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    Ori and the Will of the Wisps

    Game » consists of 4 releases. Released Mar 11, 2020

    The second Ori game.

    Indie Game of the Week 223: Ori and the Will of the Wisps

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    Mento

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    Edited By Mento  Moderator
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    OK, look, I know it's yet another explormer (the fifth for IGotW this year, I believe?) but I have a couple of good reasons for this one's inclusion: the first is that Ori and the Will of the Wisps is the highest-profile game in this genre since 2019's Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night and worthy of a review by any standard, and the second is that I'm starting to feel like my explormer bona fides are in dispute after a recent Bombcast email on the genre prompted zero discussion of my own particular nomenclature from anyone on the podcast or indeed the chat. I've almost filled all one hundred slots of my first Explormatorium list with the finest examples of the explormer genre, not to mention countless reviews like this, but evidently more work needs to be done; where better to resume said work than with a widely beloved game that saw serious consideration during Giant Bomb's 2020 Game of the Year deliberations?

    Fine, fine, this is all a weak pretense to play and blog about one of my favorite genres for yet another week, but with the stress of E3 on the horizon - albeit a heavily compromised digital version - I could use something as enjoyable and comparatively chill as Moon Studios's beautiful and balletic forest creature antics to keep myself on an even keel. The sequel to Ori and the Blind Forest (high on my 2015 GOTY list, despite a lot of competition), Will of the Wisps picks up a little while after the bittersweet ending of that story and strands Ori in a new part of that arboreal world after a sudden storm during a flight. Immediately, you're picking up the tools of the trade one after the other: a melee attack, a double-jump, and a dash (which also works in mid-air) are quickly added to your repertoire upon starting, with many to follow as you continue to expand the contours of this new world and meet its friendly and not-so-friendly inhabitants.

    It may well be physically impossible to take a bad screenshot of this game.
    It may well be physically impossible to take a bad screenshot of this game.

    Will of the Wisps has also evidently been taking copious notes from Team Cherry's Hollow Knight, by adopting its badges into a new shard system - you can equip a small handful of bonus passives and upgrade same, with opportunities to increase how many you can equip at once - and adding a jovial cartographer character who's happy to help you fill the blanks in the local topography should you be able to find him and have enough currency for one of his bespoke maps. The game follows that first melee attack with several variants to choose from, giving you three active slots - that is, the three face buttons that aren't the jump button - to equip your favorites. Right now I've equipped that initial light melee slash, a heavier melee strike that can also break certain walls, and a ranged attack; the latter two proving helpful when exploring as well. Following the Hollow Knight comparison, there's also at least one healing spell that takes a few seconds to cast; the idea being that you need to carve out a moment of respite in a longer fight (say with a boss, or one of the game's wave-based "combat shrines") before you can hope to make use of it. You then have your usual mix of health and mana upgrades scattered around the map, as well as a few collectables I've only just discovered a use for; suffice it to say, there's plenty to find as you scour the vicinity for hidden caches and the like, and the map will occasionally oblige you by marking currently-unreachable collectables in zones you've explored for later sweeps.

    Can't really go much further with this review without talking about the game's visuals. Ori and the Blind Forest made a strong impression with its dreamlike painterly art direction and the sequel, if anything, somehow manages to be even more attractive. Something I noticed this time around was the excellent use of sound design: the orchestral score swells and dips to coincide with the action on-screen, as well as elevating the emotive power of certain sad or exhilarating moments. It feels organic, molded around not just the world and the events of the game but the player's participation in same, and it's one of those remarkable achievements that's sometimes easy to miss due to how indelibly it weaves itself into the presentation.

    The only difference between Lupo the cartography dude and Hollow Knight's Cornifer is the lack of telltale humming indicating he's nearby.
    The only difference between Lupo the cartography dude and Hollow Knight's Cornifer is the lack of telltale humming indicating he's nearby.

