What a hoot
When Ori and the Blind Forest released in 2015, it came at a time where Microsoft’s console was crying out for exclusive games, and Moon Studios delivered an absolute peach. A wonderfully designed 2D platformer, with enough challenge behind it to make you want to snap your controller in frustration at times, it was a game that really made an impact. Fast forward nearly 5 years, and the sequel, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, is about to launch. With all of the pre-launch content looking to be more of the same, does it live up to its predecessor’s legacy?
The shortest possible answer to that question is yes. Yes it does. Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a beautiful game, with some equally infuriating moments punctuating a whimsical story that doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Let’s just take a moment to acknowledge how incredible the game looks, first and foremost. Ori 2: Cruise Control continues the original’s gorgeous art style and ramps it right up to the max. With nine different areas spread across the game, Ori 2: Ori Harder has a much broader scope than the original game, and it never once starts to feel like it’s getting stale or tired. An intricately designed world combined with sumptuously good looking assets combine to make one of the prettiest games I’ve seen in a very long time. Ori himself glows brightly in the middle of a technicolour wonderland, while neon-infused enemies pop off the dark backgrounds even on an SDR display. At the time of writing, the HDR implementation on PC was not available to check out, but I can only imagine how good this game will look on a calibrated HDR TV. It runs at a spotless 60fps as well, at least on a mid-level gaming PC (I currently don’t have access to an Xbox one X, and the performance on a base Xbox One/Xbox One S is fine, but being tightened up in a launch day patch, I’m told). Enemies and environments have the kind of detail usually reserved for the triplest of AAA titles, and some of the set pieces are an absolute treat for the eyes.
Because of the performance, the gameplay feels as good as you remember the first game being. Ori is hyper-responsive, dashing and leaping around the map with a suitable level of refined chaos, and his range of abilities has been expanded as well. Of course, the likes of the double jump and bash that was present in the first game return, but welcome additions such as burrow, grapple and an invaluable Regeneration ability add to Ori’s repertoire of skills and allow for some fantastic combos in both combat and traversal. The main method of using the skills has changed somewhat from the first game. The game now asks you to equip up to three different skills, and you can switch these out on the fly for any of the ones in your wheel. If you’re finding ranged enemies a bit of a trial, you can equip the Spirit Arc bow, then swap that out for the Spirit Smash hammer for some up close and personal attacks. Combat feels weighty and meaningful, while the sheer variation in landscapes make for plenty of challenges in the movement as well. Plenty of hidden areas exist throughout the entire game to make sure that you can find loads of secrets, be it an extension to your health and energy, or one of several hidden quest items, which will flesh out the game a little bit more as the world of Niwen gets rebuilt from the darkness that’s consumed it.
One of the things the first game was remembered for was its, at times, crushing difficulty spikes. The sequel isn’t one to let this go unnoticed, and there are some moments which will have you chewing chunks out of your controller and physically restraining yourself from embedding it in the plasterboard. One boss fight in particular had me genuinely concerned that I wasn’t going to be able to finish this review, because I kept getting stuck on it. After reassessing and rejigging my loadout, however, it became a bit more manageable. Fortunately, these moments are few and far between, and for the most part, Ori 2: Electric Boogaloo strikes a perfect balance between challenging and annoying. The feeling of getting past a difficult section in the game is unlike most games, combining the relief of nailing a Super Meat Boy level with the curiosity and wonder of most story driven games when you get to see what’s next up for our little Spirit-based friend.
It feels almost criminal to have made it this far into the review without talking about the soundtrack. One of the standout features from the first game was its glorious orchestral bed, and this goes one step further with Will of the Wisps. A simply outstanding selection of music not only amplifies the emotional highs and lows, but also provides a perfect middle ground when you’re just making your way from point to point. With no spoken dialogue, aside from the gibberish of the NPCs and the thunder-throated narrator, the soundtrack is used as a primary method of storytelling, and it evokes the right emotions from you at the right points. Without giving away any story beats, I’ll just say that if you thought the first game gave you the feels, the sequel will do so in some similar ways.