Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Ori and the Blind Forest - Thoughts

Good lord have mercy, Ori and the Blind Forest is a stunning game. It follows the Rayman Origins school of thought regarding its visuals: high fidelity assets, lavish brush strokes, smooth animation, and rich colors occupying every square inch of the screen. Where it differs from Ubisoft's limbless hero is clearly in its attitude—Rayman wholly embraces the wacky, while Ori is elegant and swells with emotion. The creative talent displayed by Moon Studios' artists and musicians nearly justifies the price point for the game, which makes the excellent gameplay nestled beneath the breathtaking exterior that much more fantastic. Though I don't think its exactly an innovative entry in the Metroidvania genre, I can earnestly state that Ori and the Blind Forest is one of the best platformers to hit the market since Super Meat Boy's debut.

I wouldn't classify the story as "light", but the plot in Ori isn't as heavy as it may seem at first. Like many others, I saw the reveal trailer for the game and thought it would be another slower-paced 2D adventure like Limbo or Valiant Hearts, so imagine my surprise when I heard it was an unapologetic reflex-based platformer! Nevertheless, the story here does pull at the heartstrings, though it's wise enough not to tell its tale in a heavy-handed way, giving the player plenty of control after the prologue. It's a good story too!—rarely do we receive simple, humanless narratives about nature—but Ori is undeniably at its most evocative whenever it lets the art and music flourish together.

I really can't understate how majestic the game is in motion, as the orchestral strings swirl in the background, illuminating your perilous journey through paths beset with bramble. At times the soundtrack reminded me of Journey with how impactful its crescendos were, the main theme's recurring motif striking me as a plaintive cry for this ravaged world. There's a dark, somewhat somber beauty in Ori that's fascinating to behold, whether it be in the arduous climb of the Ginso Tree or desolate waste of the Forlorn Ruins. You feel at both in awe of the ancient land and also a little terrified of it, cautious that death could be lurking around every alluring corner.

Ori and the Blind Forest isn't shy to punish either—like with Super Meat Boy, you'll have to think quick on your feet if you hope to make it to the credits. Thankfully you have the brilliant manual checkpoint system from They Bleed Pixels at your fingertips, so you can drop down a momentary save whenever are getting a tad risky. Spending points for perks on a skill tree also provide some nice customization in the face of a mostly-linear game, though they feel like forgettable trinkets in comparison to the stellar abilities you'll find scattered throughout the world.

I greatly adored how the trench coat in Axiom Verge invigorated 2D traversal, so I have to give equal props to the Bash upgrade here. As soon as I began utilizing it did I understand its potential, Ori suddenly going from a "cool and fun" game to an absolutely amazing (and frenetic!) one. While I was a bit lukewarm on the game mechanically at first, by then end I adored using my skills in tandem, excited whenever I had my repertoire tested on the fly. The final challenge in particular was wrought with trial and error, but I faithfully endured Ori's lashings because the game was so fun to play. For as much as I detest the decision to include areas that can't be revisited (meaning it was impossible to 100% the game on my run—a veritable sin for the Metroidvania genre), I actually look forward to replaying the game in the future because I had such a good time with it the first time around.

Where Moon Studios could've taken an easy road and let the visuals be the focal point of their experience, they actually went the full mile and made Ori and the Blind Forest an engaging platformer with some clever mechanics. I stated earlier that I don't think it's entirely innovative—the combat in particular can be downright deplorable thanks to the glare effects on the bullets—but the way it comes together forms such a cohesive whole that I can't help but look on in wonder. Ori is a sharp, energetic, and resplendent entry that knows precisely wants to do, and surpasses those goals with flying colors. I don't think it's a stretch to say it'll be some time before we see a game of its spectacular caliber again.

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