[Review] Ori and the Will of the Wisps – Nintendo Switch

  • Developer: Moon Studios
  • Publisher: iam8bit
  • Release Date: 17/09/2020
  • Price: £24.99 / $29.99
  • Review code provided by iam8bit

Introducing: Ori and the Will of the Wisps Switch Review

Ori and the Blind Forest was an instant hit when it first launched 5 years ago, and benefited from a huge popularity boost when it landed on Switch last year. While it was said that the sequel to this indie darling would never come to Nintendo’s hybrid console, it has made the leap somehow, and so the question has to be asked; was it worth the wait?

Listen to the Whispers on the Wind

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is certainly a game of emotional storytelling; within the first few minutes of firing it up, there were already silent tears streaming down my face. The opening scenes were so delicate and poignant that they plucked at the heartstrings despite the very minor amount of spoken information – they’re so excellently done that it’s entirely obvious what’s occurring without needing to be told. 

There are small fragments of story dotted about the serene yet unsettling forest – between the mysterious clearings occupied by beautiful spirit trees, chittering little inhabitants, occasional merchants, or guardians such as the giant Kwolok, everyone has a story to tell. There’s a certain joy in not knowing what you’ll learn as you go along – the smooth transitions between gameplay and cutscene give no indication that you’re entering a scripted section until something out of the ordinary occurs, and it’s a wonderful anticipation.

Dance with the Breeze

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a platform-adventure Metroidvania with a major focus on exploration – there are so many sections that you can’t access until quite a while after you encounter them that it’s mildly annoying at first. That annoyance is quickly offset, however, by the joy of realising that with X new ability you can now go investigate all these little nooks and crannies you couldn’t get to before! The assortment of spirit shards, which provide either a passive buff or an active ability, unlock everything from a triple jump to wall-climbing.

It consists of the standard platformer mechanics of running, jumping, and otherwise making your way across a series of challenges to reach a goal. The abilities add new possibilities – for example, being able to climb walls to reach previously inaccessible areas or smash a bridge to smithereens to get to a lower area. There are some precision movements required, but for the most part it’s relatively flexible which is good for someone with my hand-eye unco-ordination!

Perfectly Evocative

There’s one word for the overall graphic design of Ori and the Will of the Wisps: beautiful. Even the darker, dingier areas have a certain otherworldly quality, with odd moments of beauty peeking through the gloom and alluding to how wonderful it could have been before. Colours are vivid or muted, depending on the tone of the area, and everything is so wonderfully designed that I’d happily vanish into that world. Ori is ethereal, glowing so brightly against the more earthly tones that the uniqueness of the protagonist is clearly highlighted.

The sound design for the game is on point. The serene background music is interspersed by various environmental sounds, such as the padding of feet or the soft “poh” as an enemy spits something. Occasional crescendos add gravity to more intense story moments, and a quickening of the pace ups the ante of miniboss encounters without deviating from the overall vibe of the game.

I tried playing docked and handheld, and found identical performance on both. The animations are butter-smooth with no noticeable input lag or issues, which would really stand out considering the very naturally-flowing movement of Ori. Sound was crisp and clear, with no jumps or stutters when moving location or interacting with something. With the incredible detail and higher enemy counts in some areas I almost expected some loading issues or graphical stuttering, or at least my Switch growing warmer, but was pleasantly surprised – even after a couple of hours play, the unit was barely even warm!

Can’t go further forwards? Have you tried going backwards?

I’m not good at platformers, by any means, and can quickly grow frustrated at my inability to progress. However, in Ori and the Will of the Wisps, after stepping back and thinking about it I came to the realisation that I was simply trying to access an area that I didn’t have the skill for yet. When I could no longer go forwards, I went backwards and explored a different location. The relatively frequent autosave means that failing a set of obstacles doesn’t necessarily set you back too far, and each failure taught me something new until I could beat the section and move on. It’s challenging, don’t get me wrong, and once or twice I walked away in sheer annoyance only to have a lightbulb-moment and come trotting back for another attempt.

A Heart-Wrenchingly Beautiful Experience

I never played Ori and the Blind Forest, and am almost scared to go back and try it now. Ori and the Will of the Wisps is the most enjoyable platformer I’ve played in a long time – beautiful design and gorgeous sound are always a draw for me, and the smooth transitions between movements made me smile in genuine joy. The sheer emotion that permeates every fiber of the game caught me by surprise, and really drew me in: there were tears in my eyes so often that my partner eventually stopped asking what was wrong. Progression never feels stunted, as there’s always something new to go find thanks to the spread of abilities, and if a section feels impossible it probably is for the time being.

I’ve been absolutely spoiled by this game, and will be wholeheartedly recommending it to anyone who’d care to ask. It’s not my usual preference of genre, so I doubt I’ll be revisiting it after completion, but the time spent with Ori has been wonderful and liberating.

Pros

  • Beautiful graphics
  • Emotional story and soundtrack
  • Butter-smooth motion transitions

Cons

  • Long initial load time
  • Feels slightly cramped in handheld due to the level of detail

Verdict
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a beautiful and emotional journey that shot a glowing white arrow straight into my heart.

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