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A heavily stylised Metroidvania platformer with a strong fantasy element, but is it more than a pretty shell? At this years E3 we got to see the first footage from Ori and the Will of the Wisps but despite this there are still a lot of gamers out there who have yet to be introduced to the playful forest sprite of the title. But don’t be fooled by the cute styling, as here lies a truly challenging Metroidvania experience that is as much a test of your reactions as it is of your trigger finger.
The game sees you taking control of the titular Ori, a guardian spirit who is guiding Sein, who acts as the “lights and eyes” of the forest spirit tree while also serving as the game’s narrator as Ori travels through the forest to recover the three elements (warmth, waters and winds) and restore the balance to the forest of Nibel. At the same time, Ori also has to avoid the mystical owl Horu who is determined to stop Ori from collecting the elements.
Despite the innocent and hand drawn painted style of the game, this is far from the kids game it could be perceived as much like its spiritual counterpart Seasons After Fall, only here we get many of the elements which it felt were missing from that game such as enemies to attack, let alone the ability for Ori to die alongside actually having a sense of danger to the game which proved to be one of the most frustrating elements of Seasons After Fall. Of course the illusion of innocence is shatter pretty early on as we are barely into the opening introduction before we are faced with the charming Totoro like creature Naru which adopts Ori dropping dead as the forest around them withers.
Despite the cinematic styled opening, Moon Studios clearly are not keen to bog their game down in extensive cut scenes and as such blend them into the gameplay to create a world, which almost seems to breathe with life and colourful characters rather than being just a series of locations to be worked through. At the same time this world still has a leg planted in reality making all the foes which Ori will face more fantastical versions of their natural selves and giving us such wonders as the fire breathing frog, spine shooting porcupine and some rather large spiders, which hit the ground with a satisfying thud when defeated.
Over the course of the game Ori can upgrade her abilities, adding things such as a catapult as well as being able to throw an enemy’s projectiles back at them, while her main spark attack does however in the later section feels as it could certainly have benefited from more of an upgrade as well, meaning that you will no doubt find yourself relying more on your newer skills to progress on your journey. It should also be noted that Moon Studios are clearly looking to make the most of each new ability learned as none more clearer than in the boss sections which play similar to the time bomb sections of Metroid as you are forced such as one section which sees you attempting to escape from a flood which ruthlessly pursues you leaving only the smallest margin for error and like much of this game a lot of it is down to trial and error.
This trial and error style of gameplay is really were a lot of the challenge in the game lies as you can certainly expect to die a lot before you reach the final credits. To this extent your save points become essential to your progression as Ori can save either at one of the save points scattered around the levels or via using some of her energy to quick save her location which frustratingly was never possible during the boss sections which left you faced with starting over each time you made the slightest mistake. It should also be noted that these quick saves will save at that exact moment, so should you find yourself saving before a cut scene sequence you will have to replay the exact scene over and over with no way of skipping, making you certainly think before you drop a save.
With a style similar to Seasons After Fall this is unquestionably a stunning game to look at and at times it feels like you’re playing inside a painting than a traditional game. At the same time the experience is only further heightened by how everything blends together with no noticeable detachment between Ori and her surrounding, which we’d expect from a game so artistically-driven.
Running around 7 – 10 hours, depending on how good your gaming reflexes are, it never outstays its welcome though certainly at the same time providing a challenge that is more precise than unfair, which makes beating those challenging sections all the more rewarding. At the same time, for fans of Studio Ghibli or who prefer their platformers with a heavy dose of fantasy this could certainly be the game for you.
Game description: Ori and the Blind Forest is a 2015 action game that tells the tale of a young orphan destined for heroics, through a visually stunning Action-Platformer.