By James Daly
While there are some obvious examples to prove otherwise, it’s safe to say that the bulk of contemporary platform games don’t always win players over immediately. Ori and the Blind Forest is one of the exceptions, and it really is exceptional. The game utilizes a familiar platform adventure format where the player – as the eponymous Ori, a cute, pretty, marsupial-like creature – moves through a picturesque, enemy-laden labyrinth, searching for keystones to unlock gates and progress through the world. As Ori inherits new skills and maneuvers, the enemies up their hostility with tricky new attacks and traps.
In terms of story, the video introduction shows a baby Ori leaving a glowing forest haven on a breeze before meeting a large, orangutan-type creature who takes Ori in. The two develop a heartwarming bond as they live together, build up their home, and forage for food. That sounds nice, right? Well there’s more. The game gets all Ernest Hemingway on you by shattering this image of paradise when the adopted parent tragically starves to death while keeping Ori alive, and before long Ori is left all alone. The homestead is now cold and dark, the forest is no longer full of lush greenery. Now the player takes full control of Ori and the game begins.
In terms of game play, Ori must explore three unique areas to restore the three Elements of Light and save the world of Nibel. Ori traverses the environment to search for key items, all the while fighting enemies and acquiring power-ups that increase attack power, improve health, and generally make the game easier. It is worth noting that the elegant environment of the game is so lovingly illustrated that it is easy to forget just how much danger lurks within every passageway, especially as so many hazards blend seamlessly into the landscape. Also, the save mechanic becomes increasingly relevant, developing as part of the overall strategy to progress through each zone.
If you’re the kind of gamer that likes to move through levels quickly without thinking about each area then this game isn’t really for you. Ori and the Blind Forest rewards gamers who like to learn and adapt to each new environment and patiently overcome challenges instead of becoming easily frustrated. Being honest, I lost my cool a couple of times, but at no point did I really want a break from this game, mainly because its steady pace and hypnotic imagery creates an ‘at least one more go’ mentality. Also, every mistake feels avoidable because the game is so expertly balanced to provide clever, rhythmic solutions to all perils, and this is partly why so much time disappears when playing, especially for the stubborn gamers among us. In fact, no death ever felt cheap or unnecessary, and so I didn’t mind making Ori suffer for my incompetence from time-to-time because I didn’t feel defeated.
Ori and the Blind Forest does a good job of motivating you to play it, and that’s largely down to the subject matter. After all, we all hate death so when a video game implements the concept with a deceased parent figure so early on we find ourselves trying to do anything we can to resist it, or even reverse it (it is a fantasy world after all). That’s why no matter how much adversity is thrown at our little protagonist, Ori continues to fight because we don’t want to lose what’s important. We want to save our friend, and we want the good times that Ori once had to return. This is what makes this game so addictive: this determination to save Ori’s parent and restore harmony to Nibel. In fact, this emotional response is the main reason I played on instead of passing the game to somebody else after the initial trauma I experienced from the interactive opening scene. Whether I saved Ori’s friend or not… You will have to play it yourself to find out.
Ori and the Blind Forest is a standout title that plays very well and offers beautiful imagery, but the true triumph for the developer Moon Studios is the emotional attachment it provokes immediately. Or and the Blind Forest has a heavy focus on emotional connection, but if feelings don’t work for you then don’t worry because there is plenty of enjoyment to be had from clever gameplay.