May 23, 2019 at 2:28 PM #1372
Ori and the Blind Forest
Rating: 5.0 – Flawless
There is no shortage of adventure-platforming titles currently saturating the video game market. They are simple to understand, yet provide challenges that require focus and determination to see to their conclusion. Games of the genre are at their best when they strike a perfect balance between puzzle-solving and action sequences. Ori and the Blind Forest is a master display of finding that balance.
The game’s prologue has you controlling Naru, the apparent parent/guardian of the titular character Ori; a fictional woodland creature that exists in the world of a once peaceful forest. As Naru, the game walks you through a short tutorial that explains the systems and rules of the game before introducing the antagonist and setting up the story. The exposition is light, but a framework is put in place that is enough to invest the player, at least in an emotional way.
After the short cutscene plays out, you are given full control of Ori to set out on your adventure. Initially, Ori can perform all of the basic actions that the genre is known for: running, jumping, and attacking. Early on you will notice items that cannot be reached with these skills alone, but as anyone who has played an adventure-platformer before knows, more skills and abilities will be rewarded to the player as they continue their adventure.
Every action you perform in the game feels great and naturally builds on previously learned skills. The controls are mapped out in a way that does not overcomplicate the experience. Item management is mostly non-existent and the focus of the game is survival more than attacking. In fact, there is little reward to combat other than gaining slight amounts of Light Â¨C a resource that is used in upgrading Ori’s abilities. On paper it seems this would be more helpful than it actually is. Once you have upgraded a few of your abilities, the amount of Light gained from defeating enemies is negligible due to the amount that is required to purchase a new upgrade. Exploring hidden areas will yield greater amounts of Light (and other resources) than defeating several enemies will.
Of course, power-ups are not the only reason to search for secrets. This game has a stunning visual presentation that is rewarding in itself. Vibrant colors contrast against dark environments throughout the world and each area has its own aesthetic that blends perfectly. Backgrounds mesh with the foreground in a way that can at times be a distraction, albeit a visually pleasing distraction.
Ori does not have a huge health bar, even in later stages of the game. He is vulnerable and you will certainly die numerous times during your play time. Fortunately, the game is forgiving when you fail and gives you the ability to create your own save points in safe areas. If you are facing a challenging section, you can almost always save as long as you have enough of the Focus resource to do so. This will cut down on your time spent traversing areas repeatedly and helps the game flow smoothly from moment to moment.
The puzzle sections of the game are light, but will require you to think outside of the box at times. Rarely did I feel stumped during my playthrough, but there were moments that I had to slow myself down to search for the solution. Most puzzles boil down to your own ability to control Ori rather than guessing at solutions. This approach keeps the player engaged and moving through the level rather that staring at the screen for extended periods of time.
Which is exactly how an adventure-platformer should be. One of my biggest complaints about the genre is that they seem to wear out their welcome before they conclude. Ori and the Blind Forest does not ask you to backtrack through its world if you do not want to. The secrets are displayed on your map if you choose to go back with your new abilities to collect them, but you won’t be going backward to find a key that is in an area that can only be reached with a double-jump. The flow of the game is never interrupted by a padded out section to extend the game’slength. You are free to move through the world at your own pace and are not pressured by a fear of missing an upgrade that would make your life easier. The feeling of constant progression is one of this game’s greatest strengths.
That fact is only more emphasized by how many times you will play through certain sequences; failing miserably. There will be times when you have mastered ninety-five percent of a sequenceonly to land on a spike that requires you to do it again. On your next run, you might fail immediately. Many times I threw my head backwards in frustration only to persevere a few tries later. This is due in large part to not knowing what is coming in the level, making deaths feel cheap only because you did not know what the game was asking you to do. It is one of my biggest gripes with the game, but not one that I would point to as a huge flaw. It undoubtedly the vision of the developers and, thanks to the ability to quickly retry, a vision that was pulled off perfectly and rewardingly.
The story that pulls the action along is not particularly deep or surprising but it did have a few well-earned moments of emotional resonance. At the very least, I came to care for Ori and the various creatures that inhabit the world. A particularly challenging section bookends the experience before rewarding the player with a satisfying ending. Your mileage may vary from the story, but there was enough to keep me wanting to see the conclusion.
Ori and the Blind Forest is one of the best adventure-platforming games I have ever played. It relies on great gameplay mechanics and visual story telling more than complicated systems and heavy-handed plot devices. Its beauty is found in its vision and simplicity. Don’t miss it.
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