Monday, January 27, 2020

Ori and the Blind Forest Review

Keeping the #PlatforMonth train rolling, I decided to play a game that I've had recommended to me by quite a few people, Ori and the Blind Forest. This Metroidvania from Moon Studios and Microsoft was originally released on Xbox One and PC in 2015. This review is based on the "Definitive Edition" of the game on PC. I live-streamed my entire playthrough of the game on my Twitch channel.

  • This game features gorgeous painterly visuals. The aesthetic reminds me of Ubi-Art games like Rayman Origins and Child of Light. In general, I really liked the look of the game but in some cases, it was hard to discern what was an interactive object/platform and what was just part of the background art. A lot of stylized platformers have this issue, however. 
  • For a game that initially looks very cute, it goes to some very dark places thematically, both in terms of atmosphere and storytelling. The mysterious and forlorn tone of the game reminded me of classic European fairytales (i.e. the pre-Disney versions). I found this to be intriguing but could see it being offputting for children or players expecting something lighter from a platformer.
  • Unlike most other games in this genre, Ori features very few fixed checkpoints on the map but instead allows you save almost anywhere at the cost of a small amount of MP. Since it deviates from the norm, I initially found myself having to do a lot retraversal any time I lost a life because I kept forgetting to save. Once I got used to it, however, I came to really appreciate the flexibility of the system. In some of the tougher areas, it was nice to be able to save every few minutes.
  • Similar to a game like Monster Boy (review), Ori's world is comprised of a large main map with a few separated dungeon-like areas. I like this structure since it provides your exploration with defined destinations rather than just having the whole game be comprised of aimless wandering. Also, segregating these dungeons from the rest of the map allows them to introduce unique mechanics that help break up the gameplay. For example, there is one dungeon that focuses on manipulating the effect of gravity; this mechanic wouldn't make sense in the overworld but is a lot of fun within its own dungeon.
  • The gameplay of Ori focuses heavily on movement over combat. In fact, many of the boss encounters playout more like escape sequences rather than battles. Not only does this work well from a thematic standpoint, it also plays to this game's strengths. Ori is a nimble character with a robust move set of aerial maneuvers such as wall jumps and air dashes. After receiving a few powerups, Ori can traverse many environments without ever touching the ground. This approach to platforming reminded me of one of my recent favorites in the genre, Celeste (review).
  • The game features an RPG-like skill tree and experience points. While this gives you some flexibility in how you set up your character, I found this to largely be a superfluous feature. In a game so heavily focused on locomotion, I didn't see much point in putting points into anything other than the movement skill branch of the skill tree.
  • In order to be more atmospheric, most areas of Ori feature pretty minimalistic music. The moody soundscape is occasionally broken up by grand orchestral swells for dramatic effect. While I appreciated what this approach accomplished artistically, my preference tends to lean toward persistent melodic pieces that I can enjoy humming along to or listening to on their own.
If I had played Ori and the Blind Forest when it had come out back in 2015, I think it would have been a mind-blowing experience and an easy 5/5. However, in the Metroidvania-rich gaming landscape of 2020, it's hard not to compare this game to subsequent games in the genre that I liked a little more. All that being said, Ori is still a fantastic game and accomplishes everything it sets off to do masterfully; I highly recommend it to fans of Metroidvania games.

Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: 9 hours

Acknowledgment: #PlatforMonth is part of the Chic-Pixel monthly game-along calendar. Check out this page for the full line-up: 2020 Master Game-Along List

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