I have a really idiotic tendency to put games I’m excited about on a pedestal before they’re released. I did it with Titanfall, I did it with Destiny, and I’m sure I’m going to do it for Overwatch as well. More often than not, I wind up disappointed and pissed off because the game that I actually wind up playing has zero chance of living up to the version I’ve built in my head. Sometimes, though, every now and then, I get exactly what I hoped for. Ori and the Blind Forest, released on March 11th by Moon Studios (in conjunction with Microsoft), is my favorite game of the year so far by a wide margin. After a few hours spent traversing the Blind Forest, I’ve played enough of it to be able to confidently say this game is very, very good… actually, who am I kidding? It’s phenomenal.
SO… DAMN.. BEAUTIFUL…
Ori nails you right from the start with it’s breathtaking visuals. They’re simply impossible to ignore. They evoke some of the very best characteristics of Japanese and Western art and combine them into a highly stylized and beautiful hyper-reality that grabs your eyeballs with a purpose. The game’s score is also stunning; it’s actually not really like anything I’ve ever heard before and can’t quite describe it. It’s kind of like you’d imagine a symphony of wood sprites to sound, I guess? I dunno. Go listen to it yourself, and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. What I wasn’t expecting was for the game to use the visuals and the music to such emotionally resonant effect. I won’t spoil anything here, but suffice to say Ori almost made me cry within 5 minutes of playing it. Now, I’ll grant you, since my daughters have been born I’ve been progressively devolving into a mushy ball of emotional sponge cake, so I tend to find certain things more affecting than you might, but if you can get through the first few minutes of this game and feel nothing, frankly you give me the creeps. All of my fawning aside, Moon has done a tremendous job of combining these elements to tremendous effect, and they brilliantly set the stage for the game.
THE PAST REMASTERED
Once I got into the meat of the game, the first thing that struck me was how responsive and fluid the controls felt. This is incredibly important in a platformer, and it’s where a lot of them have let me down over the years. The movement and jump mechanics are the absolute heart of any game from the genre, and Ori excels at it. That’s a big mark in the positive column right off the bat. As you progress through the early stages, you start to unlock abilities and powerups, both by collecting items strewn throughout a generously large map and by allocating ability points in your skill trees. There are three skill/ability trees in the game; one focused on combat (and yes, there’s way more to combat here than jumping on things and squashing them, which I wouldn’t advise in this game), one focused on navigation and one focused on health and recovery. You also begin to uncover more of Ori’s story, and find out who she really is, where she’s from, and why she’s so important. Again, in the interest of avoiding spoilers, I’m keeping my trap shut, but the story elements so far have been solid and interesting, and I’m interested to see where it goes.
BRING YOUR “A” GAME
After about thirty minutes into the game, one thing became very clear; there’s a reason Moon Studios made it very convenient and beneficial to use the game’s save mechanic. Ori and the Blind Forest pulls absolutely zero punches when it comes to difficulty. The initial enemies you encounter are pushovers, since they’re mostly there to let you test out your abilities, but it doesn’t take very long for you to start running into serious baddies that are not in any way, shape or form screwing around. Basically, what I’m saying is don’t get too upset with yourself if you die. A lot. Like, seriously a lot. Over the years we’ve gotten used to a certain level of difficulty from a lot of our modern games, but Ori is a true throwback to the golden age of 8 and 16 bit in terms of difficulty. I’m not ready to start comparing it to the original TMNT game for the NES or (gulp) BattleToads just yet, but if you want to get the most out of Ori and the Blind Forest, it’s probably best to be paying attention.
SHOULD YOU PLAY IT?
Honestly, my only gripe with this game is that it’s restricted to the Xbox One and the PC. That really sucks for anybody who doesn’t have a PC capable of running it or that doesn’t have an Xbox One, because Ori certainly deserves to have her adventures shared with as many people as possible. Yes, you should absolutely play this game. Even if you aren’t a fan of platformers, I’d recommend you at least give it a punchers chance. But for my generation that grew up playing Mario, Sonic, Metroid and Mega Man, I’d consider this an absolutely essential game to own. It’s an astonishingly beautiful love letter to those pioneering titles, and it is absolutely worth your time and money. Ori and the Blind Forest earns a stellar 5 out of 5 from the Newbiverse.