Hold onto your Metroid-loving butts, Nintendo fans. Here comes a great one of those types of games.
Five years ago, Ori and the Blind Forest was revealed as an Xbox exclusive with a magnificent first impression buoyed by the moody and beautiful art paired with enjoyable movement and exploration. When I purchased an Xbox One two years later, it was one of the first games I purchased for the platform, very much living up to its critical acclaim and hype. It’s still a shock that this gorgeously animated Metroid-inspired platformer is shedding its exclusivity status to come to Nintendo Switch four years after its initial launch. Thankfully, even if it’s been years since its debut, the dreamlike presentation, engrossing exploration, and heart-wrenching story hold up wonderfully, making Ori and the Blind Forest one of the sharpest of its kind on Switch.
Ori’s presentation is its most striking element. The animation and art recall some of the more recent Rayman games, also likely drawing influence from animated films like The Iron Giant or any number of Hayao Miyazaki’s works. The atmosphere is stunning, complemented beautifully by the muted but memorable score. Environmental and oft-wordless storytelling is also on full display, especially in the gut punch that is the game’s prologue. You control a guardian spirit named Ori who winds up becoming orphaned and alone to begin the game in a sequence that is short on words but high on emotion. It makes for a great setup for a journey where you have to navigate a world that needs restoration, as Ori is dropped off into the decrepit forest powerless and alone.
Taking control of Ori in this vibrant side-scrolling world is a joy. Running and jumping feels and looks gorgeous, and early abilities like a wall jump and a double jump help to make moving around this world just simply fun. While for the most part, the art makes platforms clear, every so often it’s hard to tell what is and isn’t a safe landing spot or where on a cliff you can grip onto. These issues are minor inconveniences at the most, but I ran into them enough, especially on the smaller handheld screen, that it became a recurring problem. Thankfully, the worst that ever happened was I had to attempt a jump again or respawn shortly before where I was. As I got deeper, this problem also lessened because I just knew what to look out for in the environment.
The environments are all lush and expressive, with each area looking distinct. I regularly would get lost tugging at every nook and cranny, looking for the bountiful secrets. A clear map makes traversal easier and more enjoyable, with upgrades available to reveal more specific details of what is hidden where. In addition to the new abilities found across the world, Ori also earns ability points gained from experience points found through combat and discovery. A rather simple skill tree exists to let you focus on honing offensive, defensive, and movement abilities. It’s generally lightweight and not that deep, but it offers some enjoyable customization of your hero.
Combat is the weakest part of the gameplay by far, as Ori’s basic attack involves spamming a ranged orb into nearby foes. The best part about the combat might just be that it’s easy to deprioritize because you can just spam it when necessary. Later-game upgrades and abilities help add a little bit of nuance to it, but consistently throughout the entire 10-hour adventure, the combat was the part of the game I least enjoyed.
Some of the battles also got very challenging on the normal difficulty, which previously was the only difficulty when Ori and the Blind Forest first launched. With the Definitive Edition release, multiple difficulty levels were added, including an easy mode, a hard mode, and a masochistic one-life mode. Those are all represented in the Switch version and are toggleable during the game. The Definitive Edition also added a few new areas and abilities, most notably an improved fast-travel system, which I can’t imagine ever playing the game without, especially while doing end-game cleanup to try to get to 100% completion.
While I could pick apart some specific nagging problems in Ori and the Blind Forest, whether it’s the combat or tiny platforming problems, my lasting memory of this recent replay and my previous Xbox One playthrough a few years ago is just the high moments. The bliss of exploring this world, combined with the deft storytelling and dazzling artwork, make for an enthralling adventure that stands tall as one of the modern classics of the Metroid-esque genre.