Alright, confession time.
I LOVE Ori and the Blind Forest. As in, it’s been one of my favorite games I’ve ever played ever since its release back in 2015.
So when I heard about a sequel, naturally I had my concerns, questions, and doubts rise up. What’s going to be different? What’s going to be the same? How is Moon Studios going to adjust things with their team expanding from 20 people to 80?
Well, I can tell you exactly how things have adjusted now because the results speak for themselves. I want to clarify that I can’t say the game is flawless because It does have it’s fair share of hiccups. However, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is just shy of being a masterpiece and, in a lot of ways, it already is one.
But even more importantly, Will of the Wisps has set in stone how platforming games have evolved as a genre…and possibly where it could go from here. This isn’t going to just be a retread of our review though, but rather a discussion of just what makes this title so special compared to both it’s predecessor as well as it’s companions in the metroidvania and platformer genre’s.
What defines platformers has remained largely the same since the biggest names in the genre established themselves in the late ’70s and ’80s: Mobility and Level-Design. Mobility is what makes or breaks any self-respecting platformer and the kings of the genre have established that these factors are the most polished aspect of their respective games and franchises. Mario, Donkey Kong, Sonic the Hedgehog, Hollow Knight, Ori, they all have these factors in common. Levels and play areas will have a clear direction and a defined, successful method of traversing them with the tools at the players’ disposal.
As time has passed, platformers have continued to expand on the myriad of ways you traverse environments. From the original ladders back in the early 1980’s to trendsetters in gaming history like Super Mario 64’s plethora of options (Triple jump, wall jump, ground pound, Cartwheel jumps, the list goes on), there’s always a new mechanic in advancing platform games to keep movement fresh and fluid for players.
Back in 2015, Ori and the Blind Forest introduced Bash, a move that allowed the player to jump off enemies, the environment and nearby projectiles to move from place to place while also “bashing” that interactable in the opposite direction. This is almost wholly unique mechanically and, in my opinion, is just one of several defining mechanics that Ori brings to the table. Other games have similar mechanics such as Shovel Knight’s Specter Knight using a dash-slash to pull themselves to enemies for traversal and combat, but otherwise, this is completely unique.
This mechanic (Spoilers) makes a return in Ori and the Will of the Wisps and it’s just as transformative to your experience there as it’s predecessor. There are plenty of other new and returning mechanics that I will not mention here that are just as transformative in the game as well, but the important takeaway is how Ori as a franchise removes limitations from the player. Every mechanic used resets the ever-present ability for you to jump and there is no limit to the number of times you can bash from point to point beyond what the environment provides. This isn’t even accounting for the mechanics I haven’t name-dropped.
This is about when I move to where Ori succeeds next: Level Design. Ori’s levels fit classically into the Metroidvania subgenre of video games, with a massive interconnected map the player can explore, but with restricted areas that are only able to be accessed once you find the proper tool to progress. And I know, Metroidvania titles have been talked to death over the past few years, but there’s a damn good reason for it. The maps in Will of the Wisps take this concept to another level (figuratively speaking), by adding connections indirectly all across the game.
You keep descending into an abyss you have no mechanical ability to escape from…but at the bottom lies the ability to double-jump. Another area is filled with glowing lanterns and the next skill tree you find in the area rewards the aforementioned bash attack. It’s this inherent control of pacing baked into the game that seamlessly challenges you and gives you a solution immediately after.
When you take all of this together, you have these traits of successful platformers represented beautifully. So how does Ori’s new entry add to this? I said that it sets itself apart from the pack so how does it do that? It’s weird to say, but, Ori combines all of the successful traits we see in these other games into one and that is the difference. You can have your cake and eat it too. The combat prowess of Hollow Knight and Guacamelee, the spectacle and exploration of Super Mario Odyssey, and the calloused, hands-off instruction and progression of Dead Cells. All of this, while giving you control of a character that moves like water through it’s living, breathing world.
So what’s the catch? It sets itself apart and takes the best traits from everything we know and love but why wouldn’t that be perfect? Well, to me, It would be, but interestingly enough, Ori and the Will of the Wisps learned from everything around itself, but forgot one crucial thing that set Blind Forest apart from the pack: It’s save system.
In Ori and the Blind Forest (2015), the first (and arguably most important) mechanic of the entire game was the Soul Link feature. By spending one bar of your energy, you created a save point wherever you were standing that was both reusable for no cost that gave you, the player, complete control over your incremental progress through the game’s upcoming challenges. Ori and the Will of the Wisps instead leaves manual saving only at Spirit Wells, which still double as beacons for fast travel just like in the first game, but also allow you to warp to them from anywhere, not just other spirit wells. Outside of this, the only way to save your game is to go past invisible autosave checkpoints at various points throughout the overworld.
There are obvious positives and negatives to this change, notably that progress is in larger chunks. This is opposed to inching your way through an environment that makes you bite your nails at the fever pitch. You have to make your way through by virtue of your tools and more confidently stride headfirst into dangerous environments. I get that stopping to save your game manually must have felt strange, but being aware of autosave markers is a periodic reminder of the loss of this core feature.
Outside of that, the changes made in Ori and the Will of the Wisps are all slam dunk evolutions of the Blind Forest. Learning from and combining all the best traits of its peers has proven to be a winning formula and one that I hope to see iterated on in the future. The only question I have now is…what’s the next innovation of platformers going to look like?