Miyazaki. Rayman. Metroid. The Iron Giant. The Lion King. What do these big names have in common? Let’s find out!
Those of you who follow my blog will remember that I have recently acquired an XBOX One (I did a whole post about it! Get with it, man!). One particular title I was totally amped to play was Ori and the Blind Forest. Yes. That is the answer to the previous question. The game was inspired by all of those things above and if the amazing reception and numerous awards don’t convince you to try this game, perhaps my little piece of the inter-netro-sphere will.
I initially saw the intro to the game on a YouTube video and knew immediately that I had to have it. The first ten minutes of the game (much like the first ten minutes of J. J. Abrams 2009 Star Trek movie) sucked me in and pulled at my heartstrings immediately tying me to Ori, the main character, and from then on I just had to see Ori through his journey. There is no simpler way to say it. When I play a game, I like to feel an emotional attachment to the main character to some extent. This game delivers it in spades.
For a 2D side scrolling platformer, you normally don’t expect much. This is a mindset brought on by the early years of gaming. With the birth of the Nintendo 64, side scrollers fell to the wayside and three dimensional worlds became the rage. Sure, there were a few attempts at side scrollers that live on in the pop culture memory of the gaming days of yore (looking at you Nights Into Dreams), but for the most part, side scrollers were scrapped. Once FPS really hit the scene, these types of old school genres were relegated to the back shelf of the rental store (those used to be a thing!).
The atmosphere, the sounds, the music, the whimsy, and all the things in Ori just add up to a completely immersive world! The technology of the eighth generation of consoles allows for a more organic feel. The background and foreground are dynamic. The moving shadows in the foreground made me feel like I was watching Ori through some foliage, but never obstructed my view. Coupled with some of the tightest controls in recent memory, I found very little to complain about.
Ori also seems to take a page out of Mega Man X’s method of teaching the player before challenging them. What I mean by this is that the game will show you the obstacle before challenging you to overcome it. This type of game design prevents cheap deaths like hidden spikes or unexpected pitfalls. The game tallies your death count. Mine was somewhere around 250 before I finished the game with eight and half hours on the clock. Every one of those deaths were entirely my own fault. I never, never, never, not even once found a way to blame the game for my short comings. It fairly presented me with obstacles and the time needed to react and overcome them. If I missed my mark, it was my own skills that hindered me. This echoes Tetris. If you can’t do it, it’s your own fault. In a similar fashion to Tetris, the difficulty does ramp up as the game goes on, but it feels so natural that you barely even notice it.
As challenging as the game was, I often found my most difficult adversary was saving. It has an active save system. If you die, you go back to the last point you decided to save at. Saving can be done on the fly, which is intensely helpful, but don’t forget to press that button after accomplishing something. This might sound like a pain because most games feature auto save, Rayman being one of them. Ori is unforgiving in this regard and for good reason! It makes death matter! In an age where dying and respawning nearby has become the norm, we don’t even consider death an issue. Games offer no challenge when death is not a punishment. I’ve played Lego games with my kids and it simply doesn’t matter if you die. You simply respawn and continue plugging away. There is little reward for becoming skilled.
As I was playing through the game, I noticed quite a few similarities between it and Metroid. It’s an interesting term I’ve only recently learned, actually. This type of game has its own genre now called Metroidvania (because Metroid and Castlevania). It features a large map with interconnected areas that can only be accessed at certain points. Power ups are placed throughout the world and you must backtrack to obtain what you couldn’t on your first pass through. Ori takes an extra step over Metroid and adds a level up system as well. You can unlock abilities that will enhance your power ups. It just feels so very thought out and well done.
My final verdict on this game: YOU MUST PLAY IT! Seriously, do not miss this game! If you are appreciative of good game design, a good story, an immersive world, lovable characters, fantastically written villain motivation, and whimsy then this game is for you. If you are an old school Metroid fan, this is a spiritual successor. If you enjoy Rayman’s platforming, you will find similar mechanics here. If you are nostalgic for side scrollers, but don’t want to deal with dated graphics and clunky controls, try this out.
As I finished Ori, I came to yet another realization. This type of gameplay is EXTREMELY well suited to a side scrolling Zelda. I don’t want to spoil anything in Ori, so I will simply say that everything Ori learns, each ability, can be duplicated by Link. I can see it in my head and I only wish I had the artistic ability to show it to you.
The Legend of Zelda has had a rough time in regards to side scrollers. In fact, there are only three of them. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, Wand of Gamelon, and Faces of Evil, the latter two being two of three (terrible, terrible, I wouldn’t normally mention them) CD-i releases. There are proponents of Zelda II out there who would say it is the best Zelda game for whatever reason and I can’t argue against someone’s opinion, but my thoughts on the title are not favorable. I have it on my 3DS and I find it simply unplayable.
There are only two other instances of Link performing in a 2D world, Soul Calibur 2 on GameCube and the Smash Bros. franchise. During your play through of Ori, keep the Smash Bros. version of Link in mind, remember his arsenal of weapons and how they could apply in the 2D landscape, then I think you’ll understand what I mean.
The only thing left to really discuss is whether or not a new side scrolling Zelda would sell. You can find a number of threads out there with people detailing their complaints about such an idea, but still, there seem to be more people who support the idea so long as the series doesn’t go that way completely, which it wouldn’t. I, for one, would buy it.
I know I say it a lot, but it really has been an interesting time for games. Spiritual successors are popping up everywhere like Mighty No. 9 and Yooka-Laylee. Side scrollers are coming into their own again with Rayman, Ori and the Blind Forest, and Shovel Knight. It’s not unrealistic to think a platforming, side scrolling Zelda could become a thing. What are your thoughts on all of this? Do you like Ori? Are you going to try it after reading this (Its only 20 bucks)? Would you like to see Zelda in this style? Let me know in the comments!
And you stay classy, gamers.