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    Ori and the Blind Forest

    After a spellbinding trailer at E3, Ori and the Blind Forest quickly became one of our most awaited releases of the year. With its soft glow and enchanting protagonist, we are reminded of  Ubisoft’s watercolour wonder,  Child of Light, another game that combines folkloric elements with a gorgeous world. Ori has a bit more bite to it, however it's nippy platforming shares more DNA with the madcap Rayman Legends.

    The pacing is masterful unhurried but necessarily so and small details, from Ori’s elfin idle animations to the floating particle effects that imply some sort of magical goings on, show that the team focused on the minutiae as much as the overall world. From the beginning, where a weakened Ori can barely move, he gradually grows in strength, working through a skill tree that sees gated-off areas opening up it has plenty in common with the ‘Metroidvania’, a genre sadly underexplored on Xbox since the brilliant Shadow Complex. Of course, this is a far more magical world than Chair’s military base, telling as much of a story through its art and sound design as the writing.

    The world is lovingly crafted: branches creak and bend under your weight, grass ripples in the wind and trees sway and rustle around you. The background layers are bright and beautiful, whereas the foreground is often used to foreshadow and frighten shadows dart across the screen and twisted brambles obstruct the view for a second. The sound, meanwhile, is a mixture of orchestral music and strange, otherworldly dialogue spoken by forest spirits. The lack of human voices never lets the game down quite the opposite, Ori’s squeaks and a booming, Jabba the Hutt-like voice that handles the narration only add to the overall atmosphere of the game.

    The influences are unmistakable: tones of Studio Ghibli come through in places; the visually narrated prologue drips with the sweet sadness of The Iron Giant; even Disney leaves its mark, albeit with its slightly lesser known works, such as Lilo & Stitch. Ori is basically a coming of age story, designed to look hand drawn with art assets unique to each area. That it can be considered in the same visual
    league as the animations that inspired it is a massive accomplishment .

    Ori and the Blind Forest seems set to be a welcome respite from the more hyperbolic blockbusters released in the last few months of the year, and though it’s small and quiet, it’s more than capable of holding its own among the big boys. We can’t wait.

    Saving grace
    How the save system proves one of the game’s most original elements
    Rather than being able to save at any point, Ori has to collect Energy Cells, which are dotted throughout the map in difficult-to-reach areas, and can be gained from downed enemies. These Cells can then be used to generate a Soul Link otherwise known as a save point or used to power up attacks. It becomes a strategic risk: do you invest in powers and go without a save point for a little longer than you’d like?

    Ori and the Blind Forest will be the first title released by Moon Studios in 2014 on Xbox One and PC and in 2015 on Xbox 360.

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