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Coming to Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC
Ori and the Blind Forest release date: Late 2014 (Xbox One/PC) 2015 (Xbox 360)

It’s not as if Sony has needed reasons to buy a PS4, but its stellar line-up of indie titles definitely hasn’t hurt the cause. From Don’t Starve to Transistor to Rogue Legacy, Hohokum and The Road Not Taken, it’s had a stream of cool, quirky, indie stars, with many more on the way. Finally, however, Microsoft is beginning to catch up. Capy Games' Below is on its way next year, along with Limbo creator’s Playdead’s new game INSIDE, Ghost of a Tale and the fascinating FPS, Superhot.

Leading the charge, however, is Moon Studios’ Ori and the Blind Forest; a stunning-looking 2D platform adventure which marries the hand-painted look of some of Ubisoft’s UbiArt titles with gameplay that mixes Mario-style acrobatic with the structure of a classic Metroid/Castlevania game.

Ori and the Blind Forest

In it you play Ori, a childlike guardian spirit found in a wild, sprawling forest and raised by what appears to be some kind of masked bear thing. All is good until a nasty entity, Kuro, turns up and kidnaps Ori’s unusual adopted parent, forcing Ori to go on the rescue. Like Link, Samus and so many great game characters before Ori starts off weak and fairly helpless, but with the aid of Sein, a miniscule but mighty sprite, Ori starts collecting additional powers, each one helping the little spirit on its quest.

After Rayman Legends and Child of Light, it’s getting harder to impress with a hand-drawn visual style, yet Ori manages to be breathtaking. Its world is brimming with beautiful combinations of shape, light and colour, and when Moon Studios turns on the spectacle, with a giant owl or a speeding upwards torrent, there seem to be endless layers of movement and detail going on. This, combined with some lovely character design and stirring music, make Ori a more magical experience than your average 2D platformer. Apparently, no assets are re-used at any point; each and every screen is unique. With this kind of attention to detail, Ori might be the point where Nintendo and Studio Ghibli meet.

Ori and the Blind Forest

Yet at our Gamescom 2014 demonstration, designers Thomas Mahler and Gennadiy Korol want to talk more about the gameplay. As we said, Ori apes the style of the classic Metroid/Castlevania game, where you’re free to explore the game’s map, but areas will be closed off until you find the ability you need to access them. What’s more, Ori takes on another key idea: introducing a new ability with each area, training the player in how to use it, then asking you to get more skilled in using it to survive the challenges of the level. Mahler and Korol are keen to stress that this doesn’t mean boss battles in the usual sense, but climactic challenges that push your powers to their limits.

In the level we saw demonstrated – a tough, mostly vertical level that takes place inside a giant ‘Ginso Tree’ – the ability in question is Bash. You hold a button to freeze the action and an arrow appears. Point this in the right direction and release the button, and Ori jets forwards, smashing whatever enemies, objects or even projectiles that stand in the little spirit’s way. It’s not just a combat move, but a way of navigating quickly, or of redirecting missiles so that they’ll take out obstacles or clear a path.

Ori and the Blind Forest

The team at Moon has put years of effort into crafting these abilities, and into making the part of a move-set that’s smooth, intuitive and precise. We weren’t able to go hands-on with the game ourselves, but the one fellow journo who did seemed to pick things up quickly, and the controls are designed to be fluid, with a satisfying weight. Ori and the Blind Forest will, we’re told, be challenging, but there’s compensation in a generous checkpoint system, where you can effectively set down your own checkpoints and – within limits – save as and when you please.

Moon Studios is deliberately restricting the flow of info. It wants the game to be mysterious and enchanting, and for players to experience that as they play. We’re not even told what the title actually means. Yet when so many indie titles seem to be quirky for quirky’s sake or content to clothe retro arcade styles in cool, ironic looks, Ori and the Blind Forest seems more intent on captivating the player and crafting some kind of emotional appeal. It’s beauty might be more than just skin-deep.

First Impressions

Sony has a killer line-up of indie titles, but with Ori and the Blind Forest Microsoft looks like it might have a game that can hold up to Sony’s best. It looks amazing and the controls and gameplay appear as refined as the stunning hand-painted visuals. Like Ico, Journey, Rayman, Zelda and Metroid, there’s a very good chance that you might end up liking this.

Read more: Best Xbox One games

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