‘Ori’ a Gorgeous Platforming Odyssey

Avi Vogel, Columnist

A lush forest sways in the breeze like a moving painting. A gentle creature called Naru finds a small ball of light on the ground that uncurls into an adorable animal of light. The following minutes are spent watching Ori, the light creature, and her surrogate mother Naru growing closer, exploring the forest and living a simple life. It’s a heartwarming story. I instantly grew attached to these characters — right as their lives came crashing down around them.

This is the opening sequence of Ori and the Blind Forest, originally released in March 2015 and now being re-released as a “Definitive Edition” on Xbox One and PC this month. The game, which received critical acclaim and widespread adoration — with an impressive 93 percent positive-user rating on Steam — was lovingly crafted by Moon Studio, a small team of developers living around the world.

Ori is a two-dimensional platformer with combat, exploration and secrets galore for players that are willing to put in the time to find them. The game is part of a subgenre called “Metroidvania” after famed titles Metroid and Castlevania. The player unlocks more areas as they gain access to new abilities. Some are platformer standards — double jump, glide, shoot — while others are incredibly unique, such as redirecting yourself off projectiles and enemies. By the end of the game, Ori has a plethora of movement options. Finding a groove while gliding in the air and jumping between enemies is some of the most fun I’ve had exploring in a game.

Ori is one of the most visually stunning games I’ve ever played. Many contemporary games represent experiments in visual design, with some developers going for minimalistic art, such as in LIMBO,

and others opting for photorealistic three-dimensional modeling, epitomized in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. Still others go for the nostalgic pixelated art style prevalent in independent games as of late, as in the popular retro jaunt Shovel Knight. Ori seems like it came from a universe devoid of 3D art, where two dimensions have been pushed to their absolute limit. The movement of the enemies is fluid, the world feels alive and the environments, although varied, feel unified in their design.

But visuals cannot be the only standard by which a game is judged. It matters how the platforming controls. Fortunately, Ori’s movement is incredibly tight. This precision is important because the game gets very difficult. The play areas are full of puzzles and traps that cause instant

death. Each room is a two-fold challenge: figuring out how to get through and then actually braving the danger. This process of deliberation and action allows the pace of the game to slow down without feeling stagnant, then move fast without feeling rushed. The game’s puzzle-like design grants the player an even greater sense of satisfaction at completing any challenge, and I never had to go find help to figure out a solution. You may, however, get stuck on the execution.

Ori’s save mechanic is unique. Instead of saving only in certain rooms — as is the norm for Metroidvania games — you can save almost anywhere. However, this comes at a cost. Saving uses an energy bar.

This energy can be replenished throughout the world, but that leads to some interesting dilemmas. Do you save halfway through a platforming section because you don’t want to deal with what you just went through again, or do you hold on to your last bit of energy because you don’t know what’s in store? Maybe there’s a secret door that you’ll need energy to open. This risk-reward style of saving might cause frustration at first, but it’s never overly intrusive. I found myself enjoying the omnipresent decision of saving or moving on.

Musically, Ori stands a head above the rest. It has an original orchestral soundtrack that pairs perfectly with the environments and story beats. Whether you’re running through a volcano to escape a giant owl with chase music playing in the background, or being treated to soft strings and vocals while exploring the calmer parts of the world, the soundtrack is never overpowering.

The Definitive Edition comes with two new areas, each one using a unique mechanic to explore. The zones explore the background of Naru, the creature that finds Ori in the opening cinematic. I haven’t made my way through the entirety of the optional areas yet — only finding them after I finished the game — but from what I have experienced, they live up to the quality of every other zone while still feeling fresh.

All the while, the story ties the game together. Music, visuals and controls are all great, but without the narrative of the forest’s fate, it would all feel flat. Instead, twists and turns kept me interested all the way to the end. When I completed the game, I instantly launched it up again to see what else I missed.

I cannot recommend Ori and the Blind Forest enough. Its tight controls, wonderful aesthetic and touching story all come together to create an experience that is quite unlike anything else on the market.