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Ori and the Blind Forest

Platform(s): PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Moon Studios
Release Date: March 11, 2015


Xbox One Review - 'Ori and the Blind Forest'

by Adam Pavlacka on April 13, 2015 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

A puzzle platformer that combines deep gameplay with emotional storytelling, Ori and the Blind Forest delivers a stunningly beautiful visual aesthetic that will warm even the coldest hearts.

Buy Ori and the Blind Forest

Hands down, Ori and the Blind Forest is one of the most impressive-looking games on the Xbox One. Watching someone play through it is like watching art in motion. Each scene is bursting with color, and individual areas are stylistically distinct, though each is still part of a coherent whole. If it were judged purely on its looks, Ori and the Blind Forest would be close to perfect. Unfortunately, as a game, there are a handful of key shortcomings that prevent it from taking top honors.

Designed as a "Metroidvania" adventure game, Ori and the Blind Forest tells the story of Ori, an orphaned spirit who is all alone in a devastated forest. Using nothing more than his wits and the limited offensive power of his companion Sein, Ori must discover what happened and do what he can to restore the forest to its former glory.

From a design perspective, Ori and the Blind Forest is pretty straightforward. Like most games of the genre, you start in a central area and slowly unlock new sections of the map as you gain specific abilities. Ori's abilities are sectioned off into a handful of core abilities that automatically unlock as you progress, and optional abilities and buffs are chosen from a skill tree. The core abilities are absolutely required. Those from the skill tree make the journey easier but can be skipped if you want to really challenge yourself.

Challenge and difficulty is perhaps the roughest part of Ori and the Blind Forest. There's nothing wrong with a difficult game, but Ori and the Blind Forest doesn't ramp smoothly. As you progress, there are sudden difficulty spikes that are sure to put off anyone who isn't a core gamer. These spikes are mostly caused by poor level design, as Ori and the Blind Forest has a number of "blind" corners where you have to take a leap of faith. Guess wrong, and it's instant death.

Those blind leaps are compounded by the sections where Ori has an incredibly limited amount of time to escape an oncoming threat. Unless you have memorized the ideal path through the level in advance, you're going to die repeatedly. Players who grew up on 8-bit NES games will feel right at home, but as far as gameplay is concerned, it feels like nothing more than an artificial way to extend gameplay time. More often than not, those deaths feel unnecessarily cheap.

Outside of those moments, though, when everything is flowing, the game is like watching an animated watercolor on-screen. Adventuring through the forest generally looks and feels good, especially once you've unlocked all of the core abilities. The only time I ever felt like I was fighting the controls were the sections in which Ori has to rely on enemies shooting projectiles in order to progress.

Also worth a mention is the soundtrack. Fully orchestrated and evoking the feeling of a dream, the music behind Ori and the Blind Forest is worth listening to on its own. These aren't just short background loops designed to be easily forgotten. The music sets the tone of each level and is much a part of the adventure as anything else.

If there is one area of the game where Ori and the Blind Forest could have been more aggressive, it is in the puzzles. None of the obstacles within the game required much in the way of critical thought. There was never a point when I didn't know what to do or how to move forward. The challenge was always in making Ori move in an extremely precise fashion.

Two other issues cropped up on the Xbox One that, while not completely gamebreaking, were frustrating in their own right. In one section of the map, the hit detection on the level isn't completely mapped, out and it is possible to fall "behind" solid ground. The other is a nasty bug that prevents your save game from saving after the midway point of the game. If you completely quit out of Ori and the Blind Forest, you'll have to continue from that midway point. If you keep playing and suspend the Xbox One, you can finish the game (and get the achievement for doing so), but your save game stays fixed at the midpoint, and the unlockable bonuses never open up.

Ori and the Blind Forest had the potential to be a game that appealed to all gamers, casual and hardcore alike. Unfortunately, the difficulty spikes (and the aforementioned bugs) keep this one solely in the realm of core gamers and speed runners. While it's still a good game, it seems silly to limit its audience unnecessarily. Perhaps Moon Studios will hit perfection in its sophomore outing.

Score: 8.0/10

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