    Like the first Ori, it's easy to get sidetracked by the looks and forget how smooth and fluid those platforming controls can be. I've only had a few issues where it felt a little imprecise at parts - especially trying to air control your little guy to land on narrow platforms - but it's just taken a mite of effort to adjust to that over-responsiveness where I no longer experience it. Easy to overcorrect, you might say, until you get the intended rhythm down. Now that I've put a few more hours into it and have tempered my skills with a few trickier instances - there are some real tough time trials and the occasional boss "chase" that demands your platforming skills be at their apex - I've found that it feels more natural, though there still feels like a tremendous amount of input lag on the Switch version I'm playing that occasionally makes the trickier sequences a more frustrating affair. I'm dying a lot, though it's not so bad to be a dealbreaker given the fast respawn; it feels like a little more optimization for relatively weaker platforms could've been warranted however, where perhaps maybe some of the flashier effects could be toned down for stability's sake. (Even when the input's not being deleteriously laggy at a critical moment, there's often a conspicuously long pause whenever you try to get in and out of the menu/map while playing.) Will of the Wisps also emphasizes combat more than The Blind Forest - it has those aforementioned wave-based shrines, and the more elaborate active skill system - strengthening this bond with Hollow Knight and other 2D "Soulslikes" like Salt and Sanctuary even further; it's not the game's highlight, but I also recognize that it's not under-developed afterthought with all these mechanics dedicated to mixing it up.

    This probably isn't going to be a huge shock, but overall I'm loving this game and it's every bit the strong entry in the 2D explormer genre that its predecessor was. For the most part the expanded mechanics have either enhanced what was already great or have allowed the game to push certain elements - the combat, for instance - to hitherto unexplored levels of depth. Some of the more recent traversal skill acquisitions, despite some familiarity, have really expanded the fluidity and motion of what you can do and where you can go, given a conducive environment, and it's already hitting that point of any explormer where I'm flying through the parts of the game that aren't meant to be challenging and taking my sweet time with those that are. I fully intend to 100% this one too before I'm done, if only for an excuse to keep enjoying that smooth movement as I bounce from one collectable to the next.

    Rating: 4 out of 5. (I'm not sure what it is, but it just doesn't feel quite as sharp as the previous. The races, which on top of being unpleasantly difficult, work to really highlight the issues with the game's new traversal tools when you need them most. Little snags like the way the automated grappling process doesn't always work because it's too slow to highlight the relevant parts of the environment (or ignores them completely), or how it sometimes "forgets" to refill your stock of jumps and double-jumps if you just brush across a platform's surface instead of standing on it firmly. The graphics are certainly elegant, but the underlying cogs and gears are far less so; impressionism has often been a problem in precision-led platformers like this in the past for this reason, since it's hard to map - or intuitively parse - specific hitbox/collision contours onto something so... ethereal. Much of this could be the fault of the Switch port though which as mentioned has a few problems trying to keep up with the more powerful Xbox One original version.)

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    bigsocrates

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    #1 bigsocrates  Online

    I am perfectly comfortable with your use of the term "explormer." It makes a lot of sense and Metroidvania is problematic as a term (especially because it's not clear what Castlevania actually added to the formula.)

    I completely disagree with your categorization of Ori as an Indie game.

    This game was funded and published by a Trillion dollar corporation and one of the largest and most powerful companies in the video game space. I realize that it is not a AAA size game with hundreds of developers, but it's also not an indie by any reasonable definition. It's more like an AA or maybe A game. Yes it has a different published on the Switch, but it looks as beautiful as it does and has its lovely soundtrack and polish and all the rest because it had the resources of Microsoft behind its development.

    It doesn't invalidate your review, which is good, but it's a pet peeve of mine when games like this get called "Indie" because if a Microsoft published game (and not one they just picked up after it was developed but one they were involved in the development of throughout) can be indie than any game can be indie except, maybe, the very biggest AAA releases.

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    imunbeatable80

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    @bigsocrates: i like to think of "indie" as any game that is not Call of duty or "fifa".. so Battlefield, madden, and even Mario are all indie games in my head

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    imunbeatable80

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    @mento: i boight the big box switch physical version of these games.. they are truly wonderful. Great review as always.

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    Mento

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    #4 Mento  Moderator

    @bigsocrates: I've run into this issue a few times, and it's because we still don't have a sufficiently specific name for the smaller scale, less elaborate, typically digital-only game releases usually put out by independent studios because it's what they're able to produce with their budgets. It gets muddier still when, as you say, those put out by larger publishers tend to have more cash invested into their production and it clearly shows, yet are still - as Ori exemplifies - working within the confines of a relatively archaic genre beloved by the Indie tier such as 2D platformers or point n' click adventure games.

