We are living in troubling times. Here in the UK we are in our third national lockdown to try and stop the spread of COVID-19, and, with no firm end-date, who knows how long it will last. It’s both a trying and tiring situation, although there are silver linings with the vaccine rollout. Bingeing on all manner of media entertainment and struggling to muster the will to regularly exercise are my two main symptoms of lockdown limbo. And I know I’m not the only one. “Normality” seems a long way away, and with the chilly winter in full flow, quality escapism provides some small relief.
This post is about comfort gaming with a good old fashioned 2D game.
Let’s not get ahead of myself though. This story starts with me playing about 10 hours of The Witcher 3, my very first time trying this beloved game. Ordinarily 10 hours is a good whack of time but in Witcher 3 terms I’ve obviously only just scratched the surface, there’s so much here. This far in I generally-overall-for-the-most-part like it. I hardly know where to begin when talking about it, but hey, here goes: it’s a well written, open world action-RPG with a surprisingly deep playing card minigame that I’m crap at…? The ambition of the open world is really something, with not just one but multiple vast maps to explore. One thing I don’t like, just like in the GTA series, is how much time it takes to simply travel from one location to another – there’s a lot of essentially following GPS instructions on your horse.
Even though the Switch has become my main console of late and I’ve increasingly neglected my older consoles, I still gravitate towards retro-inspired games or indie games that have the air of the familiar about them. After taking the plunge with The Witcher 3, at a certain point I started craving a known quantity, something more suited to quick ‘n’ easy sessions.
I turned to Ori and the Will of the Wisps, a 2D Metroidvania with plenty of charm and a heartfelt story. I really craved a 2D experience – 2D felt so friendly compared with The Witcher 3. Sometimes I just want to run to the right as some fantastical creature. Preferably while hopping and bopping baddies.
Ori certainly scratched that itch – controlling the titular character feels great, especially as you upgrade your abilities. The platforming is highly satisfying and challenging, definitely the highlight of the game for me. The level design and combat are good throughout, albeit not as consistently stellar as Hollow Knight’s (which still gets the nod for my fave Metroidvania).
Another high point is the overall presentation. Ori was funded by Microsoft, like Cuphead before it, and as such the production values are much higher than the norm for this kind of game. As a result of dat budget and some great art and music direction, everything looks and sounds ultra-lush.
The story meanwhile is reminiscent of earnest family films, and I was genuinely surprised by how it wears its heart on its sleeve. While Ori obviously owes a great debt to the world of film, it’s great to play a game that explores wholesome territory and takes it seriously. Core themes and ideas around love, parenthood and the beauty of the natural world aren’t something I see very often in games, not unless it’s buried under several layers of irony.
Dark themes are certainly common in the Metroidvania genre, which skews toward darker sci-fi and horror. It’s also true of Witcher 3, which features buckets of gore and a fantasy story that is decidedly medieval-dystopian. Which is to say, life is extremely cheap for the majority of people you meet during your quests, there is an extreme deficit of hospitality and kindness, and tragedy and villainy are everywhere. I don’t mind dark settings and themes generally, but in the current circumstances I wanted something more inviting.
Rest assured, in Ori there are no chest-bursting aliens, no menacing hill-top castle, no abusive spouses, nope, none. There is instead a pint-sized spirit, Ori, reviving a mystical forest full of cute, downtrodden wildlife to its former glory. Of course there is danger and even a tragic villain, but we’re not exploring moral ambiguities or cycles of violence here – we are searching for Ori’s little lost owl friend who can’t fly on their own!
And there is the story of how I turned to 2D gaming for some relief during these troubled times. Here’s to running to the right. I hope everyone out there is doing well and finding their own ways to manage at the moment.