We Shall Always Remember The Night
HIGH A real tearjerker of a final reveal.
LOW Some of the new abilities don’t have broad use.
WTF How is the music even better this time?
Ori and the Blind Forest is probably my favorite metroidvania of the generation. Its sequel, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, is the lesser game only because it didn’t come first. It’s a worthy follow-up that’s every bit as gorgeous, fluid and emotionally ravaging as its predecessor.
Wisps begins similarly, in which misfortune rapidly befalls a happy family unit, though thankfully no one dies this time. Ori is out flying with the owlet who survived Blind Forest’s ending when the two get caught in a storm and separated. Ori finds himself stranded in Niwen, a forest suspiciously similar to the previous one, complete with another giant murderous bird whose destructive tendencies may or may not be explained by some past trauma.
To get the obvious out of the way, Niwen is an audiovisual feast. Wisps is colorful and exquisitely animated, melding 2D and 3D so seamlessly that it’s difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. Gareth Coker, who composed one of the greatest videogame soundtracks of all time in the previous title, somehow surpasses his own work here. He sets the perfect mood throughout and gives each portion of the world its own memorable melody. I typically play metroidvanias with the sound off, but couldn’t bear to separate myself from the incredible audio here.
I can’t credit the Ori games for telling particularly complex or nuanced stories, though – at the end of the day, they’re about an irresistibly cute woodland creature fending off nebulous forces of evil. In less capable hands, the many moments of heavy emotional payoff might come across as cheap and cloying, but the presentation totally sells it. But it’d be difficult not to get caught up in developer Moon Studios’ beautifully-realized spell even if Wisps was otherwise mediocre.
Thankfully, Wisps is as much of a joy to play as its predecessor. Expelling the dark forces from Niwen again involves morphing Ori into an acrobatic powerhouse, and nearly every move added to his arsenal contributes to his mobility. His signature “bash” technique – in which he can deflect himself from projectiles – is as unique and tactile as ever, serving the dual purpose of redirecting enemy attacks and allowing Ori to fling himself to higher places. It’s joined by a midair dash, an underwater boost, and a grapple. I repeat, Ori now has a grapple, and it’s as additive to the base mechanics as it sounds.
I generally hate controlling side-scrolling platformers with an analog stick, yet these Ori games make it work. Somehow the process of maneuvering this extremely nimble protagonist through complicated jungle gyms, often executing multiple special abilities in quick succession without touching the ground, is smooth and natural. Even swimming, the worst part of nearly any other game, feels effortless here. There’s an underwater level that’s an absolute pleasure because jetting through the currents hits an improbable balance of speed and precision.
If I have one major criticism about Wisps, it’s that many of Ori’s moves are only truly useful in the areas where players obtain them. It’s akin to getting a cool new piece of equipment in Zelda and then never needing it after that specific dungeon. The individual levels are magnificent in isolation — there’s a sand-themed region that makes terrific use of a new burrowing power — but I think of the ideal metroidvania as one in which the world expands with my move set, and Wisps feels a bit too modal in its structure.
Where Wisps improves on its predecessor is combat. It was a flailing, clumsy affair in Blind Forest, but has now expanded to include equippable weapons and spells. Ori gets both a sword and a hammer, and when combined with a new dodge-dash, players will be engaging in full-on duels. While I have a hard time recalling any of the bosses in Blind Forest – did it even have any? – the climactic encounters of Wisps are breathtaking in scale and exhilarating in practice. In particular, the last phase of the final boss had me pulling off one of the coolest, most empowering tricks in recent memory.
Moon Studios is now two-for-two on games that look as good as they handle, while also guiding players through a gamut of emotions. The team is reportedly doing something new for their next project, and hopefully they’ll nail it as handily as they’ve done with Ori. But even if they’re exposed as a one-trick pony, let it be known that in the crowded field of indie platformers about small, childlike protagonists trapped in dark, imposing worlds, no developer on the planet is better at it than Moon.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Moon Studios and published by Xbox Game Studios. It is currently available on Xbox One and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via Xbox Game Pass and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 15 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated Everyone and contains Mild Fantasy Violence. Nothing offensive here, though there are some mildly dark/scary moments.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue is text-based. There a handful of instances in which audio cues give the player an indication of where their objective is. These instances are perfectly surmountable with a bit of extra exploration, but just be aware that anyone who can’t hear the game’s cues may need to exert just a bit more brute force in a couple of spots.
Remappable Controls: The game’s controls are remappable for keyboard and mouse, but not remappable for a controller.