Ori and the Blind Forest was a standout game in 2015 for it’s challenging platforming, beautiful world and heart warming story. Xbox Game Studios has a good track record for supporting independent games like Ori and Cuphead by giving them both the audience and budget to truly achieve their vision. The second Ori game released in March 2020 attempts to broaden the scope of the original by adding new and exciting ingredients to the well balanced formula. Here is my review for Ori and the Will of the Wisps.
Unlike many side scrolling platformers Ori and the Will of the Wisps puts it’s story front and centre, following on directly from its predecessor Ori, Naru and Gumo are taking care of baby owl Ku, we see the love and affection they all have for each other – it’s a heart-warming start. Ku is unable to fly due to an damaged wing until Gumo affixes Kuro’s (Ku’s mother) feather to it. Ku and Ori go on a flight that ends up taking them out of their home and into Niwen, a storm erupts separating the two adopted brothers and our story begins with Ori tracking down Ku.
Niwen is in a state of disarray, with dirty waters and unwanted creatures populating the lush overgrowth. Niwen is still teeming with life with the meerkat-like Moki assist Ori throughout his journey – the plot takes many unexpected turns leading to an encounter with the main antagonist Shriek a deformed owl who rules over the lands of Niwen called The Silent Woods.
The story has surprising depth for a game where both the protagonist and the villain say little to nothing. Shriek in particular is painted as a sympathetic monster, giving you an understanding of his past that tugs on the heartstrings. Will of the Wisps visual storytelling is superb and will melt even the coldest of hearts, if there was a developer that came close Pixar animated narratives in the videogame space then Moon Studios is the one.
GAMEPLAY AND GRAPHICS
Ori and the Will of the Wisps uses a hyper pigmented animation style that resembles brush strokes and to put it bluntly, it’s gorgeous. The world is alive, with bushes and shrubs reacting realistically as you brush past them – wildlife both friend and foe animate smoothly and have a real impact in the world around them. Many 2D side scrollers have a problem when it comes to the world building in that due to the them being a flat picture, they can often feel sterile, with characters that look like they are aren’t really part of the game world – Ori avoids this with 2.5D style that gives the illusion of a three dimensional space on a two dimensional plane. The colour palette is aesthetically pleasing, with the bright colours popping, especially on a HDR display – this could well be one of the best looking games of the generation. The world is a Metroidvania open-world, with a massive and densely animated map that’s a joy to traverse. The games smart use of abilities makes the progression through the map feel natural, whilst giving a small thrill as you discover hidden mysteries along the way.
All this would be nothing without tight gameplay and it’s another area where Will of the Wisps both exceeds its predecessor and all other games in the genre. Controlling Ori is a delight, his is nimble and responsive – starting the game with only a simple jump and the ability to scale a wall, the game is still able to provide clever challenges with the skills at your disposal. As the game continues and you unlock double jump, dig and boost (among many others) the platforming difficulty increases, challenging the player to chain multiple abilities in one sequence – it’s unforgiving but never unfair. Mastery takes time, but the game rarely exhibits the difficulty spikes the prior game had, instead it slowly ramps up the trials, with no hints as to what to do, just the tools to conquer the test. The game now uses an auto save feature in place of the spirit saves from the previous game – this is a welcome addition and thankfully saves are plentiful as you will die a lot and loading is almost instantaneous. In the 2nd half of the game you are tasked with completing 4 separate areas of the map, each with their own unique challenges – my personal favourite being an ice world where you are tasked with melting and re-freezing the world to progress, it’s genius and adds a puzzle solving element to the platforming, keeping the gameplay diverse.
Combat returns in the sequel, but is greatly expanded from the previous game. This is the games biggest improvement, where the combat in Blind Forest felt very one note, Will of the Wisps takes it to the next level – with several options available to taking on opponents, from projectiles and melee weapons. All have differing weights, speeds and costs so picking and choosing the best way to dispense of your foes becomes another of the games difficult mechanics to juggle with. The game features boss fights which rely on the player to be able to switch up tactics quickly as well as navigating tricky platforming, so fighting becomes something of a dance – dodging, redirecting and attacking and like everything else in the game, it’s hard but it’s oh so rewarding.
Ori’s audio work is some of the best in any game released this generation, a mystical and enchanting score which deftly intertwines with both the story and the gameplay – moments of tenderness and triumph are amplified superbly by the score by composer Gareth Coker. Voice and other audio is also handled well, even though none of the characters “speak” they manage to convey everything they need to through noises, it’s really outstanding work. The sound design of slicing through an enemy or bashing them with a spirit hammer is satisfying and impactful – the winds through the forests and trickling water amalgamates to create the perfect atmosphere. It all amounts to a world that you want to stay in, a world that is believable.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is one of the greatest games of the generation and certainly the best Xbox One exclusives. It’s a challenging, beautiful, enchanting, dangerous, near perfect side scrolling platformer, one that exceeds its predecessor in every way. It’s a must play.
- Challenging but fair platforming
- Tight controls
- Superbly told and emotional story
- Beautifully realised world
- Incredible score and audio design
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