The only time I ever got truly angry with Ori and the Blind Forest was when it ended. Not because it was over but because it wouldn’t let me back in. I’d spent the past six hours exploring the breathless beauty of the world crafted by Moon Studios and I’d unexpectedly been locked out of what I’d worked so hard for. But even then, it was oh so worth it.
This is certainly an overwhelmingly gorgeous game, but first you should know what lies under the immaculate skin. Ori and the Blind Forest is a side-scrolling action platformer where you play as Ori, a little white catlike…thing that was shaken loose from the Spirit Tree. Adopted by the bubbly and friendly Naru, the pair live together until the Spirit Tree takes a turn for the worse and, well, you’ll see.
Either way, Ori now has to set out to save the forest with the help of another tiny bonus spirit called Sein. As you travel across the vibrant world to restore the purity of the life-sustaining trees of the realm, you’ll find other shrubbery of varying degrees of spirituality and learn new moves.
You’ll get, for instance, the ability to run up walls and explode in a ball of energy and much more. The best thing is that in true Metroidvania style, these moves don’t just encourage you to backtrack and open up new areas but instead are both viable and necessary in combat.
Between trekking across your old stomping grounds with a new perspective on enemies and obstacles and figuring out how to best defeat new foes by integrating your fresh repertoire, you need to be on your toes constantly. It’s not that you can’t get by through just hammering away at your Spirit Flame (your basic attack that shoots out homing balls of, uh, spirit fire, I guess) but that it doesn’t serve your best interests. You will get ripped to shreds, and even if you do survive, it’s not in a state you’d want to proceed with.
Ori, you see, can collect a lot of different things. There are ability orbs that enable you to enhance your abilities among a three-pronged skill tree and there are shards that restore your energy and health and pickups that earn you bonus health and energy slots. And you’re going to need all of them because this is a brutal game.
Such as is any game that warrants keeping track of your deaths. (I managed to slip by with 162.) But the brilliance of Ori and the Blind Forest—or rather, one of the brilliant decisions unearthed in its runtime—is that the energy you use for your most potent attack and clearing paths is also used for saving your game, and if you play your cards right, restoring health.
It’s such a tight economy that, even if you wanted to skate by with the aforementioned mashing of the Spirit Flame attack, you wouldn’t want to. That would just make your next run even more difficult. This forces you to integrate your new moves into your fighting strategies to remain viable. For instance, the Bash move can hurt enemies but it can also redirect projectiles and provide you with breathing room to reassess any situation.
The game even manages to put twists on things you would otherwise just start feeling comfortable with. Instead of using Bash to attack, for instance, you’ll have to use it to navigate over boiling, almost endless pits of lava. And then, just when you get the hang of that, you have to use it to both traverse more lava and kill the same enemies that enable you to avoid a fiery death. (It reminds me of the masterful safe-danger-twist design of Super Mario 3D World.)
And it does so in such a perfectly demanding way that you can’t help but throw yourself at it again and again after even your seventh or eighth death in a row. Do you remember that level of LittleBigPlanet where you had to outrun the Skulldozer? Or the end of New Super Mario Bros. Wii where you navigate around some tricky platforms all while lava is chasing you? There’s some of that (and more) and it’s all done masterfully. This is such a tight and responsive game that it feels good to even simply try one more time.
Aside from the gameplay, there is so much to love about Ori and the Blind Forest. The story itself, established through swift movement and wordless yet complete and effective characterization and then mostly told the rest of the way through embedded exposition, is not about good versus evil but instead more nuanced than that. The motivations are clear, which leaves the results understandable but saddening nonetheless.
Oh, and is it clear yet that this is a stunningly gorgeous game? This is truly concept art come to life. There’s so much color imbued in every screen you come across. Even in the dilapidated swamp before it is restored to its properly flourishing and bright self is somehow inviting. And being overcome by deadly rising tides and quickly encroaching walls of fire is a pleasure to the eyes.
If it isn’t clear by now, you should play Ori and the Blind Forest. A friend of mine is even putting up with playing it on a keyboard (even though the platforming basically requires analog controls) to see it to the end. It looks amazing, plays even better, and tells a wonderfully heartstring-tugging story to boot. Get on your grind and start playing Ori and the Blind Forest, like, right now.
+ Remixes already original and innovative skill sets into doubly new and interesting sequences
+ Undeniably beautiful art and animation
+ Characters tell a clear and heartfelt story through their actions and motivations
+ Demands just the right amount from you within its expansive and solid framework
Final Score: 9 out of 10
Game Review: Ori and the Blind Forest
Release: March 11, 2015
Genre: 2D action platformer
Developer: Moon Studios
Available Platforms: PC, Xbox One