Report Card: Ori and the Will of the Wisps (Review)

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John ProfileIn the early days of the Xbox One, Ori and the Blind Forest was hailed as a success for its tight gameplay, touching story,  and beautiful art design. It scored an 88% on Metacritic and is still regarded as one of the best Xbox Game Studios releases. It seems fitting then that the sequel to that game, arriving exactly five years later to the date, is helping to send off the Xbox One console as we prepare for the next generation of gaming. In an impressive feat, Ori and the Will of the Wisps manages to not only live up to the expectations set by its predecessor but also improve upon the original in every conceivable way.

Taking place shortly after the events of the first game, Will of the Wisps sees Ori and his friends as they discover and befriend a new forest creature, an owlet named Ku. The young bird has an injured wing however, and the group must work together to help their feathered friend take flight. After taking to the skies however, a violent storm strikes the forest leaving the group scattered and Ori searching for his lost friend before a terrifying new menace reaches her first.

It’s a beautifully told story that features some truly heartwarming, harrowing, and somber moments. Its themes of friendship and nature may seem like something right out of a classic children’s book, but I’d be cautious about playing the game in front of small children. There are some truly creepy creatures in the game that might scare them, and one sad moment actually had my youngest daughter tearing up as she watched. The primary enemy in the game is particularly menacing but is more than just a frightening monster, it has an origin story that will make you feel sympathetic towards the creature while you’re running for your life from it.

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The story wouldn’t be nearly as effective though if the presentation wasn’t up to snuff, thankfully the team at Moon Studios has an incredible group of artists and they’ve created what is undoubtedly one of the best looking and sounding 2D platformers I’ve ever played. The entire game looks like a painting come to life, with varied and colorful environments that I couldn’t help but stop and stare at. Every scene is filled with wonderful little details and a unique and memorable cast of supporting characters. It really is stunning to look at.

The amazing score by Gareth Coker is another standout, featuring moments of both soaring intensity to accompany the action-packed scenes as well as beautiful, calming pieces for the quieter moments in the game. Every bit of music matches the scene or environment perfectly, making it one of the most memorable soundtracks in recent memory. It’s hard to overstate what a treat this game is both visually and audibly.

The game plays similarly to the original title in that it’s a “castle-roids” style platformer, but they’ve expanded upon that game in a ton of great ways. The core of the gameplay requires precision platforming and well-timed attacks, but they’ve given you a tremendous amount of abilities and upgrades to give you plenty of options for how you approach each obstacle. These abilities come in three varieties: those that you find and are instantly applied (burrowing, dash), new attacks that you can equip into a “weapon wheel” to change on the fly, and enhancements and stat boosts that you can equip into an upgradable number of slots. There is so much to discover in the game that the near-constant unlocking of new abilities kept the game feeling fresh throughout the entire 15 or so hours it took me to complete it.

The game also features an upgradable hub area that you can improve on by completing side quests for the various creatures living there. It serves as a nice addition to work on in between seeking out the main objectives of the game.

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While they give you plenty of attacks and abilities to take on the enemies and hazards you’ll face, this game is still tough as hell. You need to pay attention to the movements of the enemies to know just when to strike, and the platforming can require super precise aim and timing. You’ll die A LOT in this game, but it rarely felt frustrating because they implemented a very generous checkpoint system and super-quick loading. I rarely (if ever) had to replay more than a minute or two due to dying. For the most part, it felt challenging, but not frustrating. For the most part.

Most of the areas in the game conclude with either a boss fight or chase sequences that have you running for your life. These can be incredibly intense which makes it very rewarding when you complete one, but there was one boss fight and one chase scene, in particular, that really tested my resolve. I probably attempted these each between 30-40 times before succeeding and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t on the verge of crushing my controller in my bare hands. But again, fast loading and checkpoints did help to ease some of the suffering. Be prepared for a fight though, even on the normal difficulty level.

One other quibble I had with the game was an occasional but persistent issue with slowdown. They’ve patched the game at launch to resolve many of the issues, but I still had moments when the game would become almost unplayable due to slowdown. Closing and relaunching the game seemed to resolve the issue, but I’m guessing it’s another patch or two from being ideal.

Everything about Ori and the Will of the Wisps just feels so right. From the combat to the platforming, it’s all tuned so perfectly that it’s a complete joy to pay, even when it’s testing your nerves. In the five years that it has taken them to complete the game you can tell that it was all in the service of getting the game just right. And they’ve succeeded marvelously.

After the credits rolled, and my eyes dried up, I was amazed at what they’ve accomplished with this game. It’s rare to see a game get everything so right, from the controls, to combat, to the presentation, it’s just a masterpiece. Every time a game comes out in this style it’s compared to the titles that set the groundwork, Metroid and Castlevania. I would argue that Ori and the Will of the Wisps deserves to sit alongside those titles now as one of the best 2D adventures out there.

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