One of the Xbox One’s best exclusives comes to Nintendo Switch but how does Ori And The Blind Forest compare to other Metroidvanias?
It was Nintendo’s 130th anniversary last week (they used to make playing cards back in the early days) and during that time it seems fair to say they’ve seen it all; not only success and failure but the prospect of bitter rivals turning into close allies. The most obvious example is becoming BFF with Sega, once they gave up making consoles, but now something almost more unbelievable has happened: a game published by Microsoft on the Nintendo Switch.
To be fair, Microsoft’s relationship with Nintendo has always seemed much more friendly than with Sony, but it’s still very peculiar – even if we’ve already seen Minecraft and fellow indie game Cuphead on the Switch already. Technically they were published by Mojang and StudioMDHR though, while Ori And The Blind Forest is Microsoft themselves. A taste of things to come, perhaps, especially after Banjo and Kazooie were added to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and a relationship we’re sure Nintendo fans will be happy to encourage as much as possible.
Ori And The Blind Forest was first released in early 2015 and for a long time was considered the best exclusive on Xbox One, although that says more about Microsoft’s first party development woes than anything else. A definitive edition was released a year later, and this is essentially a direct port of that, since it looks and plays almost exactly the same. It hasn’t been announced whether next year’s sequel, Ori And The Will Of The Wisps, will also be coming to Switch, but given how well this has worked out it’s hopefully inevitable.
The opening 10 minutes of Ori And The Blind Forest don’t so much tug on the heart strings as wrench them halfway across the room. Portrayed entirely without dialogue, we won’t spoil what happens (although the trailers do), but the end result is that the rodent-like Ori is entrusted with saving the equally titular Blind Forest. In true video game form this involves collecting three MacGuffins and an awful lot of platform jumping.
The game’s opening scenes are almost worth the price of admission alone, especially as they’re followed by a relentless array of beautiful backdrops and gorgeous animation. And at first the gameplay seems relatively unique too, with Ori able to leap tall boulders in a single bound. As a result there’s a greater emphasis on platform jumping than most Metroidvania games, with the expected influx of new abilities mostly centred around movement rather than combat.
The double jump and wall-climbing abilities are fairly straightforward, but one of the most versatile is being able to grab enemies or their projectiles and rebounding off them to jump off in a different direction. In the normal style of the genre you pass many inaccessible areas in your travels, before suddenly realising that a new ability allows you to explore what was previously so tantalisingly out of reach.
Ori And The Blind Forest feels particularly at home on the Switch as there was always a hint of Zelda about the game, as well as just Metroid. The three MacGuffins (they’re elemental life sources, or some such) are contained in a separate 2D dungeon each; these are still portrayed side-on, like the Shantae games, but otherwise it’s clear that Zelda is the primary influence here, with the greater emphasis on puzzle-solving and unique gimmicks – such as a section where you’re carrying a magic orb that inverts gravity.
Rather than boss battles, the end of each dungeon is punctuated by an escape sequence, where you try to outrace the destruction of the dungeon. These are all extremely difficult but given the platforming emphasis of the rest of the game they do make a more logical test of your skills than more of the game’s fairly simple, and to be honest slightly dull, combat.
The escape runs seem especially hard because they disable your ability to perform a ‘Soul Link’, which by expending a small amount of energy allows you to save anywhere you like within a 30 second interval. Originally this had the effect of making the game harder, not easier, since it encouraged developer Moon Studios to make the sections even more difficult than if it had had a normal save system.
The main purpose of the Definitive Edition, released a year after the original, was to rebalance things with two new moves – a useful dash attack and a grenade – and two new difficultly levels, one easier and one more difficult. It also introduced fast travel and two new areas towards the beginning of the story, that help push the running time north of eight hours.
What it didn’t do though is address the fact that Ori’s wall-climbing ability has a tendency to be set off accidentally and the little critter is so small he can sometimes be difficult to spot on-screen. There’s also the nagging feeling that the game’s not really doing anything new, although the skill tree enabling you to improve and enhance each ability is unusual for this type of thing.
But really, it’s not the gameplay or even the gorgeous graphics that are Ori’s primarily appeal, but rather its wonderful visual storytelling. You care about what happens to Ori and the others and you play the game for them as much as for yourself. And the more people that get to do so, by it being available on more formats, the better it is for everyone.
Ori And The Blind Forest: Definitive Edition Switch review
In Short: Gorgeous visuals and some sublime visual storytelling, Ori And The Blind Forest might not do much that is genuinely new but almost everything it does attempt is genuinely great.
Pros: Some excellent 2D platform design and action, with a wide range of highly versatile abilities. Amazing sound and visuals. Skill tree is a welcome addition. Works extremely well on the Switch.
Cons: Very few new ideas in what is becoming an increasingly crowded genre. Some minor control issues and slightly dull combat.
Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Developer: Moon Studios
Release Date: 27th September 2019
Age Rating: 7
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