Thursday, July 23, 2015

Ori and the Blind Forest Review - When Storybooks Come to Life

Score: 9.25 / 10
Ori and the Blind Forest
Xbox One - PC
Developer: Moon Studios
Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: March 11, 2015

  • Gorgeous visual appeal
  • Gameplay is fluid and easy to pick up
  • Story is wonderfully told
  • Hidden collectibles and tasks have you often straying from main path
  • You can create your own savepoint, but will often forget
  • Some segments are frustratingly difficult

Ori grabbed everyone's attention at E3 last year. It was a new IP, and a gorgeous one at that, and similar to Limbo or Journey the visual appeal allowed it to standout amongst triple A titles. It was not just the look of the game that drew me in, but the emotional impact a minute and a half trailer carried with it. That small window of time captured loss, hope, and fear with a few simple frames and a beautiful soundtrack. The trailer that stuck with me a few years ago has delivered that very experience from start to finish, with a wonderfully crafted game that is as fun to play as it is to watch.

What is this warm, fuzzy feeling?

Like playing out a storybook, Ori and the Blind Forest's wonderful art direction and atmosphere keeps you hooked into the game from start to finish. Every aspect of the game is the definition of beauty. The light hearted soundtrack compliments the visual brilliance, soothing you with simple melodies or pumping up your heart rate during an epic chase. The standout of the 2D environment shines through with the vivid contrast of light and dark, with Ori standing out like a lens flare in a Tim Burton film. It is a living, breathing world that entices you to explore every corner.

The story compliments this tone with a simplistic, yet fitting approach. No dialogue is spoken throughout the game, and only a translated omnipotent Narrator along with your companion will guide you through the events that unfold. Ori begins his quest after falling from the Spirit Tree during a storm, and is adopted by a creature known as Naru. Soon a cataclysmic event orphans Ori, who is restored to life near the Spirit Tree. Upon awakening Ori is tasked with  restoring the forest by recovering the light of three main elements that balance Nibel.  You meet\ a few other faces along the way that delve into the origins of the cataclysm, the mystery behind your aggressor Kuro, and the effect Ori has on the creatures he finds along the way. It is a tale of love, loss, and the glimmering light of hope that Ori embodies as he overcomes every trial to restore balance to the world.

Fighting the Color Purple

Gameplay is very similar to fans of Metroid as a side scrolling platformer with a mix of combat and perfectly timed jumps. Ori explores areas, unlocks new abilities, and uses those abilities to progress further to each marked objective. Platforming becomes very fluid with wall climbing, boosted jumps, and glides that string together seamlessly. Soon the game will have you chaining together everything you know during chase segments, creating a fluid movement to a safe zone. Combat varies with the different enemies that bar your path, some shooting projectiles and others hopping around aggressively to plop on your head. Ori's guide will shoot out beams of light at a certain range, which can be combined with ground pounds and bashes to open your enemy up for attack.

Ori features a save system that is manually done in lieu of a typical autosave. There will be segments that automatically save but for the most part, you must lay down a save spot before trudging along through a difficult segment. This is a double edged sword, as laying a spot down just outside a difficult part is a joyful convenience, but if you are like most who are conditioned to expect auto saves you will forget this feature a lot. This leads to many trudges through the same spot over and over again until you finally remember to lay down a save point. There are also segments that are frustratingly difficult, especially the end segment that requires near-perfect timing to complete. I found myself having to walk away at one point after dying so much that I could not bear to repeat the same part for the thirtieth time.

 I will find you shiny item...and I will collect you

Those who strive to collect every last item will find a fair share of content off the beaten path, each with its own use. Life Cells and Energy Cells are scattered around that increase the health of Ori or magic ability. These are usually found in areas behind secret walls or areas previously explored. You also gain experience and go through an ability tree, fine tuning your mobility, map awareness, or combat capabilities. By the end of the game I kept them pretty even and still had a handful of locked out abilities that would take a little more effort to fully unlock.

The few inconveniences of the game were not enough to outshine what is one of my favorite titles I have played this year. The wonderfully crafted world, the finely adapted soundtrack, and the fluid gameplay had me exploring every corner and overcoming every obstacle to see the game through to its conclusion. Ori is a game that is captivating from start to finish, and though the road ahead can be frustrating, the storybook feel of the game will keep you motivated to see every backdrop and corner of the world.

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