When people talk about their deep love for 2015's Ori and the Blind Forest, I just bolt my mouth and look up at the ceiling. I don't dislike Moon Studios' critically acclaimed metroidvania: It's certainly a beautiful and heartfelt game that deserves its accolades. It's just that scurrying around in the titular Blind Forest as the little spirit Ori never clicked with me in the same ways as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and other favorites in my genre.
In that light, I was understandably a little worried about reviewing Blind Forest's follow-up, Ori and the Will of the Wisps. It's difficult to stick with a challenging game if you can't form a connection with its main character and the world they live in. Why should I bother navigating a hero through endless hell-mouths lined with spikes if I don't really care?
Thankfully, my fears were for naught. I immediately bonded with Ori and the Will of the Wisps, though it's difficult to articulate why Will of the Wisps feels right to me where Blind Forest didn't. It might be because Will of the Wisps is much more battle-focused, arming Ori with a wide selection of powers and weapons.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps' story picks up where Blind Forest left off. The egg that ended up in the care of Ori and his family hatches, and we meet an adorable owlet named Ku. Ori and Ku become fast friends, and time passes peacefully as the little owl grows up. On the fateful day Ku learns to fly, he tries to take Ori along, but the two are blown way off course. They wind up separated on an island afflicted by a dark, creeping "Blight" that threatens to snuff out the island's green if light isn't returned to the land.
Will of the Wisps' themes of balancing light and dark powers is reminiscent of the first game. In fact, Will of the Wisps should feel familiar to fans of Blind Forest. The sweeping fantasy landscapes still look like something straight from the pages of The Neverending Story or The Chronicles of Narnia, though I don't recall any instances where the Pevensie had to hop and glide through a gauntlet of spikes killer beetles.
Don't mistake Will of the Wisps' familiarity for dullness, though. The game's platforming demands sharp senses and encourages you to coil and spring at all the right moments, like a hunting cat. Unlike the first game, enemies are everywhere in Will of the Wisps. Blind hacking and slashing will only lead to your death, especially early in the game. The trick to triumphing is to watch your enemies' movements and retaliate at the right time with the right skills or weapons. Besides Ori's default spirit sword, my preferred means of attack is a spirit hammer that sends enemies flying with a beautiful thud. Better still, Will of the Wisps grants you the opportunity to upgrade your weapons and powers, as well as acquire new ones when you visit certain tutors and vendors. If an attack isn't making the impact you desire, an upgrade might do the trick.
Will of the Wisps' large weapon selection, upgrade options, and razor-sharp response time melds together in a platforming experience I thoroughly enjoy. As you progress through the game, Ori acquires unique abilities that help you surmount obstacles and scale cliffs. In time, you're able to grapple onto moss, fling yourself off marked hotspots, dig through sand, and leap out of the water like a little dolphin. When you chain these moves together to overcome otherwise impassable terrain, you're rewarded with an unparalleled sense of satisfaction. I even found Will of the Wisps' perfect response time ideal for snagging enemies' projectiles and throwing them back in their ugly faces.
Despite Will of the Wisps' beautiful flow, I died a whole lot. I died to enemies, I died during chase sequences, I died when I slammed into innumerable spiked walls. Thankfully, frequent checkpoints give you the stomach to try again after every failure. When I came across a tough challenge, I set my jaw, leaned forward, and gave it my all until I overcame. For the most part, Will of the Wisps plays fair. When you die, it's almost always your fault. You just have to steel yourself and try again.
I'm personally fond of Symphony of the Night and Super Metroid because fighting enemies is your main priority. There are instances of tricky platforming, but they're secondary. What sets Ori and the Will of the Wisps apart from these classics is that it offers satisfying combat and an intense platforming experience. It's a great combination, and I'd love to be able to call Ori and the Will of the Wisps one of my favorite games of the year so far. Unfortunately, I can't. Despite its dreamlike visuals, soothing soundtrack, and wonderful level design, Ori and the Will of the Wisps suffers from some seriously detrimental performance issues, particularly on the Xbox One S, which was the console on which I played it.
Even with the day one patch, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is frequently plagued by slowdown on Xbox One. In some areas I would simply stop for three seconds at a time. I had a bad time fighting a spider boss who chucked bugs and projectiles my way, causing the action to dip down to less than 15 FPS at times.
The interesting thing about Will of the Wisps' technical problems is that everyone I talk to experiences them, albeit in different ways. Unsurprisingly, the game runs more smoothly on PC and the Xbox One X, though as Digital Foundry discovered, its performance is still far from perfect.
There's a chance Moon Studios will fix Will of the Wisps' performance problems in the coming months; it released a patch before the game's launch, though I found the patch just made my review copy chug harder. At the time of this writing, there aren't any additional patches available. Unfortunately, in its current state, and as an Xbox One S experience, I have to ding Will of the Wisps. I don't expect perfect performance in games, but whereas a little slowdown won't hurt you in an RPG, it's definitely a black mark against a game that expects you to jump, slither, and climb with the reflexes of a boa constrictor.
It's a disappointing shortcoming against a game I'd love to award a perfect five. Again, I prefer metroidvanias that offer intense combat versus tricky platforming, and Will of the Wisps dishes up both in perfect measure. Moreover, it wraps up its well-balanced experience in stunning, windblown landscapes and delivers its narrative through expressive characters. There's so much to recommend here; it's just that the performance issues cast a noticeable shadow over the bright and irrepressible Ori. Definitely give Will of the Wisps a try, but preferably on the Xbox One X or a good PC. Otherwise, maybe wait until Moon Studios patches things up for Xbox One S users.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps serves up a balanced meal of combat and platforming that captured me immediately. I'm not a big fan of the first game, but Ori's weapon wheel and slick maneuverability turns Will of the Wisps into an irresistible ballet. Unfortunately, performance problems on the Xbox One S in particular bring down a game that is otherwise almost perfect.