Ori and the Blind Forest Review

Enter, Ori and The Blind Forest

For most of us, picking up a new game now a days doesn't have the same feel as they once did. The air and feeling of excitement that used to come with picking up a new title is all but gone. We label our new games now in bunched up categories, such as action/adventure, hack and slash, sports, fighting, F.P.S., you get the idea. So, we innately have this idea when we purchase a game what the whole gameplay entails, before we even play the game for the first time. Most gaming studios now a days, recycle the same themes, they push away the creative boundaries that once captivated us in our youth. We are prompted to purchase older re-worked titles in hopes that the same tired reiterated story will give us the fresh feeling of nostalgia and excitement we once had playing the first variants. When I purchase a game now, like so many of us, we ask or say to ourselves, "Is this going to be like, Super Mario or Sonic the Hedgehog?" or, " This gameplay seems more like Halo, then Call of Duty."  

As an avid gamer of over 25 years I started thinking to myself, maybe that's all there is, maybe I've seen and played every kind of gameplay, and re-hashed story. Recently, while looking and researching for something new, fun, and interesting, mostly picking out some games that were just better interpretations of there predecessors or games that have not come out yet, that might have an opportunity to be that next great thing. In a last ditch effort to find a few more games, I went through each game that came out since the beginning of the year, to give each genre a fair shot. I came across this one game, with a very low key, non-chalant title called "Ori and the Blind Forest." First impression, Pretty artwork, cover art doesn't give you much to go on, probably some kind of happy go lucky cutesy ootsie kid's game. Fifteen minutes later, my mind was blown, and I had at long last, my feeling of excitement and nostalgia, returned.

Let's Welcome Moon Studios

Moon Studios is a new Independent Gaming Company founded by AAA developers. Founder Thomas Mahler was probably best known for his work artist at Blizzard Entertainments Cinematics Department on Starcraft II. With his team, they gather, and collaborate with, talented game developers from all around the world, with the ideal goal to craft amazing games. Games that will feature new concepts, and a multi-blending of genres never before seen in gameplay, art, or story developement. Moon Studios is unique in that they aren't set up in any one location, but rather are situated all across the globe. They take most of there ideas from many games that came out during the old school, 8 and 16 bit eras. At that time, systems like Nintendo or Sega Genesis pumped out new concept games, with new kinds of gameplay, almost daily. 

Remember this Logo, as whatever they come up with next, you can expect high standards and quality gaming.

Moon Studios officially released there first title, which debuted on March 11th on the PC and Xbox 1 for a mere $20.00. The team that worked on this masterpiece the past 4 years, stemmed from all over. The director, writer, and game designer Thomas Mahler, felt he knew the perfect people with which to bring his creation to life, and many of the people he chose were scattered all across the globe, including Austrailia, Germany, Israel, Netherlands, USA and many others. Not allowing that fact to be a deterrant, an approach was made to Microsoft Studios and "Ori and the Blind Forest" was brought to life.

A Game that contains all your favorite platformer elements from all your favorite platform games

This work of art, is a crème de la crème of every nostalgic platformer ever created from those bygone days.When discussing the story, it's impossible not to mention the strong ties this game has to "The Legend of Zelda." From the Great Tree, to the little Navi like fairy character, who joins with you and guides you every step of the way to help on your journey. There is also the familiar nature factor, where you have to restore nature's balance in the world, as featured in the map below.

To restore the forest, Ori must enter a giant tree, gain access to a temple and climb a forboding volcano, sound familiar?

Thomas Mahler had stated that Hayao Miyazaki influenced him strongly while crafting the story and putting together the artwork, elements you will recognize when you play the game. The creator had also described his style of gameplay, as a "Metroidvania" taking elements of the free to explore open world from Simon's Quest and Metroid, platformer aspect of not really forcing the character to go in any one direction. The final touch is the orchestral music, which also resonates similarities to Studio Ghibli, and animes like "Princess Mononoke".

Ori and the Blind Forest

So without giving to much away, as I think this is a must play for this year, I'll retell the story in quick laymen terms. Ori and the Blind Forest is a story about a Great God Tree, who technically lost a part of itself during a Great Storm. This part became a child made of light, and was found by a chubby 'Totoro' inspired woodland creature named Naru, who then kept it and reared it as her own child. That is Ori. Ori and Naru lived happy in the wood till a calamity fell upon the forest they lived in. The God tree called out to Ori to return home, but a fearful Naru keeps Ori to herself. After some time, and events transpiring, Ori ends up having to set out on a mission to find the God tree and save the forest. And that's basically where the adventure starts. 

