When one of your favourite games of all time, Ori and the Blind Forest, gets a sequel? You buy an Xbox One S to ensure you get to play the thing.
Metroidvania Genius in Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Ori is back! Five years to the day since the first one launched (March 11th, 2015), now we get an outstanding sequel. Huzzah!
Straight up, this is an exceptional game. It takes the best elements from the first outing and overhauls that, adding in a labyrinth maze of new features.
It does help if you’ve completed the first game. Experience is useful in the Ori world—our confidence high, we found ourselves romping about riffing off Will of the Wisps’ predecessor.
If you haven’t, you may wander into this one a tad more tentatively, rather than with the trigger happy, gung-ho approach we did.
Either way, it’s of no concern—as an enthralling game, it just delivers. It’s arguably the greatest Metroidvania of them all.
Heck, we’ve had to totally overhaul our best modern 2D platformers list thanks to this game.
And you can see why. Ever since its teaser trailer in 2017, it’s commanded much anticipation and hype.
Right, the plot! It’s quite the story-driven experience, which takes right where the original left off in the lush Niwen forest.
We catch up with the titular Ori (a white, glowing guardian spirit type dude) a few years after the borderline cataclysmic events of Ori and the Blind Forest.
After that stuff, Ori and his mates Naru and Gumo help look after an orphaned owl egg. From that emerges Ku, who unfortunately has a damaged wing.
Gumo uses his technical skills to rig a fix, however, and Ori and Ku go off soaring into the air. But tumult occurs and the two are separated.
Ori must now find Ku and save the increasing risk to the forest of Niwen!
Yeah, it’s emotional stuff—the original is responsible for many people bursting into tears on Twitch livestreams. It really goes for the tear wells with its themes of love, death, suffering, friendship, and triumph.
Indeed. Such was our anticipation for the sequel we bought an Xbox One S to make sure we could play it.
Some of the features on that thing let you record gaming footage. So, what the hey, we started a YouTube channel to record our favourite gaming moments.
Pretty useful as we really wanted to highlight a few things we came across.
Gameplay wise, it’s a relentless joy. Even in its difficulty it’s so rewarding.
The action is quite relentless, but your powers mean you can react in real-time and revel in your prowess.
Unlike the original, the game saves as you go along—so we got Ori killed in the above clip, but you can get going again pronto.
There aren’t “levels” as such, it’s the Super Metroid style map. As with Nintendo’s classic, you really have to use your brain here.
You’ll revisit the map often to work out where you need to go. But the flow of it—that’s where genius level design makes a difference.
Like the slightly alarming things below, which often whizz around at a frantic rate. They can send Ori flying.
We remember playing The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for the first time in the mid-1990s.
We soon realised the game’s structure had an astonishing sheen to it. Just unlike the vast majority of other games from that era. Nintendo’s genius had us hooked—it remains one of the best games of all time.
And Moon Studios, headed by former Blizzard employee Thomas Mahler, hits those heights.
This is a big indie game. The world is sprawling and alive. One of the marked differences to the original is Will of the Wisps features many more NPCs (non-playable characters) to interact with.
And you happen upon such moments as below. Much trepidation there, of course, we weren’t sure if the snoring dude was going to get angry with us.
For all Ori and the Blind Forest’s brilliance, it’s a distinctly solitary experience. Only occasionally do you engage with other characters. It’s flat out platforming, on the whole.
This time, you’re chatting away to all sorts of individuals. On the whole, it adds to the depth of the game. It also helps the flow of the narrative develop more naturally.
For example, the Miko are cute Ori-like meerkat creatures whom you befriend.
You bump into them everywhere on the map and often do side-quests for them. And those are new to the sequel, although a bit muted.
You generally get a side-quest and don’t gave to think about it—you’ll soon bump into whoever you need to, for example, hand an item to.
So it’s a bit redundant, but one of the few issues in an otherwise masterful game.
And a beautiful one, too. All tinged with a glowing sense of melancholy—lots of deep blues, often lifting with an artistic sweep to orange sunsets and whatnot.
The introduction of new power-ups adds significant abilities to Ori. Unlike the original, they come in quick and fast succession.
You’re soon levelling up with the likes of a blade (your first power-up, which you whack enemies with), arrow, hammer thing, and eventually a hookshot type deal.
We won’t mention much more about them here, but with each one you get the gaming experiences ramps up to a new level.
After four hours of play, we were vaulting about beautiful surroundings and taking in the outstanding soundtrack (more on that at the bottom of this review)—scaling vast structures, working out ingenious puzzles, and developing our additional power-ups.
Plus, you know, you can just take a moment to stop and enjoy the scenery—then there’s that most glorious of music.
But to be clear, this isn’t a twee experience. Themes of death, loss, and anger run throughout the game.
The main antagonist, Shriek, is goddamn terrifying.
And many of the other enemies are difficult foes indeed. There’s a noted improvement on the original—the combat. It’s vastly improved this time around, with clever enemies you must try to outwit.
The flow to the game is just sensational. As with Ori and the Blind Forest, there’s a slow start. Muted, even. It downplays your expectations.
Then as the hours tick by it reaches such creative heights you’ll pretty much just swoon in wonder and absorb the experience. It’s jaw-dropping stuff.
For anyone out there still wondering why people play video games, here’s a fine example. Along with its almighty visual presentation, and genius-level soundtrack, there’s a wonderful and classical adventure story beneath the surface.
And for modern gamers who might think 2D platformers belong in the 1990s, here’s a perfect demonstration why they’re wrong.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a masterpiece, no doubts.
Not just that, we can suggest it’s the best indie game of all time. Certainly, it utilises its Metroidvania roots to near perfection.
We didn’t expect much else, really, from Moon Studios. And if it decides to make another one, that’ll make the world a much better place.
The Genius of Ori and the Will of the Wisps’ Soundtrack
British composer Gareth Coker’s work is a massive part of the Ori experience.
And he’s back with a new soundtrack for Ori and the Will of the Wisps. It’s a predictably emotive experience, with our favourite track highlighted above.
Kwolok’s Hollow—wait for it, the piece builds to a mighty conclusion. But the further you get into the game, the more extraordinary it gets.
It drifts around between being dramatic, playful, and joyous from area to area on the Will of the Wisps map.
Luma Pools, for instance, comes out of nowhere after a particularly lengthy and dramatic battle in the Wellspring. Then you suddenly have this ethereal and delightful music.
The soundtrack really flows quite seamlessly with your gameplay, ramping up the drama as it needs to. You can’t help but feel you’re on some essential mission to save Ori’s world.
It’s rare for a game to place the composer at the forefront of everything. But Coker’s music was such a hit, he performed live for the game’s reveal at E3 in 2017.
Rarely is a game’s soundtrack such an integral part of the gaming experience. In Ori, it’s like a separate, disembodied character.
Alive with all manner of sage wisdom and seemingly willing your brain on to work things out and advance.
Yes, thank you for your sterling efforts here Moon Studios and Gareth Coker. A perfect partnership.