Ori and the Blind Forest – Sorta Review
2D Metroidvanias have really become a growing thing with the rise of the indies, when before you were hard-pressed to find any notable entries that weren’t from the Metroid or Castlevania series. It’s a fairly simple framework to build on once you understand the concept, and for those unfamiliar with the term, I prepared a footnote/explanation.
Though they’re also fairly easy to fuck up, if we’re going by recent examples. A good Metroidvania needs to stay strong till the end, because that is really what defines how likely I am to re-visit and replay it at a later date, and of course simply how I feel about going through it even once. Certain titles, like Guacamelee and Valdis Story: Abyssal City, start off strong, but fall apart completely by the end with utterly bullshit final bosses to crown the work. If I hate your game before I get to the end of it, I will probably not be particularly generous regarding any fun I had earlier on.
So how did Ori and the Blind Forest measure up? Well, it’s easily the best Metroidvania I’ve played since Dust: An Elysian Tail.
Though the two of them do take different approaches to several things. Ori and the Blind Forest starts with a lengthy introductory sequence before it sets you loose upon the land. While it does a good job of setting up the world and some of the characters, I do wonder if it was maybe a tad long if we’re thinking about replay potential, but if you’re not worried about that, I’d say it’s neat enough to go through once.
One of the first things you’re likely to notice about Ori and the Blind Forest is that it looks gorgeous. The backgrounds and foregrounds all seem well-crafted, and there’s a lot of distinct environments you will encounter along your journey that look natural in their own way. It’s all very organic-looking, which is what I’d hope for a game set in a forest, honestly.
The animations for Ori, the other characters, and the various enemies all seem to flow and look good as well. There’s a real sense that all these things are living beings. I especially like the touch with some of them how they seem to just blend in with their environment until they start moving. It probably helps that the game ran at a solid 60 FPS for me.
Speaking of the enemies, the combat is quite alright. Ori’s spirit buddy Sein is your main means of fighting enemies, with their spirit flame ability. You don’t need to target this, if an enemy is within range, Sein will go for them automatically so long as you hit the attack button. There’s even a helpful light, red glow that appears around enemies if they’re within range, and you can unlock perks to let you hit more than one enemy at once.
Eventually Ori gains some other abilities that can help out in combat, like a ground slam ability, and the ever-useful Bash, which is really poorly named. Bash lets you use other things to launch yourself in a direction, while you send the thing you launched off of the other direction. This mostly means enemies and enemy projectiles (the things the various slimes fire at you can’t be Bashed). So you can use Bash either to reach heights you normally wouldn’t be able to, and in fact in certain areas that is really the only proper way of getting around, or to launch enemies into environmental hazards or other enemies, or to send projectiles back at the enemy that fired them. I had a lot of fun with it, seeing how I could use or abuse it, and certain enemies are really only feasible to kill with their own projectiles.
And I do like how “friendly fire” is on for all enemies that use projectiles. So even without Bash you can get them to shoot one another.
It can be said that a Metroidvania level is only as good as your ability to traverse it. And Ori does unlock quite a range of movement abilities and perks, but ultimately it comes down to how good the controls are. Now I gather that the game was meant to be played with a controller, but being a PC gamer at heart, I stuck to mouse and keyboard. And I can honestly and thankfully say that I found the controls very responsive. It doesn’t take long to get a feel for the movement, and once you have wall-jump and double-jump, you’ll essentially be flowing through the various environments like a little jet of water. It’s one seamless level as well, so you’re not interrupted by room transitions. Which I suppose is part of the reason why the let the level design be fairly free-form.
You can’t re-bind the keys, but you can change if you want to use a controller, keyboard-only, or keyboard and mouse. And there’s the option of selection if you’re using a QWERTY or AZERTY style keyboard. I must admit I’ve not heard of AZERTY before though. Is it another name for DVORAK, or is it a third type of keyboard set-up?
Okay, it is perhaps a little confusing at first when you have both glide and climb, since they’re both bound to the same key. On the one hand, I can see how it helps with the flow of movement, but it also means that in the sections where you can use the glide to ride air currents upwards, if you get too close to a wall, you will get stuck onto it. And it might take you a moment to realise why you’re no longer moving upwards. Not a critical design flaw by any measure, but it does take a little extra getting used to. Which can be an issue if you’re still in the learning phase during one of the escape sequences.
The game doesn’t really have boss fights as such. There are three dungeons that you have to acquire a key and enter a door for, and all three end in an escape sequence where the only checkpoint is at the start of the sequence, and a lot of the hazards are insta-kill. They are frankly my least favourite part of the game. Sure they’re dramatic and climactic and challenging, but they are so very trial-and-error that they quickly lose their novelty. Especially when you die really close to the end of a several-minutes long section and have to start all over again. They’re semi-auto-scrolling, so there’s not a whole lot you can do to speed things up. If there was at least one or two mid-sequence checkpoints along the escapes, that would do much to alleviate the frustration.
This might be a good spot to bring up the save system. The game does have save shrines spread around that let you recharge both your life and energy (I honestly expected they’d be fast-travel points later on, but apparently not), but for the most part you can create your own save points wherever you feel like it, at the cost of a bit of your energy. Now there are certain restrictions. There can’t be any live enemies too close to you. You can’t make one on unstable ground, which typically means any floating or hanging platforms. And you can’t make one in an unsafe area, like where a trap passes through, or an insta-kill laser beam could come across, or during an escape sequence. This still means you’re free to set one up pretty much wherever and whenever you feel like it, like before any hazardous jumps or acrobatics, and it’s a save state; meaning that it saves things exactly as they are, and not just your location in the world. And if you should die, you are instantly back at your last save. No loading screen, thankfully.
I do kinda wish there was a simple way to self-destruct, because there were times I would rather revert to my last save state than keep going with the mistakes I’d made and life I’d lost. Once you get a certain amount of health orbs, spikes will no longer be an insta-kill, but they will still cut a big chunk off your total.
I did sort of gloss over the level-up system. Gathering experience will eventually reward you with ability points. There’s also an amount of ability cells dotted around the level that grant you one ability point instantly. Ori has a talent/perk tree with three linear branches: combat, utility and survivability. Those aren’t the official names, I just made them up. Combat is mostly about adding damage to your spirit flame and other abilities that can do damage. Utility is about adding map markers for various pick-ups and boost power-ups, as well as reducing the energy cost of abilities that use it, and boost the energy and experience gain from drops. Survivability is stuff like underwater breathing, reusing checkpoints, gaining more life from drops and from creating save points, and finally halving all damage you take. It also lets you upgrade your double-jump to a triple-jump. You need to be at a save shrine or save point to use ability points.
You can of course grind for more experience for ability points, and I did a couple of times, but then at the end I was actually left with a couple of extra points after buying all the perks, so I don’t think you necessarily need to grind. I’d call that a plus.
Setting my complaints about how bullshit the escape sequences are aside, I had a good time with Ori and the Blind Forest. The story is both sweet and sad, moving around feels good, combat never really felt like a nuisance, it managed to be challenging without being frustrating (most of the time), it is very pretty, and it felt appropriately long for what it had to deliver. Now I am aware that I haven’t really said anything about the audio, but that’s because it didn’t particularly stand out to me. It wasn’t bad, but it also didn’t feel particularly noteworthy. It helped create a nice ambience, I suppose.
So yeah, if you’ve been looking for a nice platformer, or more specifically a nice Metroidvania, you might want to check out Ori and the Blind Forest.