Ori and the Blind Forest blew me away when I first saw it after Microsoft sneaked it out at last year’s E3. Nine months later we can now all play Moon Studios’ labour of love.
I’m not much of a fan of indie games. For every gem there’s a dozen or so bits of pretentious rubbish. I’m too long in the tooth and nowhere near hipster enough to be charmed by retro graphics. I suffered lousy visuals the first time around. I want to play games that look so good that my eyes bleed.
The beautiful-looking Ori and the Blind Forest is a pleasant exception to my usual distain for independent fayre. First-time developers Moon Studio, a collection of industry vets from around the world, spend four years crafting what is possible the most delightful platform game that I’ve ever played.
The game starts with an intro that looks and feels like a Studio Ghibli animated movie. It’s pretty clear that the art design has been heavily influenced by the work of Japanese Spirited Away director Hayao Miyazaki.
Ori is a guardian spirit who, after falling into the forest is adopted by one of the woodland creatures who raises him as her own. Due to the actions of the evil owl, Koru, Ori finds himself alone in the forest. Weakened, he must learn how to master abilities and save the forest.
At its heart the game is a classic sideways-scrolling platform game. Little Ori starts off barely able to jump. As the game progresses Ori’s abilities increase as he starts to be able to climb walls, jump higher and better defend himself from the evil that lurks in the forest.
The game is laid out as a series of interconnecting areas, with some blocked off and only accessible later in the game. As well as hordes of nasties, there are many challenging puzzles to block Ori’s progress.
From deadly thorns that require precision jumping to moving blocks that need perfect timing, Ori’s journey is far from straight forward. It is easy to get lost and some obstacles can be frustrating. Obstructions often need stone pieces to open, some of which are craftily tucked away.
The save system is old-school brutal. The game doesn’t use checkpoints, instead the player is expected to save the game at appropriate times using soul links. But in order to create soul links you need to have collected enough resources during the game.
Players need to choose save spots wisely. If you don’t and you get caught out or just plan forget, you can easily find yourself sent right back to the last save, sometimes losing 10-20 minute of effort. Annoying, but you only have yourself to blame.
From its opening to the credits it’s a delight to play. I’d be lying if I didn’t curse the game a few times, but it was engaging enough to keep me going through the multiple deaths.
Take away the fancy graphics and the beautiful soundtrack and Ori is a game that you’ve probably played before, decades ago. But to see such classic gameplay dressed up in such gorgeous new-gen graphics is such a pleasure.
Ori and the Blind Forest is light, charming and not terribly long. It the perfect game to dip into if you like playing something a little different to the balls-to-the-wall, but emotionally vacuous, AAA titles that currently seem to be ten-a-penny on new-gen consoles.