Don't be blind-sided.
Ori and the Blind Forest harkens back to the twilight of the Xbox 360, a time when Microsoft's Summer of Arcade campaign still brought gems like Shadow Complex, Limbo, and Braid. It has been three years since the likes of Bastion graced the Xbox platform, with the last couple of Summer of Arcades being merely satisfactory. Luckily, Ori has the potential to provide a shot in the arm of the Xbox's entire indie platform.
Normally, I would reserve such high praise for a game based solely on a preview build, but this slick puzzle-platformer has all of the makings of a Game of the Year nominee. (Hopefully we'll remember it by this December.) It has the responsive side-scrolling controls of Strider, the swiftness of Dust: An Elysian Tail, and the vibrant hues and environments of Transistor. Now imagine wrapping all that into a world that's like walking into the spirit forest of Princess Mononoke, and you've got an idea of how gorgeous it is.
Moon Studios has shown two of three available levels, Sunken Glades and Ginza Tree, in prior preview builds. Both have Ori prancing about the forest, leaping from platform to platform, avoiding dangerous brambles and leaping enemies. Absorbing spirit lights from dead monsters will award skill points that can be placed in one of three skill tress. Ori's partner, Sein, makes short work of enemies given its homing attacks. So as long as you keep a healthy distance and remain attentive, Ori will survive the gauntlet of obstacles.
Just make sure you make judicious use of the Soul Link, which trades one energy cell for an instant save point—like a portable bonfire, so to speak. The opening levels may look bright and simple, but Ori and the Blind Forest spikes in difficulty. By the Ginza Tree level, you'll be asked to slingshot through enemies, next to lanterns, and beside projectiles so that they can be hurled in the opposite direction… into a portal out the other end… into a broken tree branch. Yes, platforming becomes tricky and extremely challenging, particularly at the end of the level where you're racing against rising water levels as Ori scurries to safety to the top.
Then in the new level shown called Forlorn Ruins, the game transforms into a matter of precision, playing with directional gravity in a way that makes Limbo look quaint. Holding a gravity ball will let Ori climb on curved walls and walk upside down. And if he jumps off a square platform at the right angle, he can fall sideways or upwards (yes, fall upwards) to another square. It's a mind-bender that will test both your problem-solving and platforming skills, as you collect precariously-placed stones to open doors and learn from trial and error (okay, a lot of error).
That said, Ori and The Blind Forest has the challenge and the level design that would be perfect for speedrunners. With all of the possible routes and technical skill required, I can imagine this having a strong showing at the next Awesome Games Done Quick. Let's just hope Ori and The Blind Forest isn't relegated to being only a critic's darling.
Ori and the Blind Forest will release on Xbox One and PC for $19.99 on March 11, 2015.