It’s been a long time since a game has evoked an emotional response from me, but that’s exactly what Ori and the Blind Forest managed to do with its introduction alone.
I was touched, awed and even had a lump in my throat by the end of those first few minutes, prepared to play a gentle, beautiful platformer that would tug on my heartstrings to some degree all the way through.
Boy was I wrong.
What I got instead was an unforgiving Metroidvania-style game that challenged every gaming skill I’ve picked up over the years, pleasing my eyeballs with some of the most beautiful visuals yet seen in a 2D game one minute and punching me in the nads with an incredible difficulty spike the next.
It left me feeling torn between the puppy love inspired by its better moments, and the bile-black hatred brought billowing out from my depths by its worst.
So should you play it? Without a doubt.
Ori and the Blind Forest is easily the best-looking platformer on the Xbox One right now. Thanks to some tight level design and rock-solid platforming mechanics, it’s also challenging enough to keep even veterans of the Metroidvania platformers that so very clearly inspired it on their toes, and it’s beautiful enough that it draws you in from the get-go.
The illusion of gentleness continues beyond the first ten minutes of the game; you pick things up just as Ori, a very small forest guardian spirit, has been forced to strike out on his own due to the sad events of the introduction, and you’re weak, you have no special abilities and all you can really do is run and jump a bit.
By the time you’re used to those and you’ve done a bit of exploring, Ori has found a spirit guide called Sein who acts as his primary weapon by firing energy at enemies in close proximity, you’ve unlocked the ability to run up walls to reach new areas and levelled up Ori’s offensive abilities a bit with the experience orbs dropped by enemies.
You’ll also have found the game’s puzzles, which are challenging sections of the world that require the right combination of jumping, running up walls, dodging lethal traps and sometimes using enemies to break bits of the scenery to access secret areas. These can be quite frustrating for gamers new to platformers, but veterans won’t have much of a problem getting through them.
Once you have grasped the art of timing your moves and mastered your hand-eye co-ordination, you’ll be golden. Until then, prepare to suffer.
Upping the ante
By now, you’ve likely realised that the gentle introduction belied what is actually an incredibly challenging, highly taxing platformer, and as you progress, things get even crazier.
Ori is introduced to a portal mechanic about a third of the way into the game’s eight or so hours that lets him enter here and appear over there immediately, a la the Portal games, opening up the strategic options for getting around a level.
By the time the game reaches its memorable climax, you’ll be used to stringing a whole slew of ideas and abilities together without thinking twice about any of it as you’ll have had a ton of practice by that point.
Shortly after you get going, you’ll be introduced to the game’s save system that lets you create “Soul Links” that serve as save points (but only if you have enough energy to do it and there are no enemies nearby) which you return to when you die.
It’s useful because the actual automatic save points are few and far between, but it’s far from perfect as you’ll often want to save – especially before particularly tough bits – but be unable to because you didn’t hoard enough energy, or things are too frantic (which they often are).
Or, like me, you could quite often create a save point with your last burst of energy, and be forced to repeat difficult bits over and over again because new sources of energy aren’t exactly plentiful. It’s a nice idea that ends up not really being as helpful as intended, but with a bit of forethought its unhelpfulness can be mitigated.
Nut shot incoming
By this point you have a taste of what Ori and the Blind Forest is to be, and you could even be enjoying yourself. That’s because you’ve not yet come across the game’s most thrilling, most annoying, most challenging and ultimately most frustrating moments: that of the three long escape sequences that have more in common with being kicked in the unmentionables repeatedly than they do an enjoyable videogame sequence. That’s how I felt, anyway.
These sequences serve as the game’s “boss battles”, but they aren’t the traditional “You against this huge, overpowered monster thing”; they’re essentially escape sequences that require that you keep moving, utilising all of the skills you’ve learned up to that point in just the right way in order to escape.
They offer a huge spike in difficulty, so prepare to fail… a lot. It’s at these moments when, after your umpteenth attempt, you’ll find yourself ready to smash your controller against a wall, and it’s here where you may question the wisdom of buying the game.
But I beg you to keep trying; beating these super-tough sequences is satisfying in the same way that learning how to beat bosses in games like Dark Souls is, and they will form some of your most treasured gaming memories. They certainly did for me.
Confession time: I’m not a 30-year Mario veteran and platformers are not my genre of choice. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I hate them.
Being frustrated and having my hand-eye co-ordination constantly challenged is not my idea of fun; I battled a lot in this game, and my right thumb even developed callouses from all the jump-button-mashing I did and I was frustrated time and again by seemingly impossible sequences, but I stuck with it and am glad I did.
Ultimately, Ori and the Blind Forest proved to be spectacular, and by far the most memorable – and enjoyable – platformer I’ve ever played, likely because it didn’t hold my hand and neither did it work hard at sucking up to me. It respected my skills as a gamer, and in return it earned my respect, even if that took a long time.
You should give it a go if you’re even mildly interested, and definitely try it out if your gaming preferences lean more toward Metroid and Castlevania than Sierra and LucasArts.
Ori and the Blind Forest is out only on the Xbox One and PC, and will cost you around R250 ($19.99) for about eight hours of challenging, but deeply satisfying entertainment.