“We’ve been working on Ori and the Blind Forest for four years to craft something truly special” – so says the blurb on Moon Studios official website for Ori and the Blind Forest.
Not only is that job done, but it turns out to be quite the understatement.
Ori and the Blind Forest is a 2D platformer featuring the adventures of a spirit called Ori, and set in a forest where the once lush canopy and undergrowth have fallen under a mysterious blight. With no guidance or support, Ori must travel alone in search of answers – and a possible solution to the malady.
Taking on the role of the protagonist, you’ll be performing plenty of running about and jumping about the forest – as you might expect. You will also be endowed with a few select powers that you can use to take on the many capricious beasties lurking in the foliage, splobbering over the land and hanging from the branches.
The forest itself presents many dangers: viciously thorny clusters encroach on the trees and bushes at every turn, stone slabs inexplicably cascade from the depths, and some plants like to disappear just when you want to put your feet on them. In fact, there are quite a few game mechanics in Ori that allow for some really intriguing puzzles. Almost none of these are necessarily new to the genre, but they are deployed with such skill that it is a joy to play from start to finish.
Essentially, the game takes place on one massive map. You can wander from one side of the forest to the other without seeing a single loading screen. The only barrier to accessing some areas is the powers you possess, and the level design is so good that the map slowly unfolds for you in a lovely, logical order without stumping your progress or getting confusing.
Ori is, without a doubt, one of the finest looking games I have played. It has a layered 2D design like most platform games do, but oh my, what layers! Trine 2 is the only other platform game of recent years that has caused my jaw to smack onto the desk through sheer wonder. It is absolutely beautiful.
As I began playing through Ori I was put in mind of Studio Ghibli, specifically My Neighbor Totoro and Princess Mononoke. It turns out this is no coincidence, as on reading the influences on the development team, they freely admit that Ghibli was a big one. There is nothing stolen here though – it’s loving homage. I went off to check where the development team were located as I suspected they would be Japanese, but it turns out they are a collaboration of developers from around the world. What a lovely, amazing time we live in that we can connect such people together to create such powerful work.
The animation is also great, and not just the animation of the scenery and critters: the main characters are imbued with life.
Though they speak no words, you can understand and empathize with these characters within a few seconds of meeting them. It’s an incredibly difficult feat to pull off, and one worthy of the utmost admiration. It is so very rare to play a game where you genuinely feel something for the characters, regardless of whether that is a positive of negative emotion. Far Cry 3 is an excellent example of how to make the player feel nothing but total apathy for the in-game characters – not love or hate, but sheer indifference.
The reason Ori succeeds is mostly due to this fantastic animation. A simple gesture from a character, if done correctly, can convey a world of emotion, and they have really hit that nail square on the head.
A sound accomplishment
Needless to say, the music and sound for Ori is fantastic and absolutely congruent with the visual design. As I mentioned before, the characters do not speak, but neither are they silent. They emit grunts, hums, and moans, none of which are out of place or surplus to requirements, and all of which enhance the narrative in a lovely way.
The atmospheric sound effects are great, but the music is really magical. Without the music I don’t think the game would have been quite as emotive as it is, but it is a joy to the ears and, again, not so far away from a Ghibli sound track. Ethereal in places and rousing in others, the music for this game is a great achievement in itself.
You died how many times?
I hadn’t read anything about this game before I bought it, but I have now read a lot about this game having completed it. It is a couple of weeks old right now so there are already plenty of reviews to sift through, with some notable criticisms.
Firstly, some of the criticism is aimed at the difficulty of some of the sections – particularly the forced-scrolling sections whereby you have to move with the screen or die. I am not on board with this to any extent. There is nothing in these levels that is any harder than the lava levels in Super Mario – there’s just a lot going on. It is in the very nature of the best adventures that there is a struggle or hardship to overcome. The game wouldn’t be the same if it was called Ori Skips Through The Forest With Relative Ease.
Because these free running sections go in all directions, it can be a struggle to know where to go, and you will end up dying quite a few times along the way. Giving us an arrow to point the way almost contradicts the idea of adventure and exploration. To have to work hard for an objective gives the achievement much more meaning. Something given is rarely valued.
There was also some criticism about the longevity and replay value of the game. I completed the beast in just over 10 hours with 500 or more deaths – pretty much one death a minute – and I will, without a doubt, be going back for a second play. Not just for the game, but for the story. Make no mistake though, it is controller-smashingly hard in places. Lucky for me then that I played with the keyboard and mouse. Unlucky for my little finger, which was in overdrive on the shift key.
Speaking of which, I think the story is a real masterpiece. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you about the story because I honestly think it should be experienced first-hand, with no prior knowledge. There are no plot twists per se, but there is a wonderful narrative duality on display here. As with much of Ghibli’s work you are not invited into a world of black and white and good and evil. That’s all I can say on the story, except that it was immersive, charming, melancholy and magical. Maybe the replay value of the game is in hours, but its longevity will far exceed a few weeks in your mind. I haven’t stopped thinking about it.
I particularly enjoyed the level design, which was so well thought out. There was one area in particular that stood out for me, which involves the laws of gravity. There are special square blocks that you stand on and you can walk all around the block without falling off. But when you jump, gravity will pull you in whichever direction down is for you at the time. Stand on the right wall of the block and gravity pulls left – you will fall left. Stand on the bottom and gravity pulls you up. Really nice design, with a few nifty puzzles thrown in.
I am always trumpeting the merits of indie gaming, and Ori absolutely encapsulates all that is great about it. It’s a wonderful, magical game with a profoundly emotional journey, and out of all the games I’ve ever played, this was the closet to making me blub. Even now I’m feeling a lump in the throat just thinking about it. If you’ve ever played Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons, then you know what I’m talking about – and there is more than one similarity between the two. It is games like these that move gaming from the everyday humdrum and out into the artistic stratosphere.
It’s not just a simple platformer – it is exactly what the developers aimed for: “memorable characters in an atmospheric world” and “a story that players will truly care about.” It is stupendous. Now excuse me while I go have a moment to myself.
Ori and the Blind Forest is out now for PC, Xbox One and Xbox 360.