Ori and the Blind Forest is beautiful, compelling, and a surprisingly difficult game. Built as an action platformer, Ori will have you braving the depths of a swamp, the remains of a once great lake, and even exploring a volcano on the verge of erupting. While this game is certainly a joy to behold you may find the frequent deaths and strange difficult curb a lot to handle. But if you get a try you may find one of the best indie games on the Xbox one.
The art style is stunning. The Forest is wonderfully designed with little details like leaves swirling in the wind or water cascading in the background. I found myself making heavy use of the new Xbox screenshot feature at every new area. Ori’s character is well designed and reminded me of a cross between Stitch (From Disney’s Lilo and Stitch) and a spider monkey. Ori’s huge eyes and large ears give a lot of expression to the character, allowing for this great story with very little dialog. The enemy designs are gross, thorny, and bulbous; this is a great contrast to Ori and really drives home that these creatures don’t belong here.
Ori plays like an adventure platformer. As you tranverse the world you will find various powerups and abilities that allow you to access new areas with even harder challenges. The level design is very well put together. It’s easy to get around and there are enough hidden areas and secret shortcuts that make going out of the way worth it. The dungeons are extremely notable in design, with a focus on a particular element of nature. The water dungeon forces you to avoid poison hazards and the fire temple has platforms that heat up when you touch them. At the end of each dungeon is an escape sequence were you are forced to flee as the area collapses. These chase sequences are equal parts thrilling and frustrating. There are no checkpoints during and one wrong mistake usually means instant death. I like that you feel accomplished when you complete it but it was frustrating doing the same mission over and over again due to a mistimed jump. A word of caution for you completionists; once you escape from a dungeon you cannot go back. Make sure you have fully explored the map before leaving.
Ori’s combat is simplistic. Attacks are auto targeted to enemies you are within range to hit. This allows you to focus on avoiding enemy fire. This is one place where the glowing visuals get in your way, it is difficult to see where enemies attacks are precisely hitting or even how many attacks are coming at you. I often ran into projectiles I couldn’t see when I was sure I was out of the way. About the midway point of the game your damage becomes negligible and you will want to make sure you start getting comfortable with new moves and techniques you learn to defeat harder foes.
Defeating enemies nets you experience which you can use to level up Ori. You have three trees to choose from; Movement, Exploration, and Attack. The movement tree is an odd game design choice. It holds some necessary upgrades and it seems strange that these are not found in the overworld with your other powerups; especially Swimming, Triple Jump, and Damage Reduction. These seem far too important to put in an optional tree; in fact you need all those abilities if you hope to explore the nooks and crannies of this world. The Attack tree focuses on powering up your offensive attacks and Exploration reveals hidden areas and powerup locations on your map.
Ori’s solid controls help make this game feel fair but there is no escaping the fact that this game is brutal. Enemies can desimate your health in a matter of seconds and it is easy to fall into the numerous spikes scattered around the world. The game ramps up in difficulty and really pushes you to explore all of Ori’s movement tech. You can expect to die constantly. Fortunately, you have the ability to expend energy to save almost anywhere. Near the end of the game I was saving everytime I could. The difficulty made me wonder who this game was designed for. It’s visual and story remind me of a child’s Pixar movie but the game is punishing to new players. Its odd juxtaposition that bothered me throughout the game.
Ori is a wonderful game to play and for experienced players the challenge may be a welcome change to the easy games of today. If you are looking for a beautiful and challenging platformer you need look no further than Ori and the Blind Forest. If you tend to play your games casually and did not grow up with Metroid and Castlevania games then this game might be a bit much. Who knew a blind forest could be so deadly?