E3 2014: Ori and the Blind Forest is a Beautiful Metroidvania

Never a repeated environment.

I was able to play Ori and the Blind Forest for some time on the E3 show floor, and as soon as I started the demo, I was entranced by its art. A lush forest stood around me, with gnarled branches and thorny bushes covering the background and the foreground. A small, shining, ethereal creature stood on the ground, vaguely raccoon-like in shape. The sky was speckled with stars. For a few moments, I didn't move. I watched my character breathe in and out, and I gazed at the environments.

According to developer Moon Studios, Ori is a Metroidvania adventure game with platforming like Super Meat Boy and Mario, art like Rayman and Child of Light, and story like The Iron Giant and The Lion King. From what I understand, then, Ori is a puzzle, and Moon Studios is attempting to fit the best elements of every part of games into a 2D open-world platformer. The developer has taken on a monumental task, but my hands-on time with Ori gave me many reasons to be confident in the team. The story is gripping, the RPG-like character progression seems deep, and above all, it is strikingly beautiful.

Moon Studios' gameplay programmer David Clark stood close by as I played the demo. I asked him about the inspiration behind the art, and he told me that the developer did, indeed, draw heavily from modern Rayman games. Clark told me that the team thought that Rayman's UbiArt engine gave the game an attractive and hand-drawn feel, but it didn't go far enough. In Rayman, some of the textures on the environments are patterned across levels, which just wasn't good enough for Moon Studios. Clark spoke at length about the guiding philosophy behind Ori's art: the developer is avoiding these patterns as much as possible because it wants each and every screen in the game to look uniquely hand-drawn. The team wants to create a living world, and Moon Studios will not accept repeated art. Clark told me that the visual style is a "love letter" to games of past generations and the experiences of the developers' lives. More than anything else in Ori, the art reflects the personalities of the team members.

When I began to play, I noticed that the movement was smooth and responsive, and each motion felt precise. I watched in interest as the fluid animations rendered my character bouncing and doing flips as I jumped around the world. The jumping felt different than other, similar games. My character felt weighty, and platforming required more concentration than I expected. Clark explained to me that the team drew inspiration from Super Meat Boy and Mario to make a game with precise and skillful platforming. The developer deliberately avoided the light and floaty jumping that Clark and other members felt plagued many otherwise good platformers. They want the jumping to be a part of the game as it is in Mario games, rather than just a means of traversal.

I continued through the demo and acquired my sidekick: a ghostly orb that let me attack enemies. I am uncertain about how well the team will pull off the combat in Ori; I only got to use a simple one-button attack. Considering the team's focus on platforming and art, it seems unlikely that Ori will implement a deep and tactical combat system. But Clark promised that as you progress through the world, the enemies become stronger and more diverse, so only time will tell if the combat contains more than just basic attacks.

And yet, that doubt slipped my mind as I instead became intrigued by the snippets of story that I caught while playing. In the game, you take control of a creature that was raised by a bearlike "mentor," as Clark describes it. One day, an evil owl, the game's antagonist, took this mentor away. Your task is to discover what happened to the mentor.

What I saw during my demo was mysterious and vague. A lot of it revolved around the semi-sentience of the forest and the ability of certain trees to provide skill and knowledge. I asked Clark about the narrative and he refused to tell me much, keeping even the basics a secret. He did tell me, however, that the team was heavily inspired by The Lion King and The Iron Giant, and that Ori and the Blind Forest is a coming-of-age story. He specifically mentioned the importance of self-discovery.

Much of what sounds most interesting about Ori and the Blind Forest is still shrouded in secrecy. The character system, the extent of combat, and the story only have been slightly detailed at this time. But Moon Studios is shooting for the stars with this game, and from my short demo, I am encouraged. Although I am still uncertain about the developer's ability to pull together so many different elements, already I saw the puzzle pieces fitting together. By tying the game to such icons as Mario and The Lion King, Moon Studios has created high expectations for the game, but my demo gave me faith that the developer can pull it off.

Ori will come out this Fall for the Xbox One and PC.

Alex Newhouse is an editorial intern at GameSpot, and you can follow him on Twitter @alexbnewhouse
Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

Written By

Want the latest news about Ori and the Blind Forest?

Ori and the Blind Forest

Ori and the Blind Forest

Follow

Discussion

31 comments
leimonides
leimonides

Very encouraging stuff to read indeed. This was one of the few games from the Microsoft Conference that actually caught my full attention (as I was only half-watching the presentation while it was on). Glad that it will be on PC, as I have no intention of getting a One (although the culmination of this title and a couple of others almost had me pause to consider getting one).

AyatollaofRnR
AyatollaofRnR

This game looks stunning. As excited as I am for Destiny and Halo MCC, it's games like this that I can point to and say this is why I game.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

Ah... so the game has a save-someone setting for its story.

Personally, I had to admit here that I thought that the little sparkly creature summoned the owl to make a dark, dark deal to extend the masked pudgy creature's life. :P

On the other hand, there's the coming-of-age story bit.

jc3bull
jc3bull

This looks way better then Child of Light.

Shantmaster_K
Shantmaster_K

This game caught my attention also. I may give it a try. 

