The Blind Forest helped me see.
I’m late to the party with this one, guys. I apologise. I’m probably not going to say anything that hasn’t been said by other people in this post, but I can’t be sure because this post is about a game that first came out back in 2015 – like so many games that year I missed it because I was busy being swallowed whole by Destiny. I saw some trailers for this one and thought to myself ‘that looks cool, I haven’t played a game that looks like that kinda thing for a while, I should probably check that out’ and then, of course, didn’t. I was too busy getting myself a Mida Multi-Tool and a Suros Regime to even read anything about this one, let alone actually y’know, buy it and play it.
I really missed a treat.
Fast forward a few years and my break from Destiny 2 is allowing me to play an awful lot of other things. (If you want to know more about my reasons for taking a break from my obsession with Bungie’s space murder simulator, I wrote about it here. Knock yourself out.) In the last 4 or 5 weeks, I’ve dabbled with The Elder Scrolls Online, The Division, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, South Park: The Fractured But Whole, some Sky Force: Anniversary with my son, and even a bit of Geometry Wars. Oh, and a ton of Sea of Thieves, of course. There’s one game though that’s blown my socks off. One that I expected to like but didn’t expect to absolutely adore in the way I have come to – and that’s Ori and the Blind Forest.
Going back and watching the original trailer ahead of writing this article, I’m immediately reminded of what I thought when I first saw it – it’s a Don Bluth movie made into a video game. More ‘Secret of Nimh’ than ‘An American Tail’, it’s advertised as a beautiful side scroller with a dark side. I think it’s fair to say the vibe given off by the trailer was an almost perfect reflection of the game itself.
Every so often, a game comes along that wears its influences on its sleeve like a badge of honour – a game that’s so confident in its delivery that it will allow itself not to be intimidated by the weight of its forbears but instead take those pillars and build upon them so successfully that in time it will be considered in the same breath. Ori and the Blind Forest is one of those games. It revels in the memories of Metroid and Castlevania, and challenges them.
It possesses one of the most finely balanced set of game mechanics I’ve ever experienced. The difficulty ramps up steadily from ‘ah, this is a doddle’ to ‘hmm, that’s a bit tough’ to ‘HOW THE ACTUAL FUCK AM I SUPPOSED TO GET FROM HERE TO THERE?!?!?’ yet at no point have I looked at a level and decided to quit out of it and not go back. Even the real spikes in difficulty (yes, I’m looking at you Tree escape…) haven’t made me get angry at dying a second after spawning in – and that’s because Ori and the Blind Forest has that thing that our memory tells us all the old-school platformers had but which they didn’t really; sublime collision detection.
Anyone who played platform games in the 8-bit or 16-bit eras will remember the feeling. The rage welling up as you execute a difficult jump flawlessly, only to clip through the nearest few pixels of the platform you were aiming for and plummet to (yet another) unfair death. You’d feel that rage in the pit of your stomach first, rising like bile with each life lost until eventually it would erupt into yells of abuse at the tv and the controller being hurled in the general direction of the TV. That rage had nothing to do with you or your ability (we were all gaming Gods as 8-year olds, let’s face it) and everything to do with the fact that you’d made then jump, you knew it, but the console was rolling a dice and decided that actually, you hadn’t. Not this time. Try again, better luck next time.
In my hours with Ori and the Blind Forest, I’ve died more times than I can count but I can tell you exactly how many times my death was the result of the game arbitrarily deciding that I’d screwed something up – because it’s a big fat ZERO.
The similarities between Ori and the Blind Forest and the 2D Metroid games are numerous – right down to the unlocking of new moves and your immediate need to master them in order to progress to new areas, or use them to get into previously inaccessible nooks and crannies in the earlier areas. The game even homages Metroid by allowing you to get into one of the final areas of the game WAY earlier than you can possibly survive in it, and taking great pleasure in beating the hell out of you until you decide to try taking another route through the enormous maze that acts as the game world. I don’t know how big I expected Ori and the Blind Forest to be when I started it, but it’s definitely a lot bigger than I thought it would be – and so far it hasn’t outstayed its welcome.
If it sounds like I’m waxing lyrical here, it’s because I am. This is a game that I can see my kids playing through, and that I’ll be mentioning in the same breath as the Metroids and Castlevanias of the world whenever conversations about 2D platformers come up. Most importantly though, I’m taking my enjoyment of this game as a sign. It’s a sign that I should play more of the games that I see ads for and think look cool. I should play more ‘smaller’ games – games that eye up those legendary games of yesteryear and decide that they want to put themselves up against those memories. It’s a sign that my decision to take some time away from a massive juggernaut of a game to play a more varied selection was absolutely the right one. And it’s for that, as well as being an all round awesome experience, that I’ll really remember Ori and the Blind Forest for.