During the golden days of the Xbox 360 and Microsoft's long-held position as having the go-to-console for a generation of gamers, the popular box became known as the place to play the big action franchises, with exclusives such as Gears of War and flagship IP Halo, as well as defining deals with top-tier franchises such as Call of Duty and Assassin's Creed. It was a solid commercial identity with one effective message. Yet, it was likewise the birthplace of platforming darlings Super Meat Boy and Limbo, games which helped pave the way for a new wave of creative indie titles and unique experiences.
This is where Ori and the Blind Forest entered the picture. A critically acclaimed game found by a handful of curious Microsoft execs in their pursuit of original and profound content worthy of the titles that had come before it. Years later, after receiving plenty of love and with anticipation building around what's next, the release of a sequel is on the horizon. The question is, then, will it deliver on the legacy of the original?
The world of Ori is centred around three core aspects; a spiritual and fantastical world, an impactful story, and challenging gameplay. Story aspects were left out of our hands-on demo, but the other two pillars were definitely present.
In the presentation we tried during Microsoft's showcase, we found ourselves stuck in a desert-like area. True to the identity of the series, the environments shared an aesthetic style along the lines of an artistic canvas painting and there's an almost unprecedented dedication to crafting every single nook and cranny of the world. Moving around in Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a worthy experience on its own and always kept us motivated to see what was behind the next area.
Aiding the overall experience is the great audiovisual design. The small minimalistic soundscapes which helped define the first game make their return in spectacular fashion and help create a holistic sense of wonderment. In particular, the small details in the level design are fun to play with as you gain the ability to traverse and dive into large dunes or swing from blue crystal vines to crumbling sand platforms. Jumping around is incredibly fast and in this respect Ori shares some gameplay mechanics with the previously mentioned Super Meat Boy. The demo was, however, cut short (for obvious reasons) and we didn't get to see the full extent of the variation and depth found in the specific areas we visited. Nevertheless, at least from a purely visual standpoint, Ori and the Will of the Wisps looks to deliver a phenomenally beautiful game.
Besides the excellent presentation, our focus was on the gameplay and its evolution from the first to the second game. Where the original was a thorough and well-constructed platforming journey, the sequel aims to spice up the combat significantly. Encounters with the different enemies felt rejuvenated and came across as being surprisingly fluid and deep for a side-scrolling platformer. As the player progresses through the story they will continuously unlock a variety of different abilities ranging from magical spears to hammers. There's even a sword. The feedback from the controller and enemies when performing the different attacks is extremely well executed. However, it's one thing utilising the abilities and another watching as them as the spectacle unfolds. Notably, the spear moves have an amazing magical feel to them and fit perfectly with the aesthetic style of the environment.
The experience of playing Ori and the Will of the Wisps is intuitive and insanely well polished to a point where it becomes very difficult to actually find something not to like. Executives and game developers often compare video games to other forms of art, and Ori and the Will of the Wisps seems like the perfect example of this sentiment. The limited time we got to try the much-anticipated sequel showed us a ton of promise, and everything from the gameplay and the visuals through to the musical score were superbly done. If the team can deliver a coherent adventure from start to finish, Ori and the Will of the Wisps could be something truly special.