Welcome to “January Back Catalogue”, where we’re taking advantage of this quiet release month by catching up on all the games we’ve been meaning to play.
Reviewed on: PC
Ori and the Blind Forest featured in so many people’s game of the year lists that I just had to try it out. Any side-scrolling indie game that garners that much attention must surely be worth my time.
And it certainly was, particularly in the looks department. Seriously, I cannot stress enough how gob-smackingly gorgeous this game is. It’s like if a sunset was performing flawless ballet choreography during a New Years Eve fireworks display.
Developed by Moon Studios, Ori tells the story of a guardian spirit (named Ori) who, after a cataclysmic event, must rejuvenate an immense forest by restoring the three elements Warmth, Waters and Winds to their respective spirit trees. Standing in his way is Kuro, a gigantic owl who would seek to stop Ori from resurrecting the spirit trees, as well as the many dangers that lurk within the forest. That’s really all there is to say about the story while avoiding spoilers, but the the motivations of each character become much clearer as the story unfolds, culminating in a climax that is sure to bring a tear to the eye.
Speaking of tears, one thing about Ori and the Blind Forest that really stands out is the quality of its storytelling. Narrated by an ominous, deep voice speaking an unknown language (but translated through text), the opening sequence is like Pixar’s Up. So bright and beautiful, and it develops a joyful relationship between a creature named Naru and her surrogate child, Ori whom she found alone in the woods, before striking that relationship down, orphaning Ori and kicking you in the feels so hard you’ll feel like you’ll never know love like they shared ever again.
This is all achieved through the amazing animation quality of the characters, as their lack of dialogue leaves them to rely entirely on body language to convey their emotions. These methods are not exclusive to just the introduction, as all throughout the game various characters are introduced and developed solely through their behaviour and I was surprised by the amount of times Ori tricked me into misreading their intentions before pulling the rug out from under me. It didn’t happen often, but when it did those moments were quite powerful.
Between these heartfelt moments is a puzzle based side-scroller that is up there with the likes of Super Meat Boy in terms of rage inducing difficulty. As the game progresses, Ori unlocks more abilities such as double jumping, various attacks, wall climbing and much more, causing the puzzle sections to get progressively harder, more complex and quickly becomes straight up cruel. Honestly: prepare to die, often.
Speaking of preparing to die, the Dark Souls comparisons don’t stop there. Ori and the Blind Forest has a save system that is tied to the player’s abilities, where creating a respawn point uses up an Energy Cell, an infrequent commodity collected throughout the forest. Your maximum capacity of Energy Cells can be increased over the course of the game, but they are also tied to other special abilities, abilities often used to solve puzzles. What this means is that careful decisions must be made regarding how far you want to progress before using another Cell, as failure would undo all that progress, or whether or not you feel you’ll need conserve the Cells to complete the next puzzle.
Suffice it to say, I often found myself either repeatedly attempting a section where failure sent me back frustratingly far, or I had saved my progress but now had no Cells to complete certain sections and needed to grind/backtrack for more.
This frustration aside, Ori and the Blind Forest is an incredibly beautiful, fluid side-scrolling platformer. It’s up there with the pioneers of its genre, like the aforementioned Super Meat Boy as well as Rayman Legends, Limbo and Braid. The incredibly cruel nature of its gameplay detracts from the narrative a little, and definitely led to some angry rage quits, but it was still a fun, addictive adventure.
Pros: Stunning visuals, compelling animation and storytelling, addictive.
Cons: Progression system tied to gameplay mechanics led to frustrating repetition.