I died 373 times playing through Ori and the Blind Forest.
During my 7.5-hour, two-day playthrough, I hurled a litany of obscenities that would make George Carlin blush. I shook my controller in rage. I freaked out my cat. I’m not proud of it, but I even called the adorable title character a “f—–g asshole!” Exclamation point.
And I loved every second of it.
Back in the day, video games used to be maddeningly difficult, designed to take your money one quarter at a time. But as the arcades closed up shop and we transitioned to home consoles, mainstream games gradually became easier and easier, virtually rewarding anyone who picked up a controller with a participation trophy (literally on PlayStation—its meta-award system consists of trophies). Thanks for playing, here’s 1000 Gamerscore!
There were tough games here and there—Ninja Gaiden and Super Meat Boy come to mind. But in 2011, Dark Souls came and battered players with crushing brutality, kicking off a difficult game renaissance that has since been embraced by indie developers with punishing games like Spelunky and Rogue Legacy.
But none of those games ever clicked for me. Dark Souls in particular, with its clunky controls and complete lack of direction, felt like it was sadistically torturing players just for the sake of it, and I don’t think that’s fun. If a game is so willfully obtuse that I have to consult a FAQ every five minutes, I’m going to lose interest quickly.
Ori and the Blind Forest is different, because it isn’t actively working to make your life hell. It controls beautifully, it explains its gameplay mechanics, and it’s difficult without being unfair. You will die a lot playing this game, and it will be all your fault.
Ori is ostensibly a “Metroidvania” game, where you gain new abilities that open up new areas to explore. But at its heart, it’s a really hardcore platformer, and each new ability gives you the skills necessary to conquer its insanely challenging obstacle courses—provided you have the requisite timing, reflexes, and dexterity.
It also requires a bit of patience, because there is an element of trial and error to the level design. Fortunately, developer Moon Studios wisely added a quicksave feature where you can basically save anywhere you want (when not in combat), and you’ll automatically respawn at that point. It took me awhile to get the hang of this, and I found myself frustrated having to replay extensive areas because I didn’t take the two seconds to save my progress. So save often to save your sanity.
And while the game can be incredibly difficult (I’m looking at you, Ginso Tree escape), it’s also incredibly rewarding. I felt like I gradually learned how to play, and that my platforming prowess increased with every new ability. Before I knew it, I was pulling off sequences that an hour earlier had seemed utterly impossible. It felt great.
The final level will test everything you’ve learned throughout the game. While I may have screamed at Ori and called him an asshole the 50 or so times I died trying to complete it, there’s no doubt in my mind that this is a great f—ing game. Exclamation point!