Every year the Polygon staff chooses 10 excellent games to award our Game of the Year honors, but that means some games we love don't quite make the cut. As with last year, we're running a series of opinion pieces by members of the Polygon staff explaining why certain games earned top marks from them even if they didn't make our staff-wide Game of the Year list.
The truth is, I'm part of the problem.
When Ori and the Blind Forest was first released in March of 2015, I didn't play it, and I have no good excuse for why that is. I had seen some videos and loved the look. I had heard it was a "Metroidvania" style exploration-focused game, which is one of my favorite genres. And I had listened to my colleague Arthur Gies raving about the game non-stop, both in and out of his excellent review.
But despite that all I didn't play Ori and the Blind Forest in March. I also didn't play it in April. Or May. Or all summer or through the fall. I didn't finally get around to loading up Ori on my Steam account until this month, just a few weeks ago, as I worked through a list of games I decided I had to try out before turning in my Game of the Year votes.
Within half an hour of starting Ori and the Blind Forest, I had one thought screaming in my head: Why did you wait so long, you dummy?
a strong start
Part of my immediate, forceful reaction to Ori was the game's unforgettable first 10 minutes. I've heard it compared to the tearjerker opening of Pixar's classic, Up. But rather than me describing it, you should really just watch it for yourself:
How fantastic is this? It gets across this beautiful, powerful story without the need for voice acting or lengthy exposition. Heck, there's barely even any words — just enough to set the stage for the game to come.
Compare it to the opening for another game I loved in 2015, but one that wasn't nearly as emotionally effective: Fallout 4. Here's a game that gives you around half an hour — three times as long as Ori! — to get to know and care about your player-created, husband-and-wife couple and their son, Shaun. You have the freedom to explore their house, get commentary on their suburban lives and engage in a bunch of dialogue and interaction.
And yet within all of that, Fallout 4 never managed to actually make me feel connected to these people. Maybe it was the weird, mechanical facial animation or the heavy-handed dialogue. Maybe it was the lack of a strong musical track to carry the emotion — something Ori is an expert at taking advantage of.
Whatever the reason, I just didn't get pulled in in the same way, which meant I didn't much care when tragedy struck my loved ones in Fallout 4. Meanwhile, Ori had me biting back tears in minutes.
what about the rest of the game?
The good news is, Ori isn't a one-trick pony. I'm still working through the game — I'm just over the half-way point after about six or seven hours of messing around — but it has absolutely made an otherwise slow month for gaming one of my favorite of the year.
As previously mentioned, Ori and the Blind Forest is all about exploring lush 2D environments and then unlocking new powers so that you can explore even more. It employs some really intense platforming challenges, where you need to combine double jumps, wall jumps and bouncing off of creatures in the environments. It's ruthless, and I've died a lot while playing it.
If you missed it in 2015, don't do so again in 2016
It's a testament to Ori's brilliant design that I've never become too frustrated, even in areas where I die over and over. A few people on Twitter have told me that they gave up at some point, unable to complete a certain challenge or unwilling to keep throwing themselves at it. So far, I haven't felt that way.
A lot of my comfort with the game's level of difficulty is thanks to its clever checkpoint system. In addition to a small number of set save points spread throughout the game's levels, you can choose to spend some energy to place your own checkpoint. This energy is technically a limited resource, but it's abundant enough that I've learned to not be shy about throwing down new checkpoints fairly often.
I won't say that Ori's gameplay is transcendent in the same way as the opening minutes. But it absolutely is fun, polished, challenging and excellent — all the superlatives that any real Game of the Year contender wants. So it's a shame that it went under the radar of our staff and, it seems, a lot of gamers.
A "definitive edition" of Ori and the Blind Forest is planned for release in spring of 2016. This version will add new content as well as tweaks to the existing content based on fan feedback; maybe some of the more brutal segments will be a little more forgiving for those who had trouble this time around. But as long as that definitive edition maintains the beautiful soul at the heart of Ori and the Blind Forest, I implore you: If you missed it in 2015, don't do so again in 2016.