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What makes a good metroidvania? A cohesive world that's just big enough to get lost in, but not so large that moving around in it becomes a pain, is a must. Exciting new power-ups and a constant, engaging sense of progression is also vital. Movement and combat need to be fast, inventive, and fun, too. Otherwise, exploring and fighting - two of the things you'll be doing most in a game of this kind - will get old fast.
I'm happy to report that Ori And The Will Of The Wisps delivers on all of the above and so much more. The sequel to Moon Studios' critically acclaimed 2015 Xbox One adventure is a game that has perfected the art of the metroidvania. In the few hours I had with it, I came away captivated and completely charmed.
But where most developers would be content with providing yet another well-made metroidvania, Moon Studios have taken Will Of The Wisps one step further. The studio could easily have rested on its laurels and put out Blind Forest 1.5. I mean, the original game was brilliant enough that I'm not sure anybody would've minded if that's what they did. But this new entry is a bold, brilliant, gorgeous game with heaps of new ideas all of its own that it can't wait to share with you.
Those that never played Blind Forest needn't worry. While Will Of The Wisps features characters and callbacks to the events of the original game, this is largely a new and self-contained adventure with very little baggage.
That's not to say fans won't be delighted to be back in Ori's charming, fairytale world. A world that looks better than ever thanks to some gorgeous 3D environments, by the way. This is still a "2D" style game, but the new environments lend Will Of The Wisps a pleasing, immersive level of depth that helps to make the forests, mountains, and caves feel more alive than ever before.
Within the first hour or so, you'll have found a small handful of new and returning abilities that open up the world in exciting new ways. It moves along a brave, confident pace - this is a classic sequel, firing on all cylinders.
Of these new abilities, my absolute favourites were the soul bow and the spirit sword. Both completely overhaul the imprecise and occasionally clunky combat of the first game, bringing a new flavour to proceedings. The sword, in particular, is a fantastic addition that actually put me in mind of fellow metroidvania, Hollow Knight.
This new melee-based weapon lends encounters a crunchy, bouncy feel as Ori is forced to dodge and, crucially, pay more attention to exactly where an enemy is. It also gives Ori an awesome DuckTales-style downwards stab attack. That's always a bonus in my eyes.
With a renewed focus on combat comes more fearsome boss battles. Naturally, Moon Studios has pulled no punches in this department. Early on during my time with the game, I struggled for several attempts against a massive beetle enemy with a boss-sized health bar... only to be told a little later on by one of the developers that this was actually only a mini-boss.
While I didn't come face to face with any "proper" boss battles during my playthrough, I'm told there are some large-scale, multi-phase fights that should impress and terrify in equal measure. Based on the beetle mini-boss, which relied on working out attack patterns and finding the best window in which to strike, I can't wait to see what other cinematic threats Will Of The Wisps throws up.
Meanwhile, the bow allows players to strike from a distance, but relies on an energy meter. The upshot of this is that you'll have to ration the skill, and other similar attacks while in combat. Once again, there's a focus on paying attention to your enemies as you're forced to aim. Using the weapon in mid-air slows down time, Breath of the Wild-style. The bow also factors into some great puzzles, with Ori having to shoot a number of switches in one dungeon-style area, making sure to hit them in the right order and at the right speed to progress.
That effortless combination of platforming and exploration is one of the things that made Blind Forest such a joy, and it's vastly improved here. With movement abilities like rolls, dashes, and double jumps unlocked within the first hour or so, Will Of The Wisps delights in mixing in some fiendish yet delightful platforming challenges as you move from A to B.
Like Celeste, Super Meat Boy, and other fine 2D platformers of the last few years, Will Of The Wisps imbued me with an incredible feeling of skill. Stringing together all of my abilities to clear massive gaps and navigate dangerous paths felt incredible. The word "fluid" gets thrown around a lot when describing movement in video games, but controlling Ori really does feel like steering a particularly adorable raindrop through a deadly world - one that leaps and pirouettes through the air with pleasing grace and responsiveness.
I should also say that, despite my comparisons to Celeste and Super Meat Boy, Will Of The Wisps doesn't throw up anything quite as difficult as some of the absolute gauntlets seen in those games. That's not to say it won't as we get further into the game; but there are difficulty levels and optional checkpoints. This should be an accessible experience regardless of whether this is your first or hundredth metroidvania.
I also want to very quickly touch on Will Of The Wisps' approach to saving. Honestly, it's leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor's restrictive (and really rather frustrating) system. Where the original game required you to manually save at the expense of energy, Will Of The Wisps has mercifully included an autosave feature.
This means that if you forget to create a save point after a particularly challenging section (which I'm sure we all did at some point playing Blind Forest), Will Of The Wisps creates a checkpoint for you. Not having to worry about saving constantly means that we can just enjoy the world Moon Studios has created - and what a world it is.
Basically, if you liked Blind Forest, Will Of The Wisps looks to be an incredible improvement in every way. Considering Blind Forest was one of the finest games of 2015 - and one of the best metroidvanias around - that's really saying something. It feels like the kind of game that could only have been made by a studio at the top of its game, and that completely understands the characters, worlds, and challenges people expect from such a title. Absolutely look forward to it when it launches in March for Xbox One and PC.
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