A Wonderful Platformer
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a wonderful game and a great follow-up to the critically acclaimed Ori and the Blind Forest. Combining challenging platforming, ingenious puzzles and one of the best gaming soundtracks of the year, Will of the Wisps is a must-play and one of the best games of 2020.
If you’re unfamiliar with the first game, Ori and the Will of the Wisps plays out as a metroidvania with a large, open world and lots of challenging and interesting locales to explore. The different biomes make great use of the gorgeous visuals and the aesthetic is certainly one of the big strengths with this game. From the bright, vivid colours in the Luma Pools to the quiet, colour-starved tranquility of the Silent Woods, every single location is unique and serves up a picturesque portrait of beauty.
There’s a lot of depth to the world too and throughout the different sections, there’s a subtle inclusion of branches, plants or rolling sand that bolsters out the foreground. By comparison, some moments peel everything away and let you marvel at the various different backdrops. Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a gorgeous platformer and it’s a title that’s self aware enough to know exactly when to implement both styles.
The story this time around is heartfelt and full of emotional and poignant moments. I won’t spoil what happens here but the basic quest revolves around Ori off on another adventure, this time searching for little owlet Ku after you’re separated in a storm. This serves as the first stage of your mission and when you happen upon the monstrous winged beast known as Shriek, Ori sets out to collect little wisps to restore order to the land and prevent the darkness from starving it any longer.
It’s a simple enough plot but one that’s peppered with some great in-game cut-scenes and emotional cutaways that allow you to understand each of the characters and what drives them – even Shriek.
While there is the illusion of the world being open to explore in whichever order you want, some areas are locked until you acquire certain abilities or complete specific tasks. Along the way you uncover Wells which act as save areas and also fast travel points if you unlock the accompanying skill from a vendor. These skills are incredibly useful and as you acquire Spirit Light (this game’s version of in-game currency) you can exchange these for helpful tools along the way – including the aforementioned fast travel for Wells.
The real star of the show though comes from the core gameplay and it’s here Ori and the Will of the Wisps takes the best elements of Metroidvania games and combines that with some excellent platforming. When you start the game, the controls are relatively straight forward with simple jump, climb and slash mechanics. Along the way you unlock a slew of different abilities that bolster out your arsenal – some in the form of upgrades collected throughout the world (more on that later) and story-based that allow you to progress through to the next section.
There’s a lot of variety and fluidity to the way Ori introduces these different moves although as the abilities pile up, so too does the level of dexterity needed to pull off some of the trickier segments late on. There’s a lot of trial and error with this one and there’s a conscious effort to makes these abilities part of your muscle memory. In that respect you’ll likely die a lot until you finally complete a section and this certainly draws a lot of similarities with Super Meat Boy. There’s a real desire to “show don’t tell” and many of the environmental puzzles require you to think outside the box or use all the tools in your wispy arsenal.
One such example sees you using a newly acquired Gust ability to move bubbles away from spikes while simultaneously racing up to bounce off it to an otherwise-unreachable area. Another uses enemy projectiles (something you’ve been avoiding up until this point) as bounce pads using the Bash ability. This ingenuity continues throughout the game and crescendos into some adrenaline-soaked and incredibly tense chase sequences. These serve as a great challenge of skill and combine quick thinking with using your abilities on the fly to outrun your antagonist.
These core abilities are further elevated by the various different spirit shards dotted around the environment. The game certainly encourages you to venture out and off the beaten track and in exchange, you’re rewarded with some great new skills to use. There’s an instant desire to switch out your load and try the new abilities and a lot of the fun to be had here comes from this mix-and-match style of finding interesting and ingenious ways of traversing the tricky terrain. While I equipped the abilities for sticking to walls and triple jump (when I could afford it) as mainstays in my arsenal, others may find that causing 25% more damage or being able to see secret walls or areas more to their liking.
Alongside these spirit shards are life and energy cells that, upon collecting two, increase your maximum HP and AP respectively. While these seem superficial early on, during some of the later boss fights it’s an absolute game-changer to go in with extra health than you otherwise would and oftentimes can be the difference between life and death.
The pacing of the game is excellent too and throughout the 8-15 hours you’ll spend with this one – depending on your level of skill of course – Ori and the Will of the Wisps never outstays its welcome. Some of that is thanks to the masterful soundtrack which serves as one of the best gaming soundtracks of the year. I won’t go into specifics and I’ll save my thoughts on this for a separate soundtrack review but suffice to say it’s fantastic and uses a great array of orchestral tracks to accentuate what’s happening on-screen.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps doesn’t reinvent the Metroidvania wheel but it does polish it up in such a way that it feels like a whole new experience. It’s a game that confidently showcases some of the best platforming and environmental puzzles of the year and does so with a picturesque beauty that makes this such a joy to play through.
It can be a little frustrating at times, especially given the lack of instruction on how to progress through certain areas (I’m looking at you, Lumo Pools) but on the whole these dampened moments of frustration aren’t enough to extinguish this bright flame of beauty. Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a must-play and easily one of 2020’s shining jewels.
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