When Moon Studios began creating Ori and the Blind Forest, founder and CEO Thomas Mahler tells me, the team set out to make a game that recalled the early 90s era of Nintendo. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is his favorite game, says Mahler, though Ori owes a lot more to Super Metroid.
The beautiful, heart-wrenching trailer Microsoft showed during its E3 2014 media briefing (embedded below) only hints at Ori's overarching, exploration-driven structure. Like Metroid and other platform adventure games, Ori has players leaping across pits and doing battle with evil creatures, all while slowly accruing new abilities that allow the game's titular, rabbit-like protagonist to reach new areas.
What sets it apart from similar games, however, is its sense of speed and precision, which Mahler says was inspired by something a little more recent: Super Meat Boy.
Gallery: Ori and the Blind Forest (E3 2014) | 6 Photos
Don't worry, you won't find and endless loop of buzz saws and bloody death – at least not based on the short time I spent with Ori – but you will appreciate how agile the little guy is. Ori, who sits somewhere between bunny and baby dragon, moves quickly and jumps on a dime, bounding over deadly thorns and clambering up ledges with speed and fluidity. It skews closer to the manic platforming of Guacamelee than Metroid. By the time I wrapped up my demo, I was running, hopping and wall-jumping and taking out baddies with ease.
Speaking of which, Ori's combat also diverges from most platform adventure games, with Mahler explaining to me that it's designed to keep players moving. Rather than precisely targeting and shooting enemies á la Samus Aran, Ori uses his companion, Sein, a sentient ball of energy that serves both as his weapon and guide. On Xbox One, just tap the X button and Sein flies toward the nearest enemy and crashes into it. I managed to take out most enemies and obstacles with just a few taps. It's a very simple system, and even after my brief experience I'm worried it may be too simple. If it works as intended, however, keeping the game's emphasis on platforming and exploration, maybe that's okay. It's also worth mentioning that as Ori gains experience in combat, he can gain new abilities, like being able to target multiple enemies. I didn't get to experiment much with different upgrades, but the leveling system might add more variety down the line.
Beyond the slick traversal and streamlined combat, Ori and the Blind Forest seems to have all the nuts and bolts of a traditional platform adventure game. There are locked doors that require special items to open, areas that can only be reached with specific abilities and, of course, a big, empty map that just begs to be completed. Combined with the promise of tricky platforming challenges to compliment Ori's finely tuned movement, it's definitely intriguing.
Ori and the Blind Forest is slated for Xbox One and PC this fall, with an Xbox 360 release to follow.