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Ori and the Blind Forest

I’ve been looking forward to playing “Ori and the Blind Forest” since E3 last year. The first trailer for this magnificent puzzle platformer was absolutely stunning, as we were given a taste of the fantastic art style and beautiful story, it was mesmerising and it was probably my favourite reveal from the show.

“Ori” is a 2D Metroidvania style game (that’s a game which utilises the mechanics of “Castlevania” and “Metroid” for the uninitiated out there) with light RPG elements, it is the first game to be released by Moon Studios and it was published by Microsoft for Xbox One and PC. The game tells the story of the titular character, a forest spirit left to fend for itself following a tragic series of events. Over the course of eight to ten hours you attempt to restore balance to the world that Ori calls home, and you also must evade the clutches of Kuro, a menacing owl who is as frightening as he is large.

“Ori and the Blind Forest” follows wonderful independent games such as “Valiant Hearts” and “Child of Light” by telling a heart wrenching story without the need for excessive amounts of dialogue, it focuses instead on packing an emotive punch through its distinctive and frankly amazing art style. The game’s visual impact is incredible! Ori’s light shines in the midst of a dying and vicious world, he majestically soars through the scenery, his bright frame flashing over a colour palette of dark blue and black, illuminating the dying and sorrowful world with every attack you perform.

Each section of the forest is layered and striking, with a level of detail that most games can only dream of. The wind blows behind Ori as you make your way through each section; as it does the oil painting like environments respond subtly, rippling in the breeze, giving the world a real sense of life. This never takes your attention away from Ori because the focus isn’t to get the player to stop and appreciate the world; the gameplay is good enough to keep the player interested on its own. The art feels like the developer’s love letter to attention to detail rather than a feature to compensate for uninteresting mechanics.

The game begins by introducing its characters and the story in all of ten minutes, tugging at the heart strings and immediately getting the player invested in the tale that they’re about to play through. This cinematic opening reminded me of the soul-destroying beginning to Pixar’s “Up”, demonstrating the love that characters feel for one another and then shattering that affection just as life inevitably does. This stark realism makes the game feel more like a puzzle game for adults than a child’s platformer, with themes of loss and tragedy constantly being reaffirmed.

The platforming nature of this game kept me constantly invested in Ori and his story, because I wasn’t simply watching cut scenes in order to consume the narrative, I was playing along as the loveable forest spirit, keeping him alive and sharing in his struggles as I attempted to traverse the treacherous landscape. The mechanics are familiar, as you jump, double jump and triple jump in order to make your way past spiders, thorns and other creatures which thrive on the darkness in the Blind Forest. Movements are accurate and leave you satisfied that each death is your fault and not the result of poor execution on the part of the developers, which is extremely important a game like this because its punishing difficulty means that you will die many times, and repetition is required in order to achieve perfection due to a save system that doesn’t utilise an auto save mechanic.

The game’s wonderful environments and solid gameplay mechanics are exquisitely complemented by a harrowing orchestral score which constantly whispers in the background. As Ori’s situation becomes more dire the tempo of the music increases and becomes frantic, letting the player know that speed and precise movements are required to clear the section. This feature is reminiscent of platforming legends such as “Rayman”, “Crash Bandicoot”, “Sonic The Hedgehog”, and “Klonoa”, particularly in some of Ori’s most memorable moments, such as a race for your life against rising water, which you face each time you want to restore an area to its former glory.

The PlayStation 4 is regarded as a haven for the independent developers due to the fact that since its release Sony has focused on building an ecosystem of great games, rather than filling its release schedule with obligatory AAA titles. However, “Ori and the Blind Forest” is a console exclusive for Xbox, and because of its striking aesthetics and thoughtful story it just so happens to be one of the best indie games that I’ve played since the latest generation was born.

“Ori and the Blind Forest” leaves a lasting impression because the few characters involved in the story are memorable and beautiful in their own ways. Ori literally lights up any landscape he’s a part of, and he’s as cute as he is powerful. Kuro is a relentless villain on a mission to extinguish Ori’s light; he’s fearsome and frightening because he’s substantially larger than Ori and he fills the screen whenever he’s nearby, making the player feel vulnerable and weak by comparison, but the story is carefully revealed so that you don’t hate him for what he’s doing. The map design is thoughtful and meticulous, keeping collectables in view but just out of your reach until you progress through the game and unlock new abilities. A varied range of mechanics which are increasingly difficult to master are slowly integrated, so that by the time you learn something new you’ve got a complete grasp of what you have. This is an admirable feature because it means that you don’t become overwhelmed by the fact that the game is constantly evolving, and by the end you feel like you’ve really achieved something, flying gracefully through a beautiful environment using everything at your disposal to save the Blind Forest.

“Ori and the Blind Forest” is a well thought out and fluid experience with a level of detail that is second to none. The hand-drawn art style immediately strikes you with its contrast of colours and great character design, making the game as fun to watch as it is to play. This game is the culmination of four years of hard work from the people at Moon Studios, work that has been well worth the effort, because in my opinion this is one of the best platformers to be released in the last ten years. For £16 on Xbox One this is an absolute steal, providing eight to ten hours of intense gameplay which never gets old and is always engaging. It’s my favourite game of 2015 so far and in fact I enjoyed it more than any game from 2014, which is saying a lot considering how much I enjoyed “Shadow of Mordor”.

9.5/10

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