Published Mar 25, 2015Once upon a time, side-scrolling platformers moved only to the right. Then one day the Metroid and Castlevania franchises made their maps free-roaming, eschewing a Super Mario-style stage-based structure to give birth to the genre now known as Metroidvania.
The old-school genre, like many of its ilk, has been resurrected by indie developers in recent years, but Ori and the Blind Forest, a hand-drawn "love letter" to the originators, sets a new high-water mark with its intricately crafted world, impossibly gorgeous graphics and perfectly sweeping score.
You play Ori, a tiny, orphaned faerie creature trying to save his dying forest from a plague of monsters and encroaching darkness. The sweet-then-very-sad prologue kicks off what looks and feels like an interactive Studio Ghibli-inspired eco-fable.
By the time the game gets going, it becomes clear that the debut effort by Moon Studios, a group of indie devs spread across the globe, kept the intense challenge of the old Metroidvania games intact. Despite the impressively tight controls, you'll still die — a lot — so remember to save regularly.
Luckily, you also get the assistance of a flying sidekick named Sein who becomes your attack sprite. As you increase your skillset, you further open up the environmentally diverse open-world, accessing previously blocked areas of the forest and delving ever deeper into an increasingly affecting tale of redemption.
For a long time, retro fans were content with games that brought their beloved level designs back with all-new skins. But Ori transcends those efforts by not blindly recreating the past but instead using its lessons to blaze a bold new path through the forest. (Moon Studios/Microsoft Studios)