Ori And The Blind Forest: four years in the making

Sandwiched between giant triple-A reveals at Microsoft’s E3 briefing was a surprising announcement from a studio few knew about. Ori and the Blind Forest is the brainchild of Moon Studios, a small indie studio made up of developers working together virtually via Skype from across the world. The team has been crafting its first title for the last four years. The game melds the traditions of Metroid and Castlevania with taut and responsive platforming inspired by games like Super Meat Boy.

Ori is a diminutive forest spirit making his way through the dangers of a mystical wood. The anthropomorphized animals and lush visuals call to mind Studio Ghibli animation, which is no surprise, as Moon Studios cites those films as inspiration.

The beautiful storybook visuals bely the truth about Ori’s gameplay, namely, it’s very challenging. Jumping and movement controls are precise and responsive, which is necessary to nail the wall-jumping, spike-avoiding, and platform-landing demanded by even the early sections of the game. New upgrades crop up on a regular basis, from health increases to navigation abilities. Progress is handled through interspersed gates; opening any given gate requires the gathering of several key stones scattered around a level.

I played a rewarding demo that helped to demonstrate Ori and the Blind Forest’s many strong points. Initially, Ori is largely helpless in his wanderings, until he encounters a small blue floating light spirit that helps him deal with the more dangerous forest denizens. This attack can be flung out at enemies a certain number of times before it needs a brief recharge. The number of attacks needed before a recharge is just one of several upgrades Ori can get through skill points he acquires on his journey. In addition to the standard upgrade picks-ups (like wall jump) these chosen skills help customize Ori to your satisfaction.

Moon Studios is exploring an intriguing approach to game saves. Players collect a form of energy as they wander through the world and fight enemies, and this energy can be expended to save at any point. However, because it’s a finite supply, you must think carefully about when and where to set your checkpoints. Wait too long (or forget) and you risk having to replay an especially challenging fight or platforming sequence. Save too frequently, and you won’t be able to set a checkpoint after one of those hard sections.

Some games have too many features or moving parts to get a clear picture of during a busy show like E3, but not Ori and the Blind Forest. While much of the quiet charm and grace of Ori may have been hard to grasp during the show, the solid gameplay, excellent platforming, and high production values make this an easy pick for a game to keep an eye on. It may have been a smaller downloadable game, but Microsoft should rejoice that it has such a promising console exclusive on its roster.

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