Saturday, 15 August 2015

Now Playing: Ori and the Blind Forest

Ori and the Blind Forest is an action based 2D platform/puzzle game. It’s also one of the best titles I’ve played this year. Maybe the best. Yes, even more so than The Witcher 3. Ori may not offer a 120 hour epic, but it’s a game that strikes about as close to perfect as you can get.

You play as Ori, a cute little critter on a quest to restore the forest of Nibel. It’s a charming tale, with some surprisingly touching moments. There’s a Zelda style vibe to the world and story, but also to the way the game is structured. There are three ‘dungeons’ to complete, each themed around a natural element (wind, fire and water).

You begin with a basic skill and attack set but as you progress, these skills will evolve (jump – double jump – triple jump) or be enhanced (more powerful attacks). You’ll also unlock new abilities which allow access to previously inaccessible areas. It’s not exactly an original way of structuring player progression, but it’s perfectly paced and designed.

Some abilities are acquired as part of the story progression, but you’ll also be able to earn skill points by destroying enemies or by collecting those hidden throughout the world. These points are fed into three trees to enhance abilities or to gain advantages such as having hidden collectibles marked on your map.

The world of Ori isn’t massive, but it’s very cleverly designed. You move between several areas, many of which are connected by multiple paths, but many of these paths can only be opened with the right abilities. It results in an experience that isn’t entirely linear, because there is a lot of scope to explore, but it also forces the player to move in the right direction.

And as you progress, unlocking new abilities, and perhaps want to explore and seek out more upgrades (to say, health or energy), you’ll be able to open up more of these alternate paths, allowing faster access to the different areas of the map. It makes backtracking through areas you’ve already traversed far easier and far less tedious.

The combat of the game is very, very simple, but neatly combined with your abilities. You have a basic magic attack which you can spam until you whittle an enemy down, or you can charge it up and release it in a powerful blast. You also have a ‘slam’ attack, and you’ll also unlock other movement based abilities which can be used to attack – such as a ‘charged’ jump ability which you can use to tear through multiple enemies.

The real focus of Ori though isn’t the combat, but the platform/puzzle elements. The level design in Ori is fantastic. Initially, it may seem rather simple, but as your skill set expands, so does the nature of the puzzles put before you. As you progress, the levels become more elaborate, forcing you to combine various abilities in order to proceed.

None of the puzzles are particularly challenging, but they do make you stop and think. The real challenge comes from the platform segments, the ‘chase’ scenes in particular. I was worried Ori might be a bit too easy, but thankfully, it offers some pretty tense, exciting and challenging moments.

This is a game in which you’ll want to save regularly because death is very common. There are many areas where even a slight misstep can result in an instant death. There are also some fast paced, action based segments which may require multiple precision jumps, including rapidly combining various skills, or you’ll die and be forced to restart.

This may sound a little unfair and maybe even frustrating, but that’s never really the case. Yes, some segments can be demanding and unforgiving, but they really push the player to succeed, and when you do, it’s all the more satisfying. It’s been a long time since I can recall a game really having me on the edge of my seat, gripping my controller tight, but there are multiple sections of Ori that had me doing just that.

The game is incredibly well structured, varied and paced, always giving you something new, be it abilities, enemies or environments. Its gameplay is deceptively simple, but highly skill based (there’s achievements for a 3 hour speed and a ‘no death’ run which I’m not sure I’d want to tackle) and thankfully (and importantly, given the precision required) its controls are spot on.

Graphically, Ori looks gorgeous with fantastic environments, creatures and animations. It also has a great soundtrack and effects. My only real complaint about Ori is that it’s a bit short, clocking in at about 10 hours. That’s not to say it felt too short, because the game is extremely well paced, but rather, I was enjoying it so much I wanted more of it – more dungeons, more puzzles, more enemies.

With some ingenious level design, challenging, fast paced gameplay, amazing visuals and sound, plus a wonderfully touching narrative, Ori and the Blind Forest is a definite contender for my game of the year.


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