‘Ori and the Blind Forest’ Review

Platforms Xbox One, PC (Xbox 360 sometime in 2015)

Publisher Microsoft Developer Moon Studios

Genre Platformer Platform Played On Xbox One

When I first gazed upon Ori and the Blind Forest (OATBF), the simultaneously charming and bleak title from freshman developer Moon Studios’ gorgeous animated-looking tale was made apparent during Microsoft’s E3 2014. Upon viewing the first trailer, you certainly have the right to think “This would make for a touching, casual experience,” right? Wrong. In that sense, OATBF is one of the most deceptive games ever, but in a greatly challenging platformer kind of way.

Players control Ori, a forest spirit. One day, Ori falls into the forest where a creature named Naru takes the spirit in like her own child. After the forest is nearly obliterated of all lush life, turning the land into a terrain of darkness, Naru dies, and Ori is left alone. While further exploring the forest, Ori comes upon Sein, a spirit of the forest. Together, the two embark on an adventure to restore the forest and the grand Spirit Tree back to order.

The first thing players will immediately notice upon booting the game are its hand-painted aesthetics. They are comparable to Ubisoft’s UbiArt engine, which is used for Rayman Legends and Child of Light to name just two. However, OATBF manages to look better. Trust me when I say that is not a statement I say lightly. I admittedly have a borderline obsession with the UbiArt engine.

All the more impressive is how nothing in the game’s environments are duplicated. Everything you see in the game was crafted by hand, which explains the game’s four-year development cycle. Additionally, the soundtrack accompanies tones quite well, especially during the more elegant moments. Moon Studios: You have much to be proud of here.

The plot is rather straightforward though. Light fights darkness, go to “area A” to collect the item, restore this part of the land and eventually save the day. There isn’t much of an explanation for “The Blind Forest” part of the game’s title either, but plot is not where the focus lies, albeit some touching moments sprinkled throughout the story. At its core, OATBF is often a brutally challenging Metroidvaina platformer set in a sizable world with a variety of  landscapes. Ori is used for platforming, while Sein acts as a guide and the one who attacks the dark creatures.

In a sense, the difficulty is determined by the player, as Ori can create checkpoints at nearly any time by using Energy Cells – though there are scanty autosaves. These can be created when enough energy is gathered. Supplies of energy can be limited though, making or breaking the difficulty. It’s an arduous game no matter how you look at it, but your instincts and lucky guesses determine how rugged the journey is.

Ori counters the evil thanks to several abilities obtained from special trees in the forest. While some of the skills are elementary such as double jumping and wall climbing, they all feel relevant and empowering to use. One ability called Bash lets you teleport off beasts and projectiles, sending them in the opposite direction of your jump. It’s especially satisfying to use this on an enemy and flinging them into spikes.

Ori’s abilities, the tight jumping controls and game’s challenge make this a fusion of fantastic platforming. Whether it’s jumping from platform to platform, or  using the teleport ability on several enemies to reach the next destination, it all feels incredibly satisfying, especially after completing a tough segment – and you can expect a lot of these in often exhilarating sequences.

Players also gain experience by defeating enemies and stumbling upon Spirit Containers, which add up to points to use on a skill tree to increase Ori’s toughness. These upgrades range anywhere from gathering pickups with little efforts to stronger attacks and detecting hidden paths on the maps. Much of these upgrades come in handy as the story progresses and the difficulty ups the ante.

On the other hand, Ori’s attacking capabilities – rather Sein’s – lose their appeal quite fast. Aside from the teleport ability, the only other way to hurt enemies is using Sein’s Spirit Flame by pressing the X button over, and over, and over again with no aiming required. It reached a point where I lost immersion in the game. I wasn’t attacking an enemy; I was repeatedly pressing a button instead. It certainly doesn’t help when enemies get more health as the game progresses as well, with that X button constantly calling your name.

I’m certainly not a world champion at platformers, but I wouldn’t say I’m inept either. With that said, it wasn’t until 8.5 hours and 476 deaths later when I completed OATBF. Though I’m highly praising the hand crafted environments, they sometimes work against the players. There were times when I couldn’t discern which parts of the ground or walls were safe, resulting in a few dozen, and incredibly frustrating, deaths.

I’m also not sure what Moon Studios’ thought process was by pulling a Fallout 3 – pre-Broken Steel DLC – on players by restricting access to the same file once the story is completed. With a Metroidvania title, why restrain players if they wish to go back for the sake of exploration and collectibles? After treading through the dangers lurking around every corner, it makes the player feel a bit cheated after gaining abilities from both the skill tree and playing through the game, the latter of which is mandatory for reaching certain areas and acquiring collectibles. I couldn’t help but feel swindled, especially after going through a difficult game and feeling excited to jump back in afterward for further exploration.

Xbox One owners should highly consider OATBF. The game throws rigorous challenges around every corner, but completing them feels incredibly rewarding with Ori’s awesome abilities and meticulous paltforming . Even if you aren’t into tough platformers, OATBF is still, at the absolute least, great eye candy on any HD screen with its hand painted, Metroidvania styled world. Hinderances to the game such as boring and repetitive attacks combined with not being able to continue on a save file after the story is completed prevent this game from further greatness, but Ori and the Blind Forest is still worth checking out.

The Good

  • Challenging platformer with tight and precise controls
  • Ori’s abilities are fun and empowering
  • Looks unquestionably beautiful
  • Vast world to explore with collectibles…

The Bad

  • … except you can’t replay from same file after story is completed
  • Attacks get repetitive and boring
  • Sometimes difficult to distinct harmful and safe parts of environments

The Score: 8.3