Ori And The Blind Forest might be the most deceptive game ever created. Just look at it. Gorgeous, cartoon visuals. Lovably cuddly characters. Fairies. Trees. It’s a kids’ game, right? That’s what Moon Studios wants you to think, because Moon Studios is comprised of sadists who take great thrills in knowing that players are suffering. This is a platformer only rivalled in its punishment by Super Meat Boy, and it might just be as good. You play as the titular Ori, a sort of forest spirit, who must restore light to the dark… nothing you haven’t heard before, but Moon Studios is very hands-off on the story and heavy on character and setting. Ori And The Blind Forest isn’t an original game but it is a breathtaking one every element is executed with tremendous precision and the deftest of touches.


The studio itself has branded the game a metroidvania, and it is the simplest and most recognised way to categorise platform games that deal in exploration, ability-hunting, backtracking and discovery. Ori is most definitely that, but tonally it has more in common with Zelda than anything else. The abilities you discover along the way have direct consequences in gameplay, and within the first few hours your basic toolkit has expanded to the point where even basic movement opens up huge possibilities for navigating the map.

At first, you can move, jump, and attack. A little fairy called Sein joins you on your quest, and she can be sent out to attack enemies with a repeated jab of the X button. It’s very simple, but allows combat to take place on multiple planes. So, as soon as you get used to dealing with an enemy on horizontal ground, how about taking on two while wall jumping? Ori is a game that teaches you a technique, then stretches the very notion of how that technique can be applied. It’s world-class design. And it has to be to justify this level of difficulty. Platformers have rarely shied away from a challenge, but this is something else. You’re constantly asked questions of yourself, with precision jumping, then precision jumping under fire, then precision jumping with a spike hazard… you get the picture.
IT FEELS EXPENSIVE AND LUSH, A TRIPLE-A GAME IN THE ‘INDIE’ SPACE
An early power-up shows just how clever Moon Studios is and how much it wants to push the platforming envelope. You pick up a kind of dash attack, which lets you smash through enemies, Standard stuff, right? Well, it also allows you to springboard off enemies, or the projectiles they hurl at you, meaning you can use enemy attacks to gain higher ground. Further still, any projectile you use to elevate yourself actually shoots off in the opposite direction, so you’ll find challenges where you have to use enemy fire to smash through barricades in order to progress. And you’ll have to do that while in mid air…again, you get the picture.

But it’s Ori And the Blind Forest’s save system that really compounds its challenge. Other tough platformers give you an instant restart, lessening the pain of repeated failure. In Ori, you have to create your own save points, using a finite resource that is also used by some of your abilities. You quickly learn that saving regularly is vital when you lose ten minutes of progress. But resource management is also crucial; it’s a cruel world.

This balancing act is toughest at the beginning of the game, where your health and ‘soul’ (the save-game resource) slots are at their smallest. While the physical difficulty ramps up massively as you progress, it does become less of a risk to plant a save point down. Not that it will stop you from forgetting at the least opportune moment possible.

All this (valid) talk of difficulty must not get in the way of what Moon Studios has achieved here, though. Ori And The Blind Forest  is a truly sumptuous videogame; utterly gorgeous to behold, scored wonderfully, and with a sense of adventure, wonder and triumph that harks back to those classic Zeldas and even more classic cartoons. It feels expensive and lush, a triple-A game in the ‘indie’ space. It’s an unusual choice to make a game that looks so accessible yet insists on brutally kicking your arse, but without the challenge, Ori would be half the game. The sense of achievement in even navigating a small platforming section is tremendous, and it plays in beautifully to the game’s narrative. This isn’t a friendly bed time story; this is a game that wants you to live that struggle. It can even feel euphoric.

As wonderful as Ori And The Blind Forest is, though, it just falls short of true all-time classic status. A lack of signposting at key spots isn’t exactly criminal, but does lead to some tiresome backtracking. Some particularly nasty sections rely too much on trial and error rather than purely reactive skill, too. These instances are rare but just frequent enough to be disheartening. To nitpick, the occasional frame-rate hitch on Xbox One can be devastating when you’re trying to pull off the world’s most intricate platforming sequence.

But this is still something very special, a work of rare craft and beauty, and almost certainly the best exclusive on XboxOne.

SOUL CRUSHING
Ori And The Blind Forest’s difficulty is not something that can be underestimated. This is a crushingly difficult platform game, one that has more in common with Super Meat Boy than it does Super Mario Bros. It assumes its players are experienced and dextrous, and makes absolutely no excuses for them. And it’s clear that it’s not just Nintendo that Moon Studios has fawned over. Ori has more than a few nods to Dark Souls. The respawning enemies, the limited save system, even the punishing enemies this is a game that also seems to take pleasure in hurting its players. Ori doesn’t have Souls’ relentless sense of dread, but under that pretty surface is a mean, tough bastard.