There's something magical about a well executed platformer, something that resonates in the very heart of gaming, and Ori and The Blind Forest is very well executed indeed.
Cast firmly in the Metroid/Castlevania mold of 2D platformer that rewards exploration and adventure, Ori brings in the strengths of the classics and wraps them up in a beautiful package.
Ever since its announcement, we knew Ori and the Blind Forest was going to have some great visuals, but the consistency of quality is truly impressive. Colour palettes change appropriately with levels and there's never a moment when you're left without a stunning backdrop.
The true make or break criteria here, as with all platformers, was always going to be the gameplay. Thankfully Ori doesn't disappoint in this area, with an agile character, intuitive moves and responsive controls. Once the game gets going and the difficulty ramps up, it's an unforgiving adventure and gamers will need to take full advantage of said controls.
It would have been all too easy for Moon Studios to rely on the visuals and engaging narrative to sell the game, but they've designed a title that will truly push a player's skills. You will die often, but as with most great games, you never blame the design. Warning: you will curse a lot, but you'll always curse yourself rather than the game.
Ori is let down in the innovation department, something that keeps it as the next step in the platform genre rather than a leap forward. The "bash" mechanic sees Ori grab an enemy and throw it in one direction while propelling himself in the opposite direction. It's a mechanic that's ok when used to solve simple puzzles, but becomes exciting when it's used as a mid-air form of transport. Otherwise the game ticks all the genre boxes.
Standard for the Metroid style platformer is the need to backtrack on levels once additional skills are learnt, and Ori embraces this fully. There's a significant amount of backtracking, but it rarely feels like a chore thanks in part to the visuals, but mostly due to the added level of exploration available with each ability.
Although auto-saves are the norm in most games these days, Ori really prides itself on being the tricky pretty badass. Saves are achieved by creating "Soul Links" and are part of the flow of the game rather than something you do in the pause menu. Soul Links use energy which is often in short supply. With every save there needs to be a risk assessment, because saving on low energy or low health might leave you in a serious jam.
The only time the saves are unavailable is during the end of dungeon escape moments. Common sense would suggest that a save would be handy during an escape from a tidal wave, but such moments are when Ori gets supremely difficult and sorts the core from the casual. You will die many many times and success is usually down to near-muscle-memory developed over repeated tries.
Ori is not a difficult game you walk away from. Some players will be driven forward because of the challenge, while others will be sucked into the story and need for closure. Though the narrative can often take a backseat in favour of action, what is there is effective and touching. You'll care for the character as you see the friendship grow between protagonist Ori and companion Naru. When the beautiful forest begins to die, you'll want to go out and save it to preserve the life you've seen. The twists and turns that follow will grip you and most likely touch a part of you not yet hardened by the unforgiving difficulty.
Ori and the Blind Forest is available now on Xbox One and PC ... and is definitely a title to make Playstation owners jealous.