Ori and the Blind Forest Review: A Beautifully Atmospheric Experience
Ori and the Blind Forest was so close to passing me by. For one reason or another, I had never heard of it, I hadn’t seen any footage of it and I had no idea it existed until a friend suggested I check it out. It’s strange to realize that if it wasn’t for that friend, I may have never played one of my all-time favorite action platformers and one of 2015’s best games so far.
You play as Ori, an adorable little mammal-like creature born from the forest that is tasked with restoring the land after it was corrupted by an evil power. The story is surprisingly moving and works fantastically as a device to keep the adventure flowing at a comfortable pace of highs and lows. The narrative is mainly told via omnipresent narration that for the most part speaks directly to you, the player and guides you throughout the game. Over the course of Ori’s journey you will encounter numerous characters brimming with personality and charm that you become greatly attached to, despite them not uttering a single word. The combination of all these elements gives Ori and the Blind Forest a real sense of adventure and the way the story is told through the exceptional use of narration, characterizations and visuals is seriously impressive.
Gameplay is primarily 2D Metroid style exploration and ability upgrades with some Super Meat Boy-esque platforming mixed in. On paper the combination of genres may sound as though they are at odds with each other, but the game combines the best elements of both genres flawlessly. You start off with some simple platforming mechanics to get you going: a quick jump to traverse gaps, a light attack to fend off enemies. Then as you progress throughout the world you unlock abilities that are essentially advanced platforming mechanics. Wall runs, air dashes, a crazy ability that allows you to absorb the momentum from enemy projectiles and use it to fling yourself around – all these mechanics and more unlock consistently throughout the game and are a ton of fun to use.
Everybody knows that great platforming mechanics are nothing without great controls and thankfully Ori absolutely nails the art of precise platforming control. By the end of the game you become totally decked out with a complex arsenal of combat and platforming mechanics, and with a few exceptions (executing the ground pound comes to mind), you always feel as though you are in total control of your character and can execute complex movements without frustration. The game also features a very useful quick-save/load feature disguised as one of Ori’s abilities that proves invaluable during some of the more complex platforming challenges.
Your adventure takes place in a huge interconnected 2D world with a number of different zones and environments that all feel very unique thanks to the fantastic visual aesthetics and environmental design. As is typical to Metroid style games, your progress is gated by certain abilities, and in the case of Ori and the Blind Forest the aforementioned platforming mechanics and other unlockable/upgradeable abilities serve as the key to progressing through the game. In very simplistic terms, the game can be thought of as a series of platforming stages all intricately woven together to form one big cohesive world for you to explore. As further abilities unlock, the platforming stages become more varied, complex and challenging.
Visually, Ori and the Blind Forest looks nothing short of amazing. The game features a stunning hand-painted aesthetic with bright, bold, saturated colors that not only looks gorgeous but is also used effectively to telegraph information to the player. One criticism to note of this aesthetic style is that it can occasionally get difficult to distinguish enemies from their surroundings and enemy projectiles from environmental effects – but it’s hardly a sticking point. The game runs perfectly smoothly and the shear complexity and care given to almost every animation in the game is just astounding.
Accompanying this phenomenal visual style is an equally phenomenal soundtrack. Rich orchestral compositions perfectly match the onscreen action at all times; whether it’s creating immersive ambiance during the more low-key, explorative moments or delivering a heart-pounding crescendo during heavy action sequences. I can’t remember the last time a game’s music so perfectly complemented the on-screen happenings.
However, Ori and the Blind Forest is not perfect. I have two main gripes with the game that are more related to poor design choices than anything else. The first is the complete lack of fast travel throughout the game. The world is rather large and some sections during your adventure require backtracking over distances significant enough that it feels tedious. A fast travel option would also make it a lot easier to go back and track down the collectibles you missed along the way – which brings me to my second (and in my opinion far more significant) issue. At certain points throughout the game you become locked out of previously cleared areas and are never able to return. So if you missed any of the numerous hidden collectibles within these areas during your first and only time through, you’re out of luck. The game does a good job telling you if you’ve found everything in an area, but it doesn’t let you know that you won’t be able to come back later if you missed something. It’s a problem that some may find insignificant, but in my opinion it makes the whole game seem like a very narrow, linear experience, which is a feeling that you don’t get whilst playing.
However, these two gripes are minuscule dot-points that pale in comparison to the huge list of great things I have to say about Ori and the Blind Forest, because Ori and the Blind Forest does so many things so very well. The great characterizations and narrative elements tell a surprisingly moving story, while the fantastic visuals, musical styling’s and environmental design creates a real sense of adventure. Combine this with the compelling exploration and the complex platforming elements and you’ve got a game that is just pure fun. I’m so glad Ori and the Blind Forest didn’t pass me by, and you shouldn’t let it pass you by either.
Final Say: Play It