I can’t blame hardcore gamers for getting fed up with independent games. In the last generation, downloadable titles that recalled retro classics were novel. Games high on visual innovation centered on core gameplay concepts — they felt refreshing. But in the years since, it feels like we’ve seen less of that magic. Less games that make you say “wow” and remind you what’s so great about video games. The well has run dry, taking games that both perfect and innovate to inspire those feelings.
It’s gonna take more games like Ori and the Blind Forest.
On first impression, it’s hard to not fall in love with Ori’s atmosphere. Every element is stunningly well done. The music is subtle, building slowly to give every area distinct character — and driving a chill down your spine. The art is bright and diverse, a painting of motion. From the background to the foreground, Ori is dense with wonder. Bright lights shine against dark caverns, arctic tundras and desolate ruins as you skillfully dodge and attack enemies crafted with fine detail. It is a world full of both great despair and hope, which I adored every time I visited.
Ori and the Blind Forest is an exploration platformer, giving the player a large connected world of challenges to explore — with new abilities unlocking new areas of the map. You play as Ori, a small cat-like creature who is swift and nimble at first, but is a downright missile of lethality once you’ve unlocked her full potential. The screen is often framed with a focus on the marvelous environment, with Ori just a blip on the radar. It’s a breathtaking visual, but can occasionally make for some tricky platforming (especially in the game’s few “escape” segments, which gives you a tricky level to tackle with a harsh time limit). Fortunately, the game is generous with saves. You can set a new save state at almost any time, consuming a small amount of energy (which is generally plentiful).
That’s not to say Ori is a pushover, though. The level design is consistently challenging, but fair. You’ll face moments of frustration without a doubt, but the ability to set your own save points ensures that you won’t have to retread old ground too often. It’s possible to get lost in the game’s large open spaces, but the map is exceptionally helpful in guiding you along. A mid-game section that momentarily robs you of this tool is intensely frustrating, highlighting its importance. I completed the game in just over nine hours, but if you’re intent on getting every last collectible — expect a healthy 12.
Retro throwbacks are a dime a dozen these days, but rather than just reference classic games like Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Ori and the Blind Forest stands beside them with elements both familiar and original.
Follow Chris Berg on Twitter @Mushroomer25