The breathtaking visuals truly draws you into the world of Ori, every angle is like a work of art.

I can hardly state by saying that hands down, this game is probably gonna end up being the 'Best game of the year'. As a 2D platformer, in an age of 3D gaming, it's hard to imagine Ori resonating with today's players, however, playing this game doesn't seem 2D in the slightest. As the story unfolds you are completely drawn into Ori's World. The gameplay is so vast with its comparisons, that it cant be compared to any one game. The many different stages cover all kinds of visually appealing backdrops, and hidden areas. It makes you want to see what the next area you open up could possibly look like. 

Sein is not Navi, as she doesn't complain or nag at you. She is the only true way to combat your enemies.

The games art designers and developement team were masterful in the way of outdoing themselves with each new interactive and accessible area. The game touches on a lot of base components that make for a high replay value. The surreal backdrops are visually captivating, and there is no transition from cutscene to gameplay, the world itself is also very interactive. Going back to older areas with new found abilities, and interacting with the environment to open new areas, it was reminiscent of the first 'Metroid' game for the Nintendo. 

Using your enemies to open up new hidden areas can give Ori access to upgrades, experience, or shortcuts.

It is also challenging, but not in a frustrating way, as Metroid had a tendency to be. This is all in part thanks to an ingenious concept in the gameplay mechanics. Gameplay itself has a smooth dynamic to it, the large array of abilities can be worked quite easily on a controller. There is a roster of abilities you not only find throughout, but level up as the game progresses. As you defeat enemies, the drop experience orbs, called spirit orbs, this gives the game a RPG type aspect which merges several genres into one. 

Unique Aspects of Gameplay

Ori and the Blind forest offer many different aspects of gameplay over the traditional platformer, both new and re-envisioned. Some of the newer features not found in a traditional platformer, is the ability to use energy sphere's to create save points as you progress in the game. While there are save points located throughout the game, the developement team didn't want to diminish the challenge factor that was sorely missed by older gamers.

In each tree lies a spirit who not only imbues you with it's power, but saves your game at very convienient points.

At the same time, they didn't want to deter the newer generation of gamers from there ease of playability. As opposed to the general mechanic of a save state, this particular feature was molded into part of the overall gameplay and allows you to save before a particularly difficult challenge or puzzle, that may not have an immediate access to a save game point. The game does save at regular intervals, and there is of course achievements, and supposedly special areas you can open up by not using the soul link to craft your own save points. That gives the game a lot of options for players.

An ingenious feature, as it saves you the stress of re-doing the same areas because you died, which will happen frequently.

Another unique feature is the Ability Tree that allows you to customize your own strengths and capabilities as you progress through the game. Major abilities are given to you as you progress through the actual story, these are the abilities that allow you to advance through the game or go back and open up new areas of the map. Then there is the ability tree, these strengthen your attacks, increases power ups and allow you to find area secrets, amongst a host of numerous other abilities, this gives your 'Ori' a feeling of customization not generally found in popular platform games.

Between the open world layout, epic story, leveling and upgrading abilities, this game feels more RPG, than platform.

There is also the environment, some games did have a relatively interactive environment, In games such a Super Mario World for the SNES there was those exclamation switches you could turn on or off, and the P's you could jump on, that turn certain areas into coins and unveil other hidden areas. There's the bombs you would use in Zelda to blast through walls, or use the freeze gun in Metroid to freeze enemies in order to get to higher heights and reach areas you couldn't normally. Ori has similar mechanics but taken to the extreme, with each new ability. The game developers set up intricate layouts, that utilize the whole cornucopia of skills Ori has available in order to survive. 

Ori can glide, jump, swim, attack, bash, climb, charge, walk up walls, there isn't anything this little guy can't handle.

There are also of course similar gameplay mechanics you come across with most platforms as well. Jumping is your prime source for dodging up until you get the bash ability. Ori also gets double jump and charge blasts, like in Metroid, glides like in Super Mario 3, the swimming reminds me of Sonic the Hedgehog, minus the air bubbles. The bash ability is something I find rather unique to this game, though it's kinda like Ori's grappling hook that you would use to propel yourself to other areas of the board.  

