Mobility Game Review – Ori and the Blind Forest

Ori and the Blind Forest is a great platform game with an emotional story at its core, wrapped up in beautiful visuals and music. This is our Mobility accessibility review.
Ori and the Blind Forest Cover

Ori and the Blind Forest is a platformer game developed by Moon Studios and published by Microsoft. It tells a beautiful and moving story of Ori, a light spirit, through a mix of music, text and colorful visuals but with a personality and charm that sets it apart from other titles. Like most platform games it requires well-thought movements, fast reactions and precise timing.  Whether you are traversing the different scenarios by jumping from platform to platform, avoiding enemy attacks or climbing up rocky walls and trees to solve the next puzzle, the game offers a great challenge and a rewarding gameplay experience. With this general idea of the game, let’s take a look at the accessibility for people with mobility issues.

Settings

Entering the Help & Options menu we have three tabs on the left side. All menus and settings can be fully navigated using the mouse, keyboard or gamepad. The right mouse button acts as the Escape key allowing us to go back / exit to the main menu.

All options in the game such as Resolution, vibration and volume sliders, Damage Numbers, Brightness and Contrast

In Settings, we have a mix of options related to visuals, sound and gameplay. We can change the resolution, switch between windowed and full screen, adjust the volume for sound effects and music separately… The vibration adjustment uses a slider allowing us to fine-tune it instead of using the common on/off values.

Ori wandering a dark forest, a small number 2 shows the damage received by an enemy

Damage Values displays numeric values as floating text briefly when you get hit. This option is helpful to keep track of your health amount and eliminates the need to look at the bar on the bottom of the screen. I think it’s a nice idea but it would be better if you could customize it a bit more. Maybe the size of the numbers or how long they stay on screen. You can also disable Motion Blur, always a welcome option to prevent motion sickness. You can select your Language, which applies to all in-game text from menus to subtitles. You can enable disable VSYNC and adjust the brightness and contrast using a couple of sliders.

Control scheme for gamepad controller

Next, we have Controls. Here you can select between three methods to control your character, Controller, Keyboard and Keyboard & Mouse. The two options that use the keyboard have two variants, QWERTY and AZERTY, for different types of keyboards. All control schemes are fixed.

The keyboard control scheme displaying the keys for all inputs
The keyboard and mouse control scheme displaying the keys and mouse buttons for all inputs

The major difference between the mouse and non-mouse schemes is that the mouse buttons take the Spirit Flame and Bash functions, and the WASD and cursor interchange their move Ori and navigate menus functionality. Unfortunately, as much as this variety of methods is always good it can’t overcome the lack of key remapping, and without it, the game becomes impossible to play in most cases for gamers with mobility disabilities. All the controls are hardcoded and their position makes playing the game very difficult/borderline impossible for one-handed players too.

The last tab is a Leaderboard option showing scores, nothing related to adjusting anything.

Gameplay

Ori in a swamp preparing to dodge the incoming proyectile fired by a worm looking enemy

The essence of the game is a journey through the different sections of the map, each with a clearly recognizable design, overcoming the obstacles that appear. The levels require a thoughtful approach as enemies, puzzles and landscape obstacles are mixed in a clever way to always bring an increased level of challenge. At first, you only can walk and jump but as you progress new possibilities are added, such as the ability to fire at enemies, double jump, grab and push/pull objects… At the same time by destroying enemies and collecting spirit light fragments you can unlock different passive upgrades to help on your adventure. Some increase your life or attack damage while others have a more practical function like making spirit light fragments be collected from a distance or revealing the collectibles position on the map view. Personally, these helped to reduce the number of movements I had to perform, and such helping with fatigue.

Ori holding on to a branch, he looks tired, with captions saying - When cries were met with silence

You might have noticed I didn’t mention any subtitles option, and that is because all voiced dialogue and narration in the game are performed in an imaginary language and is presented on screen as text.

The Spirit talking with Ori saying - The heart of the Ginso Tree once kept the Element of Waters safe but now it's corrupted, all foul and decayed

While these work for me, I can’t help to think a Text-to-Speech option would help players with other needs, and the text should have a few options to change size or add some background for better readability. Like in this example.

  • To move you use the WASD or cursor keys. Holding down up or down allows you to look in that direction, causing the screen to pan. To jump you must press and hold the Space key. The longer you hold the higher you jump and of course to jump in a direction you must hold down the direction too. Some places, such as tree branches can be jumped down by pressing down and jump.
Ori pulling a big rock to climb over it
  • To grab objects, such as levers or rocks, you hold down the Shift key and press or hold the direction you want to move the object.
  • To fire at enemies you must press the X key / left mouse button once per shot. To use Charge Flame you hold down the X key / left mouse button and release then.
Ori receives the Wall Jump ability and a text explains how to perform it
  • To Wall Jump, you hold down a direction and press the jump key repeatedly. To Bash, you hold down the C key or right mouse button and use the left / right directions to rotate the arrow indication to your desired direction. Time is frozen during this. To Glide you must hold down the Shift key and press the direction you want to move towards.
Ori saves progress using a Soul Link
  • You can save at any time by creating a Soul Link. You do this by holding down the E key. To access your ability tree you press E while in contact with one of such Soul Links. The Ability Tree can be fully navigated with keys or mouse.
The map displaying the legend on the left side
  • To access the map you press the Tab key. You can navigate it with both keys or mouse but zooming in / out can only be done holding down the Ctrl and Shift keys. In the same manner, to switch between your current objective and displaying your position you must press the F key. Finally to show/hide the legend you have to press the L key.

There are many more abilities such as Dash, Double / Triple Jump. As much as I wanted to list all the inputs I couldn’t as the game puts a great strain on my hands and I had to stop playing, especially in places where you are chased and need great speed.

Conclusions

As the game is right now it needs improvements. First and foremost, fully remapping of the keyboard/gamepad controls, for both gameplay and menus. Then options to change holds to toggles for as many actions as possible, as this puts a level of strain in the player hands that is simply too much in some cases or just not doable. Just those two things would increase the accessibility exponentially.

The lack of key remapping was solved using a third-party software to do it. Even with that, many actions require holding down and pressing directions, which I could only manage through the use of voice commands and other tools. It is a frustrating experience when these barriers prevent gamers from completing or even playing such a wonderful game. Every time I faced a barrier created by the control scheme I had to find an alternative way to do it, but once that was out of the way the game is fun, challenging and rewarding.

There are a few positives though. The mouse controls are well designed for menus, with good use of the right button to go back. The game also offers different difficulty modes that make you take less damage and enemies less durable. Having some sort of control over game speed would have been great, allowing us to adjust the game to the player’s reaction time without removing the challenge at all. The ability to save the game anytime is also a great feature, although its dependency on having enough energy available can be a problem.

Hopefully, these issues will be addressed in the upcoming sequel, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, making it a more accessible experience for gamers with mobility difficulties.

Mobility Game Review - Ori and the Blind Forest

Overall Score - 4

4