Moon Studios spent four years developing Ori and the Blind Forest, and it shows: the entire 2D platform adventure genre has just been schooled in every way possible. The last time I experienced something so perfect in every way, yet as utterly punishing as Ori and the Blind Forest, I had given birth to it: the experience of Ori takes over with clever challenges and splendour you can’t look away from. Ori’s tale pays homage to the greatest platform games while reaching a new high that is going to be difficult to surpass by any other game this year for me. It was gripping, enchanting, I got a little something in my eye (twice), and I forgave it for Zelda similarities because, well, they earned it. I finished the game, wiped my eyes because it had been raining on my face, and started it again from scratch. Fair warning; this is less of a review and more of me trying to explain why I want to close my laptop and get back to my second run of Ori.
The narrative began with an outwardly simple, yet dramatic tale, narrated by what sounded like Jabba the Hut. After the last game that sold me on graphics but let me down with the story, I wasn’t expecting much from Moon – this was my first mistake. Disney has a gift for animated storytelling, to grip and transport you instantly, whether you like it or not, and Moon has undoubtedly been taking notes. A fantastical world is before you, with characters you care for immediately: then, similarly to Disney, your heart is put through a blender and handed back to you with a sympathetic pat on the back. After briefly enjoying the adoptive relationship of Ori, the small glowing cuteness, and Naru, the kindly mother figure you now need counselling over, the story takes another unexpected turn.
You find yourself, an infantile, suddenly orphaned creature in a vast world with nothing but a distant feeling to guide you. The controls drop to suit the plot: you can only move laboriously and have to push to get the fading figure of Ori over small obstacles. You are left to believe you saved Ori by collapsing in front of the Deku, uh, I mean “Spirit Tree” – but surprise! He dies, and it hurts to watch. The Spirit Tree continues his booming account as you are reborn and requested to recover stolen light from the forest, which turns out to be a living creature who escorts you. Yes, Sein is very much like Navi, but again, Moon can have all the Zelda likenesses and tributes it wants. While the story is linear and follows a familiar path of liberating and restoring areas, not once was I uninterested in the translated tale or hoping it would move faster. The storyline swelled and built so expertly to an engulfing ending that gave me everything I long for, with suddenly sweaty eyes being an unavoidable hazard.
What initially made me put my hand up for this review was the game’s appearance; that one graphic with the title looked like a Studio Ghibli film, and I was eager for it. I also needed a 2D platformer to redeem the genre after being disappointed with the last several I played – putting Ori in the same category as those games was my second mistake. The game loaded and hit me with the home screen; a crescendo of music remnant of the most emotional and memorable anime ever, coupled with the kind of dreamlike world you wished for as a kid. Every tiny snippet of sound and each solitary pixel have been devotedly crafted by Moon Studios to allow you into their magical scenario. Even while running for my life it was impossible to ignore the harmonious hum that echoed me, or the impeccable sound effects of my impending doom.
With so few characters involved, I expected exaggeratedly detailed, unnecessarily extravagant looks for each of them; but each is so subtly perfect in its simplicity. I am happy to concede that Ori reminds me of two of my favourite animated creatures ever, Toothless and Stitch, but he is his own being in every way. From the meek beginnings to complicated acrobatics suiting the tale’s progression, he holds his own unfalteringly. The villain is much the same; on the surface a fairly unassuming character, yet Kuro the colossal owl grows increasingly complicated the further you delve. Ori is a coming of age story designed so intuitively around your advancement to support this: each character has evolved independently by the end, affording the game such a whole and complete atmosphere.
Moon Studios are unique to most developers these days as they are situated all around the world and accomplished Ori without meeting. Perhaps this is the key to their success, or maybe it’s spending enough time to get their mechanics to the point of perfection, but who knows. With each new skill mastered came a new button sequence to execute with little room for error: if you missed the wall grab to lamp-jump to projectile-launch then you deserved to drown in that tree. I loved the absence of temple boss fights; it reminded me that Ori could pay homage to greats of the genre while still doing its own thing, and it would kick ass at it. Instead, each region climaxed with a much more believable running for your life sequence that were as beautiful as they were torturous. I found not a single action, interaction, skill, mechanic or graphic that didn’t thrive enough for me to believe I might just be watching a little creature that lives in my TV set.
For the first time, I have completed a game with nothing negative to report. I was beyond impressed, even after dying enough times that I ran out of real swear words. I considered the addition of a warp to the map, but, in all honesty, it would waste the world Moon have created and cheapen the experience. I did, however, have one small personal gripe (as a completionist): after completion you can’t go back to the game for collectibles, you need to start a new one. As my smarter half pointed out though, it would be madness to penalise a game for being so good that I wanted to replay it immediately. Ori is challenging, mesmerising, engaging, charming, surprising and even included a Triforce Easter egg for worthy explorers: Moon has set the bar so high that I already feel sorry for whichever game I play next.