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Ori and the Blind Forest review: A breathtaking (and tough) Xbox One exclusive game

Many gamers would agree that the Xbox One has a strong lineup of exclusive games, especially now that Halo: the Master Chief Collection's multiplayer matchmaking finally works. However, Microsoft doesn't have a lot of new retail exclusives lined up for the first half of this year other than the already-released ScreamRide. Thus, it falls on downloadable exclusive titles like Ori and the Blind Forest to represent the gaming possibilities that only Xbox One can bring.

Developed by Moon Studios and published by Microsoft, Ori and the Blind Forest is an exploration-focused action-platformer, also referred to as a Metroidvania game. With stunning and colorful visuals, a massive world to explore, and lots of upgrades and secrets to find, platforming fans will find lots to love in Ori. But you'll want to bring your gaming skills, as the Blind Forest is more challenging than most of its genre brethren.

A beautiful forest blinded

With its gorgeous backgrounds and cartoon-like characters, Ori and the Blind Forest immediately recalls another standout Metroidvania game: the former Xbox 360 exclusive Dust: An Elysian Tale (opens in new tab). They really do look quite similar, although Ori's character art style more closely resembles characters from Studio Ghibli animated films like Spirited Away than anthropomorphic animals (thankfully).

This game starts out with an incredibly moving and film-like playable prologue (that you can watch in this review's embedded video). We see Ori, a young white animal, rescued by a large and caring creature. The two enjoy happiness for a time until the villainous Kuro attacks the magical tree at the center of their forest. The attack on the tree renders the forest "blind" and basically makes it desolate.

Eventually, Ori sets out to restore his world and stop Kuro. A floating spirit called Sein joins Ori's cause, providing him with advice and a means to defend himself.

Despite the strong introduction, Ori and the Blind Forest is relatively light on story compared to contemporaries like Dust and Guacamelee. The mystery of the forest's desolation and some of the world's history do come to life through the occasional narrative sequence, but they are few and far between. The focus here is more on exploration and platforming challenge.

Ori and his amazing powers

Our hero Ori never speaks, but he is a fast and scrappy little fighter. Initially, his sole attack consists of firing energy beams from Sein, the spirit ball which floats around him. These spirit flames don't do much damage to enemies until you upgrade them later on, and they don't have a tremendous range. Ori has to get in fairly close to fight the bad guys, who nearly all fire projectiles from much farther away.

Like any good Metroidvania protagonist, Ori can acquire upgrades that increase his fighting powers and exploration abilities.  The actual skills are usually learned from tree shrines spread throughout the forest. Ori will learn a wall jump, a double jump, a charged blast that deals damage and destroys some barriers, a ground pound that breaks floors and hurts enemies, and more.

The most interesting skill the little hero acquires is called Bash. Tap the Bash button near an enemy or projectile and time will slow down while you aim Ori in any direction. Release the button, and he'll fly in that direction while the targeted bad guy or shot flies in the other direction.

Bash helps Ori cross distances and reach greater heights than he could by jumping. It also hurts enemies. The game even creates unique puzzles in which players must reflect things into obstacles in order to destroy them, which I find quite entertaining.

Ori collects experience from downed enemies. Once he builds up enough experience, he'll gain an ability point. These can be spent on a variety of upgrades in the ability tree. The tree has three branches: one that improves his attacks, one that makes items easier to collect and shows them on the map, and another that focuses on defense and eventually bestows a triple jump. The branching lets players tailor Ori's growth to their playstyles, providing a real incentive for killing enemies and leveling up.

Save anywhere

Ori and the Blind Forest has a few save points (called Spirit Wells) scattered across its vast map, but far less than other exploration-based platformers. That's because (quite uniquely) Ori can create his own save points called Soul Links nearly anywhere in the game. Doing so costs energy, a resource collected by destroying the blue plants that grow all over the place.

Initially I found the save system constraining, as I didn't want to just save wherever and use up all my energy. It's also possible to simply forget to save for a while, die, and then be forced to retrace your steps. That can be frustrating.

After a few such instances I learned to save whenever I reached a point where I might take damage or die, such as areas filled with spikes and other threats. Your energy capacity grows quite a bit as you find Energy Cells hidden throughout the forest, and there's no scarcity of energy-giving flowers anyway.

Slow travel

Like any good Metroidvania game, Ori and the Blind Forest features a vast map to explore and lots of areas with items that you can't get until you learn abilities later on. Of course players will do a lot of backtracking, but that's all part of the appeal – filling in more of the map and collecting more precious items whenever you gain new skills.

