Not everyone has heard about Ori and the Blind Forest, but after watching the E3 trailer most people realized that it’s going to be a gorgeous and emotional game. However, players shouldn’t be fooled. It’s not just about stunning aesthetics – the game is also quite tricky.
The E3 demo was quite early in the game, before Ori had gained all kinds of skills, when the gameplay was still straight forward. The studio’s goal at Gamescom was to prove that it wasn’t just a simple game – its Metroidvania roots are quite present in the difficulty of the game, while still ensuring that players have time to master their new skills.
The section shown for the demo was the Ginso Tree – this area is more along the lines of a dungeon and it must be completed to cleanse the water in the forest and move the story forward. It includes a clever mix of platforming and puzzle solving – it’s not just about getting from point A to point B. Players must manipulate projectiles, make use of the environment and generally think in clever ways to figure out how to progress through the level.
During the demo, players pick up a new ability: Bash. Using bash, Ori can bash off of levels and enemies as well as redirect projectiles. It’s quite a useful skill in combat, as well as for traversing the area. The developers explained that in the game they wanted to ensure that each ability had variety in its uses; it isn’t enough to give players a new skill to jump through a level, those skills must have other uses depending on the situation.
Additionally, while they couldn’t give us any details on the story, they did note that Ori is learning the new abilities and growing as a character just as the player is learning to use those abilities and becoming a better gamer. While the game is built to be difficult, they also want to ensure that players have a chance to familiarize themselves with the new aspects of the game so that they are never overwhelmed and find the game too difficult.
In order to help those who find the game too difficult, there is also the ability to create a “soul link” (save point) using energy. This means that if you enter an area that you think will be particularly tricky, you can create a save point so that if you fail, you respawn at the beginning again.
Bash adds a lot of mobility to the game – players can reach new heights and unlock all kinds of new areas and secrets. This also makes revisiting previous areas an interesting experience – as players return to earlier levels they might find that their own skills are dramatically improved, as well as attaining new abilities that open up new sections of the map. For example, once the Ginso Tree is complete, players can go back to previous areas that had contaminated water to explore those areas.
The developers were quick to say that they know most people hate water levels in 2D platformers. As such, the water areas in Ori and the Blind Forest do not contain turtles on a quest to kill you. The water levels are more about exploration than a weird challenge to survive. In this way, they want to ensure that players are excited to re-traverse previous areas without getting bored or feeling like it’s repeated content.
Each area is designed to be unique and interesting, and platform design is really important to the team. Players should know exactly which pixel on a specific platform Ori will land on; in this way the team took more from Mario’s design of walking on the top pixel of the platform compared to a Rayman or Donkey Kong. The game is designed based on gameplay first – levels are built using squares for enemies and very barebones design. Only once the gameplay aspects are complete did they add the beautiful artwork and music. Similarly, the story design was completed early on development, helping to inform the gameplay.
The game is still looking ridiculously beautiful, but players should beware – this isn’t just a fluffy, pretty game. It’s a seriously hardcore game that is also incredibly gorgeous.