It’s a little cliche to throw around superlatives at the beginning of a review; I have been guilty of that myself at times. The problem with doing that is on the few occasions when it’s actually justified, it loses all its potency. If you leave the volume knob on 10, then it is all white noise before too long. Worse, when you do run across something that does deserve to be talked about in superlatives, you don’t really feel like you are doing it justice. Ori and the Blind Forest does deserve it though, at least in one aspect. It looks utterly stunning. Soft, hazy and colourful, it’s like a moving painting at times. It looks so good that even at a casual glance, it’s difficult to look away and not stare.
Here is the surprising part though. For a game that looks as soft and “cutesie” as Ori does, it is surprisingly (almost shockingly for a game like this) difficult. A lot of indie titles that look interesting visually tend to not be as striking in the gameplay part (think Limbo) or happen to be too easy (think Trine). Ori happens to be tough as nails. The dichotomy is even more pronounced when contrasted with the visual style of the game. It looks like it will ease you into a warm bath, but instead it throws you into a pool of lava, literally so at times. It’s also layered on top of some smartly constructed gameplay and level design.
The base of the game takes its cue from the classical Metroidvania style – a big seamless world with secrets hidden everywhere that opens up more and more as you unlock newer methods of traversing it. It builds around that world with some solid 2D platforming. Controls feel fast and responsive and when it is at its best, it feels like you are gliding Ori around the levels, moving like slick mercury through a screen filled with death traps. The game is great at making you feel invulnerable and godlike when you are in the zone. Before it throws you down a pit of spikes.
There are downsides that are almost unavoidable in the genre though. Like any Metroidvania title, there is a fair bit of back tracking involved, but the movement options at your disposal increase as you progress farther into the game, allowing you to breeze past areas that once took a while to go through. What really holds the game back is the less than stellar combat. There is very little tactical or interesting about it and it seems to boil down to button mashing at times. It’s by no means terrible and the game’s RPG-like mechanics let you bully your way through a large part of it, but compared to the excellence on display everywhere else, combat feels like its dragging down the game whenever it takes centre stage. It’s also unfortunate that the game happens to have a significant amount of it, with enemies scattered all over the place. Thankfully, most if it is avoidable, especially in the latter half of the game, once your level traversal options increase dramatically.
To match the visuals, Ori’s storytelling is also tastefully done. At times, it almost seems to apologetically get out of the players way by throwing in the odd line of text as exposition without stopping the game. But occasionally, when it bursts into a cutscene, it is breathtakingly executed. There are no expensive voiceovers or bombastic CGI cut scenes. Instead, it’s a tale told with quietude and silent dignity that is all the more impactful. Complementing that is a beautiful sound track that kicks in at just the right times.
There are some minor niggles elsewhere. The lush, beautiful, painting-like levels make for some bizarre hit boxes, where Ori will take damage when you swear you were standing in a safe zone. Level hazards can sometimes be hard to spot because the scenery is such a visual overload. There are also some frustratingly brutal difficulty spikes full of insta-deaths and trial and error gameplay. But all of those issues are usually fleeting moments of annoyance interspersed in large parts of brilliance.
Ori doesn’t do anything groundbreaking. If you have followed the indie scene in the last few years, then there is little here you probably haven’t seen before. Its strength is in iteration moving towards perfection, not innovation laced with creativity. That shouldn’t stop you from trying out the game though because most of what it does, it does amazingly well.