Shawcross
Shawcross

This game looks amazing actually. So glad it is coming to PC and will get to try it. 

rasterror
rasterror

This, No Man's Sky, Abzu, and Inside really caught my attention. I can't wait to play them.

ogara0c9
ogara0c9

PC confirmed?  Here's hoping. 

PS2fweak
PS2fweak

"More stupid artsy indie crap!"... I could've been born with a mind like that. I'm so thankful I can appreciate a beautiful game like this. Ori and the Blind Forest looks incredible. I'm so glad to hear good things about the gameplay as well. I can't wait!

BelaidKL
BelaidKL

Having loved the recent Rayman games (and currently playing through Child Of Light) I'm now in a state where I can't wait for this game!!!! 

Rayzakk
Rayzakk

For some reason I was hoping for an older type Castlevania when I clicked on the article, as in 1,3,4, Chronicles, Bloodlines, instead of the 2/Symphony type. 

amaneuvering
amaneuvering

Now this is a beautiful looking game.

Skyrim is not a beautiful looking game.*

Gears of War is not a beautiful looking game.*

Call of Duty (pick one) is not a beautiful looking game.*

THIS is a beautiful looking game.


*Trust me. You'll be able to see this better in five or so years time...

flyincloud1116
flyincloud1116

PC may embrace this game, but the X1 community as stated they don't like or want indie garbage.  I'm going to play this and No Man's Sky on release.

dreamcast210
dreamcast210

This game more than any other caught my eye during E3. I immediately thought of Rayman when I saw some of the gameplay and it's good to know I wasn't far off. If this implements that level of art and gameplay with a deep compelling story, this could be a huge winner for Moon and Microsoft.


Can't wait.

sladakrobot
sladakrobot

If devs wanna learn how to do jump n runs,why not just play the old classic japanese games like Hero Tonma,Bonze Adventure,Son Son II,Bonks Adventure,Super Mario World?

I think that newer jump n runs lose their focus on estetics instead of gameplay first.

I hope the devs had done it right with Ori.

rasterror
rasterror

Isn't it great that some people mature and appreciate art and not conform to what others insist what they feel people should be playing on order to consider themselves true gamers?

PS2fweak
PS2fweak

@amaneuvering Lol..I think about this all the time. I agree, and I sometimes wish the bigger developers would try to work within their means more often. Certain things just can't be done properly, but developers always push, and I'm not saying I'm against that. It just means you inevitably become a stepping stone. They get credit during their time and credit for their part in the evolution of the medium, but they still get left behind to some degree when we talk about beauty. 


I really appreciate when artists recognize what we have available, without trying to do the impossible. Too many developers just try to go big IMO. I think Red Dead Redemption is gorgeous, for example, but I know that beauty won't appeal to me in a 5-10 years other than nostalgia. On the other hand, games like Ori, Limbo, Journey, Inside will be beautiful forever. 


Another cool thing about the games I just mentioned is how non-gamers react when you're playing them. That's the true test IMO, because they don't grade on a curve like us gamers. I've played games like Skyrim and it's a solo experience when I have non-gamer friends over. They simply don't care, but if it's a game like Limbo, they just look mesmerized like they're watching some beautiful film or something. 

newhaus1994
newhaus1994 moderatorstaff

@amaneuvering There's certainly a staying power to super artistic and stylized games like Ori and Child of Light, but don't discount the art direction and talent necessary to create those other games. Look at the Order 1886, for instance. That game will probably look dated in 6 years, but its costumes, facial animations, and environments are beautiful.


Beauty still exists even when it is constrained by technology. Don't call a game ugly just because it'll look bad once technology progresses.

grenadehh
grenadehh

@flyincloud1116  Wrong. Xbox has always been home to indie, maybe less so compared to the legions of junk on Steam.

IanNottinghamX
IanNottinghamX

@sladakrobot thats why these "metroidvania" side scrollers lack credibility to me they dont fine tune the gameplay nearly enough.

amaneuvering
amaneuvering

@newhaus1994 @amaneuvering

Well I'm not saying it doesn't take a huge amount of talent to make some of these games but if it looks bad once the technology behind it is no longer impressive then it wasn't pretty in the first place as I see it.

Tomb Raider on PS1 looks sh*t today for example. Yoshi's Island still looks gorgeous today in contrast.

One was "gorgeous" simply because it was technically impressive at the time and the other was simply gorgeous regardless of tech or time or whatever.

It's just hard to blind me with tech.

That's my stance on it.

grenadehh
grenadehh

@amaneuvering  He has a point. That's why Chrono Trigger looked better than FF7 at the time, and still looks better. Even at the time, for the franchise, FF7 looked horrible in 3D compared to 2D FF games of the past.

newhaus1994
newhaus1994 moderatorstaff

@amaneuvering For the most part, I agree. Games like Crysis that look hyper-realistic but aren't that interesting, aren't beautiful in my eyes because beauty isn't the same as realism. But when you make a game that has great art, like Skyrim or the Order, but that art is inherently tied to the tech and will look worse with time, that doesn't necessarily eliminate the beauty of the game.

prats93
prats93

Journey looks better than Crysis, IMO.