’s not bad, but it’s not perfectly executed either.
Really though, whatever complaints can be brought against Ori and the Blind Forest are minute. From top to bottom, it’s an incredible game and a strong early contestant for game of the year. In my books, it’s also the best looking 2D game ever made. No hyperbole.