Unlike most games of this type though, Ori has absolutely no fast travel system. The original Metroid might not have had fast traveling, but the feature has been a standard ever since Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

Since you can't teleport anywhere in this one, you'll often have to run back a long, long way just to pick up items you couldn't reach before. Many areas are chock-full of spikes and instant death traps which make all that running back and forth fairly arduous.

I can only imagine the developers excluded a fast travel feature to pad the game's playtime. Those infrequent Spirit Wells I mentioned would have functioned perfectly well as fast travel locations, saving players a lot of time as they hunt for items and upgrades.  Alas.

Achievements

Ori has 50 Achievements worth 1,000 Gamerscore. Many involve exploring the map, finding items, and progressing farther in the story. Some involve meeting certain conditions in combat, like causing five enemies to kill each other and killing 25 enemies with reflected projectiles.

The three hardest Achievements require players to beat the game in different ways: without dying, without using an Ability Point, and completing it in less than three hours. No one has accomplished any of these tasks yet, but I'm sure it won't be long before dedicated Achievement hunters pull them off. The three extra playthrough Achievements all sound like less fun than the first playthrough, if you ask me. At least they're only worth a combined total of 75 Gamerscore.

Overall Impression

Ori and the Blind Forest is a fine exclusive game, with lots of tight platforming, beautiful visuals and music, and the fun you'd expect from an exploration-heavy platformer. The deep and colorful backgrounds are probably the game's most impressive attribute, showcasing loads of variety and detail.

That said, the actual level design leans too highly on spikes and instant death traps like lasers. Some areas can be extremely frustrating, especially when you haven't saved in a while. Ori doesn't offer selectable difficulties, and it's probably harder than Dust: an Elysian Tale on Hard, for example. I did get the hang of everything eventually, but I fear some players won't be up to the game's challenges.

Even with the occasional overly-difficult bits and the annoying lack of fast travel, I still recommend Ori to most Metroidvania fans. The Blind Forest is too magical to miss. If you haven't moved on to Xbox One yet, you can still look forward to the Xbox 360 version's arrival later this year.

  • Ori and the Blind Forest – Xbox One – 7.7GB – $19.99 – Xbox Store (opens in new tab)Amazon Link (opens in new tab)
  • Ori and the Blind Forest – Windows – $19.99 – Steam Link

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!

