Ori And The Blind Forest
360, PC, Xbox One
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