Ori and The Blind Forest is a perfect example of why I love video games. For me, game has to meet certain criteria to be considered a perfect experience. Ori checks so many of those boxes, it’s easy to make the case for this decidedly modern game, to nudge it’s way into my favorite games of all time, going toe-to-toe with a list normally ladened with the benefit of nostalgia.
I tend to like all forms of story telling, from the tales people relay to one another, to books, to music, movies, and games. I’m putting that list in a specific order if you’re paying attention. The experience of each of those things build upon each other in different ways. Books have to tell a story primary through words, or pictures, sometimes both. Music often has lyrics and sound shaping an image that tells a story. Movies require so many forms of art working together, photography, music, editing, acting, writing etc. Games are at the end of that list because modern games often have to do everything a movie does, while also having the benefits and burden of telling their story with interaction. Everything before video games on that list has to tell you what to feel, but video games have the opportunity to make you feel something directly though participation. Few games manage to leverage that enough to make me care, but Ori and The Blind Forest did just that.
The game begins with a storm. A booming narrator speaks to you in a foreign language, and subtitles fill in the rest. He’s telling us the tale of the day Ori was lost. How this place became “blind”. I felt more like I was watching something made by Disney or Studio Ghibli than a game put together with pixels and polygons. It struck me that the creators of Ori — Moon Studios — were flexing their muscles of strong art direction, and in contrast to their last title, Limbo, embraced every single color in the spectrum. I couldn’t help but ponder if this was perhaps a reaction to their previously stark, back and white affair.
I’ll skip the details so you can experience things for yourself, but suffice to say that without an ounce of dialogue, I felt both the warmth and sadness that would serve as the connective tissue of this game down to it’s final moments. When I recount my time with Ori to friends, it’s hard not to reflect on how much more like a fairytale the whole thing feels than a game.
On the gameplay side of the equation, there’s more to tell. The structure of the game should feel familiar to any gamer old enough to have experienced Nintendo’s Metriod series. Venture around a large world, find new abilities, and then use your newfound powers to be able to go back and explore the areas that, on the onset of the game, elicit the feeling of “How the hell will I ever get over there?”. In the same vein of Metriod, and Limbo, Ori is not a game intent on treating you like a child. It’s platforming is difficult, enemies and obstacles are unforgiving in the amount of health they’ll rob you from if you let them, and there’s not a checkpoint even five feet to ensure that you’ll never have to retread on the same ground you just covered.
The game’s difficulty is underlined by a strong sense of fairness though. There are three resources the game deals you, health, for obvious reasons, energy, that powers both the save system and certain abilities, and ability points, that make Ori more effective and durable. If you have to start a section over from a far distance away, it’s because you neglected to commit your progress by spending energy to save. If you die on thorny branches, it’s because you timed your jump wrong or missed your landing. If an enemy kills you, you have yet to master the attack patterns and anticipate their behavior. I felt like this game kept on asking me to up my game, to get better at playing it, and it’s a goal that never feels out of reach.
I understand the basics of how games are made, and I even understand many of the advanced techniques of making sprite based, and 2D games work, but when I tell you that there are many things in this game that I simply can’t comprehend I’m not exaggerating. The fact that Ori and The Blind Forest is a 2D platformer may turn off gamer’s who demand the latest graphics and the most detailed textures, but this game, more than many others, feels at home on modern machines. It’s art is gorgeous, and it effectively transports you to a beautiful world, that only feels empty when that’s the feeling the designers seems to want to portray. The parallax isn’t simply one image scrolling slightly slower or faster than one another, It’s several animated layers working in conjunction to make the environment seem alive, and to do some fun storytelling and foreshadowing, a technique that’s cleverly lifted straight from their last game.
In terms of comparison, I have to mention Limbo in this review, because so much of Ori feels like an evolution of what Moon Studios did with their last endeavor. But everything feels simply more refined. The storytelling, art, music, structure, controls and gameplay are all better and bigger. I always felt Limbo had moments where I had difficulty judging how far I could push my character, but Ori feels very much in my control, seemingly every degree of sensitivity feels maxed with my controller in hand. This is a AAA game with a tiny price tag, and it boggles my mind to consider that.
After a compelling journey attempting to restore the three key elements to the land — water, wind, and warmth — which correspond to the three “dungeons” if you will — you have to use all of your collective knowledge and experience as their put to the test in a final confrontation standing between you and returning the light that could save the forest of Nibel from never ending darkness. I left Ori and The Blind Forest only wanting to have more of everything. This game is something to be experienced and treasured, it feels rare, and makes me deeply excited to see whatever the creators come up with next.
Spoiler Alert: In the video, I talk to Curtis about Ori and the Blind Forest. The footage is from late in the game and while all of the story has been cut out, there are abilities used and sections of the map which expose late game content.
Ori and The Blind Forest was reviewed with a retail copy of the game purchased through the Xbox Store.