The Sound and the Orchestral Score

It's impossible to talk about this game and not mention the atmospheric score that accompanies it. The sound and ambience that the music carries is something out of a blockbuster movie. Gareth Coker did a phenomenal job putting together a soundtrack that not only helps propel the story forward, but also adds a heartfelt reaction from the attentive audience. The scores all transition into each other pretty flawlessly, even transversing the stages from one score to the next is hardly noticeable, but yet is distinctly different. I can hear Hisaishi's Princess Mononoke as an influence in the music, however each of Coker's pieces are all unique to his own style and really brings Ori's story to life. 

Coker did for Ori and the Blind Forest, what James Horner did for Braveheart, truly a masterpiece.

As impressive as the music is the sound is just as impressive. Audio Director and Sound designers, Andrew Lackey and Beau Anthony Jimeniz, used a lot of sounds that can only be desribed as natural. Andrew Lackey was also the voice actor for most, if not all of the characters, as there are no speaking parts, mostly grunts, sighs, and other audible noises. It was very professionally handled, and is reminiscent of what a movie studio would come up with for sound effects on there CG or animated films. 

What Can We Expect From This Success? 

With the game not even released for the XBox 360 (scheduled for release sometime later this year), Microsoft has already declared Ori and the Blind Forest, not only a success, but profitable within the first week of sales, Moon Studios co-founder Gennadiy Korol, confirmed the game was profitable for Microsoft after one week. Thomas Mahler stated that Moon Studios started receiving profit after the first couple of weeks. It was also stated the Microsoft was very pleased by the success of Ori and the Blind Forest.

Congratulations to Moon Studios and there future, may they be as fulfilled and abundant as Ori is shown here.

Any game that doesn't need to be advertised, and is technically a word of mouth venture becoming a great success for the mere price of $20, should make Mircosoft happy. It has already been suggested that a successful franchise was born, and that follow ups and sequels are more than likely for Ori's future. Reviews from other popular gaming site and reviewers across the board gave this some of the highest ratings this year. With this success for Moon Studios, it is more than likely Mr. Mahler will be able to pursue some of his other creative ventures and be able to get the ball rolling on other projects.

Final Thoughts:

As long as Moon Studios keeps it's independence, I think the freedom of creative expression can really shine through with this company. Not being stuck in any one location allows for the company to be able to branch out globally, to pick and choose people from anywhere to fulfill whatever lofty goal they are inspired to create. Ori and the Blind Forest was not actually the first project that Moon Studios pursued, it is however the first to be debuted, as financial backing was needed to necessitate the time, energy, manpower, etc., and so certain promises and contracts had to be made in order to get any project off the ground. Thomas Mahler was fortunate to be so well connected, as a lot of indie game developers, whether they stand out from the rest of the pack or not wont ever be so lucky.

Screenshot of an older game, a sidescroller platform developed by Thomas Mahler, it's original title was called "Sein".

As a matter of fact before Ori and the Blind Forest was created, developer Thomas Mahler and programmer Gennadiy Korol, had crafted another game idea that featured some very promising and interesting merging concepts, this game was called "Warsoup". While the title may not win any prizes, the games concepts were new and innovative and started gathering a bit of an underground fan base in 2010. The concept merged the First Person Shooter genre with a Real Time Strategy elements. The game focused on Resource Management, Tier Upgrades, Map Control, Timing, and most importantly Team Work.

Concept is Microsoft's Halo meets Blizzard's Starcraft II, the screen in the lower right corner is your partner in real time.

The concept is great and with the global freelance team at the helm, I'm sure this is only just the beginning of what this game could truly offer. It is quite a ways off and development had to come to a stop so that Ori and the Blind Forest could get off the ground as that is what Microsoft paid into. It will be quite interesting to see what other ideas, mash ups, or titles might come out of the future Moon Studios. Maybe with making its first round of profits and squaring away another Ori deal. Mahler and his team can work on the first big idea that inspired them to start this all to begin with.

Gamer Since: 1988
Favorite Genre: RPG
Currently Playing: Ori and the Blind Forest
Top 3 Favorite Games:Dead Space, The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings, Assassin's Creed 2
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