The Xbox One needs games! It’s a great system held back by a lack of exclusives. I know, I know – it’s the popular punching bag at the moment, but trust me: it’s a good purchase and it’s only going to become better as more titles are released for it. Microsoft’s doing its best to address the lack of decent console exclusives by releasing great games like Sunset Overdrive and ScreamRide, and now they’ve got another great choice to recommend to Xbox One (and PC) gamers in need: the masterful Ori and the Blind Forest.
Ori is a Metroidvania, a refinement of the concept that takes the lessons we’ve learned from the indie saturation of that subgenre and puts it to work. There’s solid fundamentals here along with a smattering of new elements. Ori runs, jumps, wall-hops and powers up as you’d expect, but the presentation and design are done so well that the lack of true innovation isn’t necessarily a problem. What we’ve got here is gaming’s version of Oscar bait – a game that does so much so well that we’re inevitably going to hear about it when it comes time to discuss 2015’s Game of the Year.
You play as the titular sprite as he explores the Forest of Nibel, a vast world that’s being threatened by the villainous Kuro. Suffice to say that the plot’s a little more complex than that, but a lot of the experience lies in seeing it for yourself. In particular and without getting into too many spoilers, the introductory sequence is incredibly well done, so much so that you might think you’re getting a different sort of game entirely; while I’d ordinarily avoid “art games” like the plague they are, Ori suggests that they could be done without sacrificing the soul of what make gaming unique.
There’s a few twists to the Metroidvania formula that merit mention. In particular, Ori’s capable of placing his own checkpoints, and in fact this is the primary means of saving your game. This means that while there are certainly some difficult moments during the adventure, you’re not going to need to waste a lot of time replaying sections because you can decide for yourself when to save. Your save points also serve as a means of accessing a skill tree, which offers useful combat- and exploration-related upgrades.
There are also some cute smaller touches to shake things up. For instance, Ori’s primary weapon consists of energy beams fired from a satellite that follows him around. Since your attacks aren’t generated directly from your character, it’s possible to strike foes from a safe position. Later touches, like an explosive shockwave activated by charging the satellite or a midair fling ability, are put to use in an enjoyable matter instead of becoming frustrating through overuse. Again, the game does grow teeth at times, but the unique save system means that replaying sections isn’t as much of a concern as it might be in other titles.
You can’t really talk about Ori and the Blind Forest without a word about the presentation. That word is “gorgeous.” Just look at some screenshots and you’ve got the idea. Even in motion, Ori’s a beautiful game that brings to mind a watercolor painting brought to life. Further, the music is some of the best I’ve heard from a game. While amazing aesthetics aren’t enough to save a questionable game, as we’ve seen from several recent AAA releases, here it serves to enhance an exceptional core experience.
Ori and the Blind Forest isn’t about shaking the Earth. It does a lot of things we’ve seen before. Instead, it does those things incredibly well and with an unprecedented layer of polish; it’s more about coming home, in other words. Instead of trying to sell itself with gimmicks, “retro” art or a developer name, this is a game that excels at the most important parts of video game design. It’s fun, it’s beautiful and it really shouldn’t be missed. If you’ve got Steam and a decent PC, it’s available there too! If you’ve got a PS4, well…it might be time to think about expanding your console collection.