Ori and the Will of the Wisps (Switch) Review
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch
On 17th September, Moon Studios’ second outing, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, surprise dