Goondu review: Ori and the Will of the Wisps

April 19th, 2020 | by Yap Hui Bin
Goondu review: Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Gaming
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Released five years after the highly acclaimed Ori and the Blind Forest, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a sequel that has plenty of improvements over the original, yet keeping the essential gameplay elements and challenges.

There are also the beautiful art, stirring soundtrack and adorable characters that made the original Ori such an endearing title. 

For this review, I played a review copy provided by Microsoft on the Xbox One using its controller.

I confess I am not a huge fan of 2D platformers since they can get me pretty frustrated and feel more like a punishment at times.

But having played Ori and the Blind Forest previously, and was impressed by the game’s atmosphere, music, beautiful landscapes and characters, I was looking forward to playing Ori and the Will of the Wisps.

And, just like before, after many hours of gameplay, hundreds of deaths (sorry, Ori!) and too many ill-timed jumps to count, my thumbs are now unusually smooth and rather sore.

Light in the Darkness

Ori, which means “light” in Hebrew, is an adorable cat-like guardian spirit capable of acrobatic feats like jumping and climbing.

In the Blind Forest, Ori was adopted by Naru, a plump, sloth-like creature, and Gumo, a four-legged spidery creature.

In the Will of the Wisps, the family welcomes a new member, a little blue owlet named Ku. Happy times passed in the little family as they tried to train Ku to fly, but she was hindered by her broken wing.

After mending her wing with what looks like tape, Ku took Ori for a ride but ran into a storm and were separated.

The game starts with Ori alone in an unfamiliar area and has to find Ku before the evil being in the form of a flying menace can harm her. 

Ori’s happy little adopted family all together, but happiness does not last long. From left to right – Naru, Ku, Ori and Gumo.
SCREENSHOT: Yap Hui Bin

Despite its charming landscapes and adorable creatures, the game is actually quite challenging and often brutal.

There is also a constant sense of foreboding in the game, with dark, shadowy creatures moving in the background which seem to be following Ori.

As Ori continues to explore and interact with other characters, you hear of a decay spreading in the forest and habitats, of creatures being forced out of their homes and even creatures that have been petrified and became stone statues.

Can you help the brave and agile Ori help to bring light into the darkness and help all the creatures by restoring their homes? 

Cute Friends and Fearsome Foes

The characters that Ori encounters in the world of the Will of the Wisps resemble creatures in Hayao Miyazaki’s animations – very unique, adorable and tend to articulate cute sounds instead of speaking.

Of course, the cuddle-worthy protagonist in the form of Ori also adds to the appeal. 

Meet cute and cuddle-worthy characters in Ori and the Will of the Wisps, including our intrepid protagonist! SCREENSHOT: Yap Hui Bin

While exploring, Ori will meet groups of Mokis, who resemble lemurs with big ears, Kwolok, an enormous frog that speaks of prophecies, and feathery-headed Grom the builder, who can build structures to further Ori’s journey when provided with sufficient Gorlek Ore that Ori has to collect.

Friendly creatures will also offer side quests for Ori to complete and rewards that are commensurate with the risk.

For the collectors among us, the Will of the Wisps also has an Inventory menu that lets you admire the quest items that Ori has collected, and the ones which are still outstanding.

But Ori’s world is a dangerous place with a great variety of foes abound. These include exploding slugs, spiky limpets, aggressive sandworms, oversized swarming mosquitoes, armoured beetles and snapping vines.

And of course, there will be scary Boss creatures that Ori has to either fight or flee from, making for very tense moments hindered by sweaty palms.

Some of them want to be used by you, some of them want to be abused – Ori and the Will of the Wisps features a wide variety of enemies that can either harm you or involuntarily help you get ahead. SCREENSHOT: Yap Hui Bin

Apart from enemies that attack Ori, the world is fraught with danger in the form of environmental hazards, which are often deadlier than enemies that Ori can attack.

Poisonous waters, spiky thorns, sharp icicles, explosive projectiles and deadly energy blasts that rob Ori of precious health are likely to cause more harm. In some places, the enveloping darkness that closes around Ori can be fatal.

However, if used wisely, some of the environmental hazards and enemies can actually help Ori solve puzzles, advance further and reach places that are otherwise inaccessible. 

Moving On Up

In the Will of the Wisps, the developers have expanded Ori’s abilities and upgrades over the first game. To purchase new or upgrade existing abilities, Ori will need to collect a sizeable quantity of Spirit Light Orbs.

These glowing orange orbs are dropped by defeated foes or are placed in hard to reach areas on the map that nimble Ori will need some fancy footwork to get to.

With Spirit Light orbs, Ori can purchase new abilities from characters like Opher, a monkey-like weapon master who can teach Ori combat abilities.

Ori’s abilities can also be enhanced in the form of equippable Spirit Shards which can be picked up on the map or purchased from Twillen, a pointy-headed merchant who can also upgrade existing shards that Ori possesses.

Friendly creatures like the builder Grom can help Ori advance further in the quests if Ori can provide the needed materials. SCREENSHOT: Yap Hui Bin

One feature in the Will of the Wisps that I really appreciate is the ability for Ori to select which Spirit Shards to equip at any time, including one that lets Ori regenerate health, which makes it a lot friendlier than the first game.

Also, the developers have removed the three-path skill tree for upgrading skills, which I thought was a good move as you are less likely to waste Spirit Light Orbs on abilities you don’t need in order to progress.

The game can get very challenging if Ori has not sufficiently developed the abilities, and a mis-timed jump will mean you need to replay the whole sequence again, so any enhancement in abilities can help Ori go a long way – literally.

Spirit wells are the most important finds in the game, as they can fully restore Ori’s health and energy, save the game and lets Ori fast travel by warping to another spirit well somewhere else on the map.

This is a real plus as many places require you to revisit but the process of getting there can be a pain to repeat.

Plus, once Ori has accumulated enough Spirit Light Orbs, it’s good to go back to the merchants at the Glades to purchase new Shards or upgrade existing ones.

Another improvement over the first game is the auto-save feature. In the Will of the Wisps, the game is saved automatically after making some progress.

This is unlike in Blind Forest where saving the game requires some amount of energy and the player’s own good judgement. So, no need to worry about clearing a really hard sequence but left with no energy to save the game any more!

The game also limits certain places Ori can explore by presenting obstacles in Ori’s path that requires a particular event to be completed before opening up the area.

You might encounter a sleeping bear blocking the path which Ori cannot access until the bear can be awaken, or underwater areas that cannot be accessed until the water runs clear.

Sometimes it’s not obvious what needs to be done next, so I always try to be sure there is a way back or at least a saved game to restore if things don’t work out.

Practice Makes Perfect – Sometimes

Don’t be fooled by the game’s cutesy appearance – this platformer’s complex level designs will make you try and cry over and over again as Ori missed the ledge by just a bit, or you lost focus for a split second, or your fingers slipped over the controls.

As with any platformer, it’s all about trying, failing, learning from the failure, then keep trying until you succeed.

The game offers many abilities and upgrades that let Ori traverse or manipulate the environment, projectiles or even foes to get to where Ori needs to go.

Examples include Burrow where you can dig into sand and propel out into the air, the upgraded Ultra Grapple where Ori can latch on an enemy, Triple Jump which lets Ori jump three times higher, and Dash that lets Ori propel sideways in midair.

One of the harder abilities to master is Bash, where you have Ori jump on a projectile or enemy and point to the direction where Ori will jump to within a limited time.

This is useful in kicking the projectile or enemy off in the opposite direction to blast open new entrances, and also for continuous jumps in places with only anchors and no safe landing spots. 

The world of Ori and the Will of the Wisps is fraught with danger, with sinister beings out to harm Ori and friends. SCREENSHOT: Yap Hui Bin

The game does quite well in letting you get some practice until you are relatively proficient before plunging you in the deep end with a fast paced sequence with no chance to pause.

There are segments that make Ori use Bash and Dash non-stop all the way across a series of timed projectiles or swaying dangly lanterns – one slip means Ori might perish and you have to start over, so knowing the sequences and timings by heart is critical.  

The biggest problem is exploring a new area without being equipped with the right skill and getting stuck.

I did get Ori stuck underwater with no easy way out, as I didn’t get a skill to jump out of the water, no thanks to my attempts in trying to find an unconventional way into an area.

Fortunately, I could quit the game and look for the “Backup Saves” option to load an earlier save. The price to pay was losing some progress and having to replay a sequence to collect an item, but at least there was a chance to reverse out of a bad situation.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps’ design is challenging, punishing and often brutal – one slip often means instant death. SCREENSHOT: Yap Hui Bin

Some sequences are particularly unintuitive, frustrating and seemingly impossible to figure out. For these, I did have to consult walkthroughs after countless failed attempts.

At times, things that are critical to Ori’s survival are not clearly called out and may look like part of the background, which makes it easy to miss. On other occasions, it felt like sheer luck getting past certain sections, which I lack confidence that I will succeed again.

One instance of the dumb luck I had was when an enemy happened to kill itself on thorns and gave Ori some health just before Ori took damage before narrowly clearing the section and triggering the auto-save. 

A Treat for the Senses

One thing that Ori and the Will of the Wisps didn’t change from its predecessor is the quality of visuals and music score, which are the highlights of the game.

The beautiful, hand-painted landscapes and superb animation makes this 2D platformer feel a lot more immersive than other platform games.

Your eyes will be treated to subtle and realistic details – you can see the wind caressing the leaves and vines, almost feel the spray of a waterfall on your face, and feel the hairs at the back of your neck stand up as Ori passes close to a menacing creature.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps features beautiful, hand-painted landscapes, stirring music and adorable characters. SCREENSHOT: Yap Hui Bin

Ori and the Will of the Wisps’ score is beautiful, stirring and moving, adapting beautifully to suit the different moods that Ori is in, whether it is a hopeful, tearful or fearful moment.

As Ori moves into different environments of the game, the music adapts as well, whether it’s the safe havens of the glades, stagnant marshes, windswept deserts, frigid snowy mountains or dark, sinister forests.

Even when I am not playing the game, I play the soundtrack in the background while I am working at home. And certain pieces evoke such strong memories of the game that I find myself shaking my head in disbelief at how I finally managed to get past that sequence.

TL;DR

A beautiful 2D platformer that’s a treat for the senses but its punishing and occasionally unintuitive puzzles can be a real pain.

The spectacular hand-painted art, masterful score, as well as the charming characters help to alleviate the frustration somewhat.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is worth playing for those of us who are gluttons for punishment or love a challenge. Just don’t lose your cool, be consumed by frustration or injure your thumbs. 

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is available for S$39.75 via digital download at the Microsoft Store here for Xbox One, Windows 10 and Steam versions.

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