Friday, March 27, 2015

Ori and the Blind Forest (Xbox One) Review

When I first saw Ori and the Blind Forest announced, I didn't pay much attention to it.  It looked very pretty, and I figured it to be one of those arts-y games that tries to be so unique and stylized that it ends up looking like a load of others, much the way cover-based shooters want to be gritty and realistic, but end up looking brown and gray.  When given the chance to review it, I figured I could give the game an actual chance to impress me the way the trailer didn't.

I was expecting Ori to be a platformer, but was pleasantly surprised to see it has a lot of influence from the Metroid series.  While some may describe it as a Metroidvania type game, I would disagree.  There isn't any real levels or equipment to power up your character.  Yes, you do fill a bar and get a skill point, but it isn't really a level up in the traditional sense.  The skill points go in one of three lines that will give you more attack power, show power-ups on the map or something similar.  Even so, most improvements come from the various power-ups around the map instead of the skill tree.  The environmental pick-ups are where you get things like a double jump, more health and so on.  So to me, it is much more like Metroid than a Metroidvania game.

The controls are fairly responsive, but Ori moves pretty fast.  It feels like slight tilts of the stick and he will quickly move that direction.  While nice for getting around, it makes jumping feel much less precise than I'd like.  Also much less precise than the game wants, because there are a lot of tough platforming sections that need you to be spot on to get through them.  There are numerous tiny platforms that you have to land on, and it can be really tricky to do so.  Some parts even have some on the wall and upside-down platforming.  Really cool, but also equally disorienting.

Attacking in Ori is another hit and miss affair.  It's great that your normal attack is a ranged homing attack, and since it's not Ori that is shooting, you can do it while carrying or moving objects.  Nice!  However, there is a minimum lock-on range that must be met before your attacks will actually go toward your target.  It took me too long to figure out when the enemy has a red aura, the shots will go toward it.  Too bad the range seems so inconsistent.  It's definitely not line of sight, since you can hit things around corners and above or below you, but it seems like if you can see it, the lock-on range is greater.  I'm still not sure that's correct, though.  Also, the damage you do seems good at first, but gets really low on most enemies.  Even when spending skill points to level it up, enemies seem to take more shots than should really be necessary.  This could easily be a personal thing, but when one spider or slug takes two shots, should a similar looking one nearby take five?  I don't think so.  Or if you really want to keep that, make the stronger enemies actually look different so I know that they are different versions.

The damage you take also fluctuates.  Some spikes kill you instantly while other just damage you.  There wasn't any difference that I could tell, since some inescapable spike pits would just damage you until you died instead of mercifully killing you instantly.  Enemies start off doing one point of damage, but quickly start doing more.  I figured the point of getting more health was so you could take more hits, but in reality you will just start taking two points of damage instead of one from similar enemies.  So you aren't really taking more hits, just keeping up with the damage increases.

Ori starts off with a nice story, and not much difficulty, but it quickly ramps up.  It's not always consistent, since there are more than a few parts that have sudden difficulty spikes, especially the 'chase' scenes where you have to escape some calamity.  They are long, you are unable to save during them, and it is very easy to mess up, even a little, which then results in your death.  Yuck.  There are other places that have very tricky platforming, so I hope you have to reflexes to keep up.  I didn't usually, and died many times as a result.  The one saving grace is the save system.  You can save almost anywhere.  The ability takes a point of energy, but is easily worth it, especially when you can get skill points that give you health when you spawn the save point.  There are auto saves and a few static save points, too, if you are crazy and want extra challenge... or forget to use the create-a-save.

Another thing that got to me was the scenery.  While pretty, it does occasionally get in the way.  Branches in the foreground can block you from seeing enemy projectiles or make some jumping sections more difficult.  At one point you have some teleporting doors that move you to another place on the screen.  While not bad by itself, when you have to rush through some of these sections, it can be pretty disorienting, and hard to react in time, even if you know where you will come out.  Sometimes the scenery makes it hard to see where you are in relation to either door, or had to tell if you have even gone through it.  It's not horrible, but a little tweaking to those parts to make it more player friendly would be really nice.

Ori and the Blind Forest is well-made game with rich visuals.  I'm sure many people will really like it, and for the most part I do, too.  However, the spikes in difficulty and imprecise jumping left me feeling more frustrated than happy as I progressed through the game.  At least the save system is fantastic and there are plenty of secrets and power-up collecting to keep you busy if you decide to delve into the game.  The game is more hardcore than I expected, and more unforgiving that I wanted.  Still, for the crowd that loves challenging games, Ori and the Blind Forest is one game they need to check out.

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