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‘Ori and the Will of the Wisps’ is an enjoyable sequel, but doesn’t build the original’s energy

“Ori and the Will of the Wisps." (Xbox Game Studios)

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Developed by: Moon Studio

Published by: Xbox Game Studios

Available on: PC, Xbox One

“Ori and the Will of the Wisps” is the sequel to one of the more vibrant platformers of the last decade. Like its predecessor, “Ori and the Blind Forest” (2015), it marries inviting, cartoony visuals, with robust platforming challenges that make the most of the game’s responsive controls. Think of it as a twenty-first century iteration of the 1990s mascot-driven sidescroller — equally tough and cutesy. The new game hasn’t cast the same revelatory spell on me as the first Ori but I’ve enjoyed crisscrossing its large map in tried-and-true Metroidvania-style.

The Will of the Wisps opens with Ori, a floppy-eared forest spirit, and its closest companions, Naru and Gumo, doting on an owlette named Ku, the youngest member of their cohort. Because of a malformed wing Ku is unable to fly more than a short distance, which leaves her feeling dejected and her friends at a loss as to how to help. That is, until Ori remembers that among its possessions is a wing from Ku’s mother, Kuro, Ori’s deceased, one-time adversary from the first game. After the bigheaded, thin-limbed Gumo ties the wing onto Ku, the owlette takes to the skies with Ori on her back and falls into the company of a flock of birds. As the two travel further from their homeland they spot in the distance a dark, foreboding, wooded landscape. A vicious storm then kicks up with gale-force winds that fling the pair apart.

Players spend the first part of the game searching for Ku. Ori must travel back and forth through a shadowy, overgrown forest full of thorny vines and eager foes (among them are flies with long, stinging proboscises) — fighting, cavorting, and solving puzzles with the usual means: throwing switches, finding door keys and the like. Early in the game, ability upgrades are dished out at a fast pace so one doesn’t feel hamstrung for long. Ori has a wider variety of skills at its disposal than in The Blind Forest. I’ve yet to discover any that make The Will of the Wisps feel radically different, but to be fair there are things that I’ve yet to discover in this game, which is much bigger than the original.

Alongside swappable skills — for example, the always useful triple jump or the ability to stick to walls — Ori can gain a number of permanent upgrades by visiting forest shrines, like a dash ability that allows for short, horizontal sprints or a grapple that hooks to certain surfaces. (A neat, swappable skill can be found that permits Ori to grapple onto enemies.) Of these abilities, I still think Ori’s bash mechanic is an inspired design choice. Bash, which allows Ori to jump in the way of an incoming projectile and use it like a springboard to propel itself off the projectile or redirect the projectile to break barriers, gives the Ori games a unique feel — a need for purposeful recklessness.

Ori’s suite of abilities coupled with the tightness of the controls makes The Will of the Wisps especially tactile to play — it stuffs your hands with things to do. Though I’ve been impressed by the breadth of its level design, the game’s visuals have left me feeling ambivalent. I loved the art style of The Blind Forest, which drew inspiration from the animated films of Hayao Miyazaki; however, The Will of Wisps has struck me as sometimes beautiful and sometimes overblown like a fantasy calendar from the analog days.

To its credit, the artwork consistently works to create the impression of stupendous depth — foregrounds, middle grounds and backgrounds are all lavished with attention. Yet, while traveling across the sun-dappled region of Inwater Marsh, for example, the profusion of colors on display more often stuck me as so florid as to be distracting. By contrast, the subterranean murk of the Mouldwood Depths where transluscently-winged shapes lay in the distance, is, indeed, stunning to behold. While the artwork has been hit or miss, I’ve found the story to be altogether negligible thus far. Given that The Will of the Wisps is such a challenging game, one might hope that the writing wasn’t exclusively geared to tots (“The Wellspring was once the home to a great library, Ori. Knowledge flowed like water through its walls.”), but I’ve yet to come across a good quip or a nice turn of phrase over the twenty or so hours I’ve spent helping Ori cleanse the forest of “Decay.”

“Ori and the Will of the Wisps” is a traditional video game sequel. Expect more abilities, a larger map, and more colors than in the first. I hoped to see a touch of subversion to its formula instead of strait-laced augmentation, but it’s easy to make peace with such complaints.

Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.

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