Ori And The Blind For­est

360, PC, Xbox One

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher Mi­crosoft Stu­dios De­vel­oper Moon Stu­dios For­mat 360, PC, Xbox One (tested) Re­lease Out now, 2015 (360)

The be­lated roll­out of Xbox One’s screen­shot fea­ture couldn’t have been bet­ter timed; Ori And The Blind For­est is eas­ily among the best-look­ing games of the gen­er­a­tion so far. Its vi­brant set­ting is proof that with the right level of care and a sharp eye for fine de­tail, even familiar el­e­men­tal themes – wa­ter, ice, wind and fire – can be made to feel ex­otic. It’s also a re­minder that a call for darker shades needn’t mean artists pack­ing away their bright­est colours. Sun­set Over­drive didn’t hold the ti­tle for long: Moon Stu­dios’ de­but has the most vivid or­anges on Xbox One.

Even be­fore you reach the Val­ley Of The Wind, an en­dear­ingly guile­less tilt of the hat to the game’s most overt in­flu­ence, the ex­cep­tional artistry brings the work of Hayao Miyazaki to mind. As the imp­ish Ori scam­pers through sidescrolling wood­land, we wit­ness vines yield­ing to a whis­per­ing wind, droplets cause del­i­cate rip­ples in oth­er­wise calm wa­ters, a golden sun peek­ing through the canopies above. Spi­ders skit­ter by in the fore­ground, and with the viewfinder ad­justed to keep Ori in fo­cus, rocks and branches close to the cam­era are daubed with Im­pres­sion­is­tic paint smudges. Later, translu­cent toad­stools seem to glide eerily by, a spec­tral pres­ence in an ex­tra­or­di­nary, hal­lu­ci­na­tory se­quence. You’re made to feel like an ex­plorer peer­ing through the brush into a mag­i­cal wood­land fan­tasy world filled with diminu­tive beasts and faerie folk. This place is alive, and with ev­ery step you can feel its pulse.

Its breath­ing is a lit­tle laboured, mind. Af­ter a mov­ing bit of scene-set­ting – early com­par­isons with Pixar’s Up were not un­war­ranted – the idyll is shat­tered and we’re set on a familiar path. Our mission is to re­sus­ci­tate a dy­ing world, to which end Ori must lo­cate three el­e­men­tal ob­jets de vertu so that the nat­u­ral or­der might be re­stored. Moon Stu­dios ac­com­plishes a sim­i­lar trick to Clover’s Okami, craft­ing an en­vi­ron­ment that is un­wel­com­ing but never ugly: there are tan­gles of thorns and slimy enemies that spit toxic darts, yet you’re com­pelled to ex­plore ev­ery leafy re­cess, even as the threat grows more se­vere and the en­vi­ron­ment ever more hos­tile. It’s in­im­i­cal, but beau­ti­fully so.

Ori’s a frag­ile crea­ture, but it’s not long un­til she’s be­queathed new pow­ers that al­low her to stretch those tiny legs. Oc­ca­sion­ally, her progress will be clum­sily halted by stone doors with mul­ti­ple locks, but the gat­ing else­where is more sub­tle, yet still in­stinc­tive. You’ll recog­nise most of her abil­i­ties, too: a ground pound and a wall jump are joined by a leaf parachute that car­ries Ori across longer gaps and lifts her to tree­tops via gen­tle up­drafts. At least the Bash power – with which you can re­turn pro­jec­tiles to sender, si­mul­ta­ne­ously us­ing their mo­men­tum to cat­a­pult you up and across – feels a lit­tle dif­fer­ent, as­sum­ing that you haven’t played Vita’s Kick & Fen­nick, which coin­ci­den­tally fea­tures a near-iden­ti­cal me­chanic.

Alas, the ex­e­cu­tion here is sim­i­larly im­per­fect. Pro­jec­tiles don’t seem to have a con­sis­tent hit­box, which means latch­ing onto them is an in­ex­act science. It’s not helped by the lack of uni­for­mity in un­friendly fire: how mis­siles are fired is some­times determined by your po­si­tion in re­la­tion to your foes, which means ad­just­ing tra­jec­tory mid-flight. While the con­trols are of­ten re­spon­sive enough to com­pen­sate, from time to time you’ll die con­vinced you weren’t to blame. We’ve met un­err­ingly ac­cu­rate AI op­po­nents be­fore, but it’s not of­ten we’ve cursed enemies for fail­ing to shoot. In­deed, on land you’ll find their aim is far bet­ter. Neon gobs can be caught and pitched back, but their ve­loc­ity dis­cour­ages the regular use of such tac­tics. Be­yond that, com­bat is no more in­volv­ing than mash­ing the attack but­ton, send­ing jagged streaks of light arc­ing to­ward your tar­gets, step­ping back to dodge, and then re­peat­ing the process. The ac­com­pa­ny­ing light show is pretty, but the py­rotech­nics can dis­tract: with so many glow­ing ob­jects on­screen, you can eas­ily lose track of Ori. It’s less of a con­cern once her health bar has been ex­tended. Then again, this is a game in which you’re given the power to gen­er­ate your own check­points, and dy­ing from some­thing you couldn’t rea­son­ably have seen com­ing has the po­ten­tial to frus­trate.

The three main dun­geons only ex­ac­er­bate this prob­lem. Though stuffed with in­ven­tive puzzles and ex­hil­a­rat­ingly de­vi­ous plat­form­ing gauntlets, they can be a lit­tle too ex­act­ing, re­liant more on per­se­ver­ance and mem­ory than skill. A trio of scripted es­cape se­quences sees the chal­lenge spike sig­nif­i­cantly, forc­ing you to in­stantly mas­ter a new power or die re­peat­edly, your abil­ity to place save mark­ers un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously snatched away. Re­peat at­tempts prove that ef­fi­cient leap­ing doesn’t leave a wider mar­gin for er­ror; the en­croach­ing threat sim­ply ad­vances more quickly. If the idea is to in­duce ten­sion then mission ac­com­plished, but it’s a dis­ap­point­ingly ar­ti­fi­cial way of rais­ing the stakes. Your heart rate may take a while to re­turn to nor­mal once you fi­nally suc­ceed, but it’s worth re­mem­ber­ing that sat­is­fac­tion and re­lief are close bed­fel­lows. Th­ese tri­umphs ring a lit­tle hol­low.

You’ll still rel­ish the op­por­tu­nity to be­come mas­ter of this domain, and it’s telling that the most en­joy­able stretch comes be­fore the fi­nal dun­geon, when you’re tac­itly en­cour­aged to hunt down ev­ery pickup you ei­ther missed or were un­able to grab on the first pass. It’s a familiar trick, how­ever, and be­yond its un­doubted vis­ual ap­peal, Ori doesn’t quite have enough ideas of its own to set it­self apart from the genre clas­sics of which its de­vel­oper is so clearly en­am­oured. None of this, of course, will dis­suade you from prob­ing ev­ery gor­geously ren­dered inch. The Blind For­est is, iron­i­cally, a world to savour with wide-eyed won­der.

Later, translu­cent toad­stools seem to glide eerily by, a spec­tral pres­ence in an ex­tra­or­di­nary, hal­lu­ci­na­tory se­quence

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