There’s no question that Ori and the Blind Forest, a Metroidvania styled 2D platformer, is a labour of love. Moon Studios 2015 title proudly boasts its influences and their inspiration permeates throughout the game, providing an experience that rivals the best of the genre.
The plot is relatively simple, yet highly emotional: after a world-shattering cataclysm, you must revive the spirit tree, rejuvenating the forest you call home. The elements themselves are housed within a range of biomes, from lush vibrant woodland to ancient crystalline ruins. At the centre of each of these areas is a single dungeon which often presents the greatest challenges available. Successfully completing these triggers an exhilarating escape sequence which requires you to have mastered the current game mechanics. Here, a single mistimed leap will lead to your untimely demise. Make no mistake, this doesn’t mean the rest of the game is stroll in the park: expect upwards of 200 deaths on your first playthrough.
Exploring these environments and the labyrinthine map is an absolute treat, utilising airtight controls to let you tumble through its intricate web with acrobatic finesse. Ori is armed with a collection of abilities that broadens as you progress. These enable formerly out of reach climbs to be scaled or stone blockades to be smashed through, forging new paths or letting you reach pick-ups scattered about the world. The ability tree system lets you further augment Ori’s abilities, allowing you to either bolster your offensive might, improve your survivability or boost your detective abilities. The ability points that fuel these upgrade paths can be obtained by defeating enemies or finding orbs sequestered in various nooks and crannies.
The combat itself is an exciting blend of calculated movements and flashy energy slinging. To start, you are armed with a simple homing missile, but soon you can brandish downward slams, unleash charged blasts, or even deflect incoming projectiles, effectively becoming a miniature powerhouse. The deflection mechanic is particularly interesting, since mastering the momentum of you and your deflections is key in traversing many of the game’s more challenging obstacles.
While both the platforming and combat mechanics are expertly engineered, what sets it apart is the checkpoint or “soul-link” system. Soul-links allow you to choose where to place checkpoints at the expense of energy; a resource simultaneously drawn upon to create new soul-links and use certain attacks. This means you must soon learn to balance offensive potential against defensive play. While most games contain some form of quick-save or check-pointing feature, Ori forces you to think strategically about where to put your life-line. Do you press further, risking defeat at some well-placed pitfalls, or do you play it safe and use up some of your energy? Energy management is crucial at the start since placing too many checkpoints will leave you scarce. Although, admittedly your energy reserve soon becomes so ample that you’ll be hard-pressed to run out.
Moon Studios dedication to the visuals is unparalleled, with keen detail being placed on even the smallest of assets. The hand-drawn artwork bursts with colour and personality, making each ecosystem breathe and bloom, while 3D embellishments enhance this immersive effect. The visuals twinned with the haunting soundtrack captures the epic feel of the adventure and the mysticism of the natural world perfectly.
Overall, if you are a fan of exploration or platforming games, Ori and the Blind Forest should have a worthy place in your collection. It’s currently available on both Xbox One and Windows, with a version planned for Xbox 360 later this year.