    I've covered Grow Home/Grow Up, Child of Light, Lara Croft Go, and others on here with the same technical disqualifiers that all nonetheless embody a similar spirit of frugality, brevity, and simplicity for the sake of a much reduced price tag; it's just a case of coming up with a better term for them.

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    #5 bigsocrates  Online

    @mento: Obviously you cover whatever you want to cover. I guess if I had my way I would have at least put a disclaimer in the body of the text or called it a "pseudo-indie game of the week" but how you handle it is up to you; it's your blog.

    What I will say is that I'm not sure that I agree with saying Ori embodies a spirit of "frugality, brevity, and simplicity." Is 2D platformer an archaic genre? Kind of. It's not as popular as it once was, but it still gets a ton of entries every year. Nintendo still makes plenty of 2D platformers and I don't think anyone would call those games indie.

    Is Ori brief? Well according to "how long to beat" it's longer than New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe and Kirby Star Allies, and about as long as Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. Granted it's an explormer and those tend to be longer than straight 2D platformers, but it's also longer than Symphony of the Night, which was kind of an AAA game back in the day.

    Was it made frugally? I have no idea. I wouldn't be surprised if it cost more than something like New Super Mario Bros. 2 given the fidelity of the graphics and the quality of the sound and overall polish. It certainly cost less than something like Gears of War 5, but Kirby Star Allies? Ori certainly has more detailed graphics and more complexity to it. According to Wikipedia Moon Studio has over 80 employees, which is pretty massive for an "indie" developer.

    Now you can, of course, argue that Ori was made by an independent team working for a publisher while Kirby was made by a more established team at HAL (which is not actually owned by Nintendo but has a long running relationship). Ori is cheaper than Kirby, but it has a physical release on Switch, which is $50, and it will probably eventually get a physical Xbox disc like Blind Forest did.

    I guess I just feel like the only category that makes it an indie is that it's not a huge eight or nine figure 3D game, and for me that's not enough. I agree we don't have great terminology for it other than a "Smaller" game, but I feel like it takes a little away from the true indies when we give that name to something that's not independent at all and is backed by a massive publisher, who also owns the IP. That's not to take anything away from Moon Studio, which has made 2 fantastic games, but what they've done is different from what small teams like Team Cherry accomplish on a fraction of a budget.

    I realize I've rambled on quite a bit, and in the end it doesn't matter. You categorize things however you feel comfortable. I just feel like a game made with Microsoft IP by a studio of nearly 100 people with Microsoft's backing can't be called indie. It almost certainly cost millions of dollars to make, and it had all the advantages that any second party title gets, from technical assistance and resources to a budget that probably dwarfs even the largest Kickstarter project. And that may not be AAA, but it also isn't indie.

    Thank you for allowing me to post my TED talk.

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    Kunakai

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    Mento

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    #7  Edited By Mento  Moderator

    @bigsocrates: Fair, and I realize my comments may have been vaguely insulting towards the game and the team of developers who worked on it. Perhaps the same argument might've flown better for Unravel, which was also a recent "Indie Game" of the week but a lot shorter and less elaborate than Ori.

    All the same, I still claim that Ori was a smaller game made in an older genre style to be sold for a comparatively modest sum; the buckets of money put into its gorgeous art style notwithstanding. It's less of a pure budgetary concern - the "A-Game" or "B-Game" argument - but more of what I guess I'd call a degree of ambition. Not to suggest Moon Studios weren't trying to make the best game they could, or trying to push the envelope with the visuals and platforming mechanics, just that the typical development goals for a 2D platformer made in 2020 are relatively humble ones. (That would probably include the New Super Mario Bros. series, Kirby, and Donkey Kong Returns since they were all less ambitious projects, but I'd get into a whole heap of unpleasant business if I dared to call any of them "Indie." Or "Nindie" for that matter.)

    "Ambition" is a really weird metric to use here though I recognize, and doesn't get to the heart of this elusive "Indie" tier since many of its games can be pretty ambitious. It's a strata of game development recently expanded by the advent of digital distribution that all developers are welcome to join, whether it's a single creator in their bedroom or a large team at a publisher-owned studio with its own arcade machine nook for use during downtime, and so far the only real constant is the lack of a physical release (unless you count Limited Run) or a <$30 price (unless it's an RPG or sometimes a strategy game). Which is to say there are no constants.

    Starting to think this might be a case for the Genre Dicks, a.k.a. the Bombcast.

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