It's just been a few minutes but already I've got some dust in my eyes. But what can I say? The friendship between little Ori and the larger Naru is really touching.
As I normally do when it comes 2D platformers - which Ori is - I immediately jump and try to get a sense of the precision by turning back and forth in midair. The Mega Man series is my measuring stick for the perfect platforming controls, especially back on the NES. And the little guy responds immediately to the slightest touch and I realise our journey together is going to be a great one.
But Ori is only able to jump. Without any instructions or hints telling me where to go, I'm forced to head out and explore the world on my own. It's glorious and something we all too rarely get to experience these days where every action is explained in great detail before the game even starts properly. Some things were actually better back in the day.
Ori and the Blind Forest has been getting a lot of attention for its visuals since its announcement at E3 last summer. It's a technical and perhaps even somewhat superficial area that I don't want to linger too much on as this is a game where the atmosphere is everything. But it needs to be mentioned as the design is breathtakingly beautiful to such a degree that I almost filled my 3TB external HD with images and movies as I played. The technical aspect also deserve a mention, with a silky smooth frame-rate and well crafted effects.
Add to this a great soundtrack that perfectly sets the mood. It's as if it just flows with the game and conveys the appropriate emotions to the player without me ever thinking of it as something separate. It just comes together as a beautiful whole, a love child between Team Ico and Ubisoft Montpellier (Rayman Legends) if you will.
There's a large upgrade tree with three branches, divided into special abilities such as breathing under water, defensive abilities that strengthen little Ori and one for offensive moves. This means I'm in complete control of how Ori develops. At the beginning I start out carefully and beef up Ori's defenses, but I soon realise that I'm going to want to unlock that triple jump in the special abilities branch. And surely I want to be able to do some more damage. It's well balanced and the levelling in Ori feels very natural, and all abilities are relevant and serve a purpose.
Slowly but surely he learns to wall jump, hover long distances with a leaf parachute, deflect projectiles and much more. It opens up new areas in locations I've previously visited and allows me to discover secrets. It's the same sort of set up seen in Super Metroid, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and Shadow Complex - but with its own organic twist. The world feels alive, mysterious, and never ceases to fascinate with the strong contrasts between the sweetest things you can imagine and relentless darkness.
But it is here, around five hours into the adventure, that I run into the the only real shortcoming of the game that forces me to lower the score from the coveted 10/10 to a nine: the difficulty. At times it's just too demanding. I have nothing against difficult games (quite the opposite as I loved Super Meat Boy), but in Ori and the Blind Forest it doesn't add anything to the experience.
The challenge ought to be found in finding all secrets and precision platforming. That's enough, and that part of the game is worth the highest praise. But when it takes 10-20 tries and/or trial and error in some spots the frustration reaches a boiling point as I'm pulled out of the great atmosphere the game offers. At times it reduces Ori and the Blind Forest to just one of many superdifficult indie platformers that have appeared lately.
Thankfully these difficulty spikes are few and far between, and Moon Studios have also manage to create what might be the best system for checkpoints I've ever seen. You're simply able to create your own. I can thus place a checkpoint right in front of a difficult challenge and as I bite the dust I'm immediately brought back without any waiting or loading. It eases the pain of death, and add to this that the precise controls, things never feel cheap.
And at the end of the day there is a tremendous sense of accomplishment as you clear a challenge without any help. I get stuck, figure things out, search and once again I have to think a little during the adventure. I notice secrets I cannot yet reach, I stumble upon surprises by mistake and every once in a while I get stuck. It all happens just the right amount of times and never feels unfair, while it still allows for a tremendous sense of relief as you come upon the solution of a problem.
I've been forsaking dinners, sleep and the floor has been filled with empty drink cans. I haven't been able to turn off the console and leave the world of Ori and the Blind Forest. Ori needs my help and the beautiful tale of loneliness has captivated me completely - largely thanks to the beautiful score.
That feeling of not wanting or being able to drop the controller, to actually be treated as a fully skilled and capable player and that wonderful sense of discovery makes Ori and the Blind Forest a true masterpiece. It's proof that games can be art and just because something offers sugar sweet visuals it doesn't mean that it's not meant for older gamers. So far Ori and the Blind Forest stands as the best game released in 2015.