Monday, February 3, 2020

Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition (NSW) Review

With January's month of reviews all over and done with (and you can see all of those reviews conveniently listed in the Review Round-Up), let's make haste to our first review for the month of February, Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition for the Nintendo Switch.

Light up the darkness in one captivating, heartfelt tale

It seems like the gaming world has gone a bit insane recently. Up is down, left is right, Nintendo's The Wonderful 101 is bound for other platforms, Sony is rumored to put Horizon: Zero Dawn on PC, and Microsoft now has Ori and the Blind Forest: Definition Edition available on the Nintendo Switch. What else is on its way? At any rate, I'm pleased as well as amazed beyond belief to see the award-winning game arrive on the Switch with everything intact and looking as gorgeous as ever. Of course, beauty is only skin deep, but fortunately, Moon Studios' game has more than enough substance with its strong gameplay and hard-hitting story to back up its phenomenal good looks.

Without a doubt, Ori and the Blind Forest is a superbly crafted experience in its presentation. The hauntingly beautiful and gorgeous world of Ori and the Blind Forest is accompanied and by an oftentimes understated soundtrack. This soundtrack's subdued nature makes it so when the music does swell up during particularly emotional moments in the story, the effect is even more profound.

You'd need to have a heart of stone to not to feel anything during this opening.
Speaking of the story, it features many muted moments where on several occasions there is little to no dialogue to speak of, only that of an omniscient narrator. Mostly though, the story is told through the environment and through text-less scenes, such as the roller coaster highs and lows that are the opening scenes. These show off a mother/child-like relationship that ends with Ori winding up as an orphan when a storm makes all of the plant-life and vegetation within the forest of Nibel wither and decay, starving their one true friend. All alone and without much power to their name, Ori goes off on a mystical journey to revive the forest alongside a helper character named Sein, who not only serves as a beacon to provide the player with helpful quest information but grants Ori unique abilities as well.

Ori and the Blind Forest has a Metroid-like structure to it, offering a wide open world to explore, though most of it is locked away from the player at first. As the player and Ori gain new abilities from remnant trees throughout the world, gained through a linear path, more and more of the forest of Nibel opens up and becomes accessible. The abilities Ori learns and obtains have both offensive and mobility purposes to them. For instance, the Charge Flame can not only attack enemies with a concussive blast, but it can also detonate and blow open specific walls. Then, there's the Bash that allows Ori to launch themselves off enemy projectiles, launching them back into enemies with proper aiming, as well as also to gain altitude to reach otherwise inaccessible places.

One of the earliest new moves Ori becomes bestowed with, the Wall Jump.
Though this leads into one of the lesser parts of Ori and the Blind Forest, and that's the game's combat. While there are plenty of moves to utilize to thwart enemies eventually, starting off in Ori's journey, the best means to dispatch foes is to just jam on the Spirit Flame button to launch fiery shots that home in direction on enemies to slowly but surely take them out.

Danger? Danger is Ori's middle name. Though, Ori would need to have a last name
 to have a middle name to begin with. Technicalities and all that.
Moving around as Ori feels wonderfully fluid, offering a great degree of control and a simultaneous lightness and tightness. Though Ori has a limited selection of moves when it pertains to mobility at the beginning of the game, they're quickly given new means to move around areas, including a wall jump and double jump. Both of these are invaluable for getting around the expansive forest of Nibel, and as you can expect, they set up more taxing and enjoyable platforming challenges. The aforementioned Bash attack also brings even more set pieces of platforming goodness into the mix as well. New abilities are introduced at a steady enough pace that you're not bored with Ori's current arsenal of abilities, nor are you overwhelmed by all of the different buttons to use them. That's because you get plenty of time to grow accustomed to new abilities before new ones are introduced.

An example of Ori using the Bash attack to launch themself over these prickly thorns.
The environments in Ori and the Blind Forest are abundant with details and full of unique sights. Each zone is drastically different from one another, lush, dense, full of bountiful beauty and exquisite nature, and offers mazes of pathways and rooms to get lost in. Thankfully, a helpful and easy-to-read map system clearly marks Ori's location and the location of quests showing where Ori needs to go to next. Through finding map markers and placing them in specific statues, pieces of the map reveal themselves automatically. It helps to get a better grasp of Ori's surroundings and how to reach certain destinations in this interconnected wonderland. Perhaps my only issue with the environmental and level design in Ori and the Blind Forest is how the environments could mask what is safe terrain to land on and what isn't, occasionally resulting in taking damage or worse, death at times.

Even still, death isn't too much of a drawback in Ori and the Blind Forest, thanks to a smart save system. Not only are there specific points on the map where Ori can warp and save your data, but Ori can summon save points--one at a time--called "soul links", as long as they have enough energy cells, one of the major collectibles in the game. Soul links not only require spending energy cells, but they also can't be summoned immediately one after the other. It takes a little while for a soul link to charge up so a new one can be summoned again. Generally, like I imagine most players will do or have done, I summoned a soul link before and after a particularly harrowing platforming challenge or section of area so I wouldn't have to redo too much of my progress if (and let's face it--when) I died again.

As a Metroid game in structure, Ori and the Blind Forest has a multitude of optional collectibles to hunt that greatly assist in completing the game. These range from health-increasing orbs, energy cells, and ability orbs, which can be used in a basic but effective skill tree to increase Ori's effectiveness in combat, in exploring, in mobility, and in just staying alive.

Enemies, puzzles, and hazards await Ori in their grand adventure to revitalize the forest of Nibel.
And there are times when staying alive is indeed a challenge, as you'll die a lot in your initial run through the game. This is especially so during chase sequences, where Ori must outrun some form of environmental danger before it overtakes them. This results in some breakneck, fast, and frenetic platforming, but it also results in a lot of trial and error. Deaths come often from not being aware a platforming hazard was coming before it's too late. Still, the game's ample checkpoints and makeshift save points ensure that you won't be replaying lengthy stretches of the game, so it never feels overly cheap or frustrating.

Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition on the Nintendo Switch includes several difficulties to choose from. I played on the Normal difficulty and felt challenged enough, but there are Easy, Hard, and the *gulp* one-life modes to try out. Achievements are available both in-game and via linking your Microsoft Account, and these add to the 8-10 hour initial run-through you'll have with the game.

I don't think there are enough to synonyms for "beautiful" to describe this game.
Now, Nintendo Switch owners without an Xbox can see for themselves what the gaming world has known for over four years now: that Ori and the Blind Forest is a breathtaking game, most definitely worthy of playing. Seriously, you owe it to yourself if you have any semblance of a fandom for platformers or Metroid-style games to check Moon Studios' stellar outing out. What it lacks in super-satisfying combat, Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition more than makes up for in basically everything else--sensational, jaw-dropping visuals; a muted, ambient soundtrack that knows when to pack a punch when it's absolutely necessary; a heart-tugging, emotional journey; and immensely rewarding and great-feeling gameplay.

[SPC Says: B+]

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