Everyone should be allowed to take two goes at a game. A second pass after a year or so, with gained wisdom and feedback informing changes and new additions. Even a game that was wonderful on release, like Ori & The Blind Forest, has benefited hugely from such treatment, and I’m delighted to report that the Definitive Edition [official site] is sublime. Here's wot I think:
For those arriving fresh, Ori And The Blind Forest is a Metroidvania platform game featuring an emotional tale of a world ripped of its life, and a glowy mouse-thing (Ori) who – along with the help of a floating orb called Sein – is attempting to restore the former joy. Which is to say, not an original idea at all, and yet one so superbly delivered, so beautifully presented, and so excellent to play, that you wonder if it’s the game the idea was meant for all along.
The original game, as reviewed by Pip last year, survives pretty much intact – if you loved it before, nothing that merited it has been taken away. What’s been added are two large new sections of the world, along with a few new abilities and accompanying skill unlocks. It’s an embellishment rather than a remake, and a very welcome one.
Last year's Ori vanilla was, I believe, the best example of a Metroidvania that doesn’t have “Metroid” or “vania” in its title. Its perfect controls are too easily taken for granted because everything works absolutely wonderfully, so it just feels right – but spend any time with various other attempts at the genre and you realise how big of a deal it is for a team to nail it. The exquisite pacing, adding new abilities thick and fast so there’s always a sense of progress, of greater power, of mastering the game, is also a piece of refined crafting few can muster. That it’s also one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played is really a bonus on top of everything else. (For years my desktop backgrounds have changed every time I’ve played a yet-prettier game – Proteus was replaced by Ori, but a year later nothing else has come close. They’re still there.)
This meant I had a few concerns regarding the addition of new bits and bobs, because how could that happen without losing the original's tightness? Turns out by Moon Studios' carrying on being incredible. Despite one of the two new areas being a little lacking, t’other is one of the best in the whole game, and the new skills feel like they were always there – a dash and an ability to throw light orbs.
The Black Root Burrows unfortunately goes for the most dreary of platform sections (other than reversed controls, I suppose, but then they already did that) – darkness. You have to stumble about not being able to see properly, and then lug a ball of light around that makes platforms appear or disappear. Fortunately the dark section is brief, and the whole area quickly lit, which then becomes a lovely space to explore.
Lost Grove, however, is ludicrously good. It is the game at its most beautiful, colours bursting and singing, and a best-of of the game that lets you fling yourself about and solve lovely puzzles.
There’s also more of the back story of the game, new cutscenes that explain a bit more about what went wrong in the forest, and a bit of history to Naru – that panda-ish beast who looks after Ori in the game’s prologue. I always thought the story was by far the weakest part of the original game, frankly finding it hard to follow or care about beyond staring in wonder at how pretty it all was. More of it therefore doesn’t do anything for me, other than interrupt playing, but it's still very pretty.
The Light Burst, the ability to fling balls of light around, opens up new options for puzzles too – dangling lanterns can be lit by carefully aimed orbs, unlocking doors and revealing secrets. And rather splendidly, these are scattered throughout the whole game, little extra bits and pieces tucked into the older areas, offering new challenges.
Dash is something I could have sworn the game already had, but clearly didn’t – it lets you dart left and right, which allows for more tricksy platforming in bespoke areas, as well as letting you short-cut some of the earlier dodging challenges rather than have to repeat every time you return.
Taking of short-cuts, those healing spirit wells are now teleporters, letting you leap between them to save hefty traversals of the large map. They’re few and far between, so certainly don’t prevent exploration and accidental stumblings, and again, something that really ought to have been there originally.
And for those who found the challenging game not challenging enough, there are now difficulty modes. Normal provides just the perfect combination of tribulation and serene calm, but it can now be ramped up to Hard, or knocked down to Easy, depending upon your proclivities. And for the outright deranged there’s a one life mode, which will post your progress to online high score charts, and highlight you as a masochist.
The result of this return is an even better version of one of the most delightful games of recent years. The animation will still remind you of a slicker Studio Ghibli, the music is still spellbinding, the controls are somehow improved on before. There are still occasional moments of frustration, but these are inevitably caused by having forgotten to plant a save point on your journey for too long – slightly more generous checkpointing might perhaps have been a good addition too. Oh, and the upside-down-controls-reversed section can still piss off. But these are merely gripes.
The game’s huge for its genre, a good dozen hours at least of bouncing, flinging, zapping and triple-jumping. The new sections only make it better, the new skills fit in perfectly. Few games come close to being this well made, this lovingly animated, and so madly pleasurable to play. If you played it last year, it’s well worth going back (and in May, it’s only £3.75 to update your version on Steam), if not, then goodness me, it’s time to put that right.
Ori & The Blind Forest: Definitive Edition is out now on Windows from Steam for £15/$20.