Ori and the Blind Forest Review (Xbox One)
Few moments during E3 2014 emotionally resonated with me like the debut trailer for Ori and the Blind Forest. E3 is known for bombastic trailers filled with heavy action and massive explosions, yet here was a video showing off a small white creature lost in a giant forest; vibrant colors, interesting platforming scenes, and more emotional impact in two minutes than I've seen out of some full games placed this game firmly on my radar.
The biggest game show of the year is the largest station for the hype train, however, and while the first trailer filled me with enthusiasm I had to take it with a grain of salt. I'd have to get Ori into my own hands before I could accurately endorse it. Now that I've spent some time with it, I can honestly say that my enthusiasm back in June was not misplaced.
Ori and the Blind Forest is a massive undertaking on a scale that I had not anticipated. Where I expected a simple platformer instead lies a robust adventure sprawling across a map that doesn't fully fit on the screen. This is a massive and beautiful world inhabited with wonder and danger, and sometimes I was asked to back track through areas I had already seen in order to continue the adventure. This sounds like a chore, but with areas so rich with vibrancy and color I hardly paid it any mind.
Everything I see Ori and the Blind Forest shimmers, as if it were pulled out of a child's storybook. The game's visuals are meticulously detailed in a way that left me speechless, both in motion and standing still. One look at how the water ripples when Ori jumps onto a floating log and it's instantly apparent. Better still, the soundtrack that accompanies Ori and the Blind Forest is one of the best on the Xbox One. Most of the tracks are serene melodies painting the picture of a giant, wondrous forest, but when the action ramps up the music is right there increasing the tension in magical ways. Composer Gareth Coker should be incredibly proud of what he's done here, as he's created a wonderful soundtrack that I've been humming or whistling since the day I started playing.
Ori starts as a small and helpless creature only able to jump a small height, but the little guy quickly becomes a powerhouse thanks to new abilities and power-ups found throughout this giant playground. His main attack is the Spirit Flame, but he's quickly able to power it up via a small Ability Tree, powered by yellow orbs found all over the place. He can also gain life with Life Orbs and "Soul Links" with blue Soul Orbs, which allow Ori to create a save point exactly where he's standing. I cannot stress enough how crucial this mechanic has been to my success, as being able to save wherever I am instead of finding designated save points allows me to take more risks in puzzle-solving, which then makes for a more complete experience.
Outside of the random power-ups are Ancestral Trees, which house unique new powers and abilities for Ori to harness. Think of the capsules in Super Metroid which contained more powerful weapons and the idea becomes clear. Find a Tree, press X in front of it, and absorb a brand new power. One notable power is Bash, where Ori can track onto a hanging lantern or even an enemy and use it to vault forward in a big dash. This method of finding powers fits in perfectly with the story of this blind forest, tasking Ori with restoring the land after it fell into ruin thanks to a giant menacing owl called Kuro.
Puzzles also find their way into the Ori experience, but most of them focus on needing pieces of a door to open it or finding a Map Stone in order to unlock more of the map screen. While most follow these simple rules, a few of the challenges Ori faced really made my head spin. There's a point in the game where I had to use the aforementioned Bash ability on an enemy fireball attack. In doing so, I vaulted in one direction, while the fireball went opposite. Using Bash and a few strategically placed portals, I had to guide a fireball into a splintered log a screen or two above me in order to clear a path. Not since Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons have I seen puzzles that summoned a loud " a HA!" moment from me the way Ori kept impressing me.
One thing about Ori and the Blind Forest that I did not expect was the challenge involved. There are some moments that are really difficult, to the point of causing loud vocal profanity to leave my mouth directed towards this cute little creature. There's a moment in the Ginso Tree, for example, where I have to use the Bash ability in a vertical set-piece not unlike the end of Super Metroid where the planet is blowing up. Before I played this section, the in-game death counter (yes, the game keeps track of how often I die) read about 15. By the time I finally got out of that tree, poor Ori had suffered 50 deaths. Do not be fooled by the beautiful environments and cartoonish charm--when it wants to be, this game is freakin' hard.
When I first pushed Start on Ori and the Blind Forest I expected a simple little platformer with a impactful story that would come and go quickly. I had anticipated this game since its E3 2014 reveal, but I wasn't expecting a long time investment. The game took little time in showing me how wrong my initial perception was, thrusting me into a giant world invoking the best parts of Castlevania and Metroid games, while telling a story all its own. Adventure buffs and those with a flair for the nostalgic need to make Ori and the Blind Forest part of their collections immediately, for it will take players back to the glory days of adventure games in the best ways.
This review was completed with a download code for Ori and the Blind Forest provided by the publisher for Xbox One.