Ori and the Blind Forest Surprises and Delights - Preview

By Karl Koebke, June 16, 2014
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Leaks abound on the internet and it makes it hard to be surprised by large retail game announcements these days (Bloodborne being probably the best recent example), so I find myself being more surprised by indie announcements at E3 than anything else. Perhaps the best surprise from this year's E3 was a beautiful little platformer, which is set to release on Xbox One and PC, called Ori and the Blind Forest. I got a chance to play it for myself and I'm happy to say it easily deserves my title as the most interesting game reveal at Microsoft's E3 press conference.

The titular Ori is a small, white, almost squirrel-like creature who was shown getting injured in the trailer. In the trailer we seem to see Ori get injured and then raised back to health by another creature named Naru, who later dies (or at least becomes unresponsive). Ori then sets out on a journey into the forest. There's also an extremely large and creepy owl on display, called Koru, which reminded me of my childhood frights watching The Secret of Nimh. Exactly what is happening in the trailer is up for interpretation and I've inserted it above so that readers can decide for themselves, but the end result is that Ori is now platforming around the forest for whatever reason.

Platforming in Ori and the Blind Forest is a joy. It's set up as a metroidvania style platformer where you earn new abilities like walljumps that allow you to go to areas of the forest you weren't previously accessible. This also extends to the collectibles, which must be obtained to unlock other parts of the forest. Gate fragments will unlock gates when collected, while map fragments open up whole sections of the map to make it easier to figure out where you haven't been. Before long Ori partners up with a tree spirit which can shoot fire at enemies and gives Ori his only means of offense against enemies as far as I saw in the demo.

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The most unique and interesting gameplay feature I saw was the saving system. Instead of set points where you save, or allowing the player to save at any time they wish, creating a save point in Ori is decided by the player. Using collected energy you can create a save point at any location where you can stand still (similar to the save system employed in Tomb Raider 3). This means that saving to keep your progress becomes a part of the strategy as well, since if you use this ability too often you won't have the energy to save when it's really meaningful like after a particularly difficult section of the forest. Experience is also collected after killing enemies and this can be used to gain new abilities like saving whenever you pass through a created save point or a magnet effect that pulls in the orbs around you.

What drew me to Ori and the Blind Forest the most is the presentation, and it holds up extremely well during gameplay. Animations were beautiful, with little touches like how Ori typically does a standard jump but if you quickly change directions he'll do a backflip. It isn't important to the gameplay like in 3D Mario platformers but it creates a much more fluid animation for the situation and works well with the character. The story is presented through the tree spirit telling Ori stories while he passes through certain areas of the forest, and there will be quite a lot of exploration to be done as a zoomed out view of the map shows a massive area with a number of different environments.

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It's amazing that something this polished was just now announced and is releasing so soon, and it's even more amazing that it was made by a worldwide team over skype. The developers come from all over the globe in places like Israel, Austria, and Los Angeles, and it's a testament to the communication capabilities of our times that a game like this could be made under such conditions. I can't wait to play the fruits of their labors when Ori and the Blind Forest release in Fall 2014.   

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