61 Comments
  • Nice review and glad to see you're still alive
  • That which does not kill me only makes me awesomer. ;)
  • Nice
  • Looks like a longer and more challenging Child of Light.
  • I enjoyed watching your twitch stream
  • Its a great game... but its not an Xbox One exclsuive. It is available on Steam right now.
  • It's still considered an exclusive because it's not on other consoles. Semantics though.
  • It's exclusive to Microsoft. They own the IP. They published this game. You can only get it on the Xbox One or Windows. It's 110% exclusive. Saying "It's also on Steam" is a bit disingenuous because you can't get ot on Steam for Mac.
  • The game looks great
  • Xbox one exclusive??? You mean no one has noticed that it released on Steam too?
  • Console exclusive. Computers aren't for games silly goose
  • Another console peasant.
  • LOL so hard at this statement. True Hard Core gamers game on PC.
  • It's a Microsoft exclusive. You can only get it on XB1 or Windows. What's the problem? Microsoft owns and published this game.
  • Can the Surface Pro 3 run this game? Someone told me it couldn't, but that surprised me because I remember Major Nelson running Titanfall on his Surface Pro 2 last year. Certainly the Surface Pro 3 could therefore run Ori, right?
  • Great looking game, and one I may actually buy just to scare my wife. She hates owls.
  • Good review for a game I will most likely be picking up. I still think that the "excesive" amount of spikes in the level design is okay though. #TeamSpikes It's also nice that you streamed this game as much as you did. You should keep doing that with other games you have to review. Lastly, in the opening paragraph you reffered to the game as just Ori and the Blind. I'm not sure if you intended that or not but I personally would change it to Ori and the Blind Forest just so it's more proper.
  • Glad you liked seeing so much of the game! I think we'll stream individual review games more, just like you said. Helps me stay on task writing-wise. Fixed the mistake in the intro. Good eye!
  • Amazing game, can't wait to buy it. Might wait till it drops down in price.
  • Could be my favorite game this generation so far.
  • Windows 10 exclusive game*
  • Windows 10 is not released yet, and it works just fine on W7 and W8.
  • Microsoft Exclusive game.
  • I thought it's Xbox One only for now and Windows 10 later this year but I logged into Steam today and noticed it on front page.
  • I don't believe it has been confirmed for a Windows 10 store release. Do you have a link about that? Windows 7 games like this do run on Windows 10 though, of course.
  • It was briefly there in one of Microsoft's GDC panel videos. As there are 15 hours of video material I can't really recall which video and what timestamp. One of these: http://channel9.msdn.com/Events/GDC/GDC-2015?sort=sequential&direction=desc&term=&Media=true Certainly not an official annoucment but even if not fully ready Moon Studios is at least testing.
  • Ah, that's encouraging. Thanks for the info!
  • It's kinda like Child Of Light.
  • Nothing like it imo. Child of light is an RPG with turned based combat. Ori is a metroidvania style platformer through and through.
  • Gorgeous game
  • Ok, looks great, I'm already tired of the Jar-Jar Binks (albeit much lower) voice though..."O jee-ja ba-ba"...
  • Its more Jabba the Hutt than jar jar.
  • Dude...yep, you're right!  Jabba the Hutt ... 
  • There aren't that many story scenes so you won't hear it much in the grand scheme of things.
  • Completion in 3hrs I could probably do but not dying is hard
  • Ahh computer gamers most likely own a MS product so in a way its exclusive to MS cos they still make money from it on Steam.
  • Yay for screenshots! New backgrounds here I come! Chuild of light was really pretty as well.
  • Hey, what's wrong with anthropomorphic animals ;) Game is a blast, and also a tear jerker with the story, as a fair warning! Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • I didn't mind Dust's characters, but some people associate them with furry culture and wouldn't play the game as a result.
  • Looks nice. But I'm a bit busy with Rayman at the moment, oh, and Sniper Elite.
  • im thinking of going buying an xbox to play this...
  • Does anyone know if the PC version can be played in native 4k?
  • great review, i love the visuals
  • Paul's streams pushed me over the edge on this game. I bought it the minute I could.
  • Great stream wasn't sure about the game or not till I saw you playing it. I will be getting it soon.
  • Thanks man, glad I could help!
  • I have buy this game for Xbox One AND guys this game is amazing.
  • How is a game I can buy on steam an Xbox one exclusive?
  • Because it can't be played on Playstation or Nintendo systems. The expression is shorthand for "console exclusive." I would have mentioned Steam in the headline but it's too long already.
  • @Paul Acevedo
    No it's not. Look the the meaning of exclusive in the dictionary.
    Words has meaning. Using them wrongly while not mentioning Steam version in the article is mislead.
    Misleading your reader to promote MS console...
  • It's a console exclusive. But more importantly, it's a Microsoft exclusive. You can only get it on XB1 and Windows. Saying "It's also on Steam" is a bit disingenuous because you can't get ot on Steam for Mac.
  • I'm glad I listened to you and read this review. Reading your reviews seem to be more-informative than most any other site I visit. For example, people use terms like "Metroidvania," all the time, but I never knew what it meant until now, since you actually explained it. Also giving the dab of gaming history (the fast traveling from Castlevania) is a nice reminder that you actually understand the subject about which you're writing, and I like that. This game sounds like a much better one than I anticipated. It struck me as just another in the unending sea of indie platformers with a twist that I try to avoid. I'm not sure if I'll end up buying this game at some point, buti if it ends up a GWG title (which I expect to happen, part of the reason I don't care to buy it), I'll definitely have to give it a shot. Great review.
  • Thanks Keith! This is one of my favorite genres, along with beat 'em ups. Very happy that you liked the review. :) :)
  • By the way, just fired up Inquisition for the first time. It says it's on the same 6-hour timer as EA Access trials are, so I'll have to figure it out quickly.
  • Was great playing it with you!
  • Great review! I am enjoying it very much. Glad I got to watch you stream it as well which helped me know what to expect as far as what I would face with the gameplay. It truly is an amazing game though I fully agree with the lack of fast travel. The spirit wells would be nice for that even if they only let you travel to specific other wells, it would definitely cut down on some of the back and forth trip.
  • The game isn't that HARD but some levels like the waters sequence or the wind one made me replay the level a couple of times (in my world that's a 100 times C:). I love the game so far and the bash ability is awesome, nice review it's great that you covered every major point expected from a review unlike some reviewers *looking at you IGN* C:
  • Glad you enjoyed the review! Yeah, it's not unfairly hard. Just a bit more than we usually expect from the genre, mainly due to the spikes everywhere.
  • After watching the stream and reading your review on the game it is currently at the top of my list to purchase!
  • Awesome! Glad you were able to tune in and check it out. :-D
  • 360 version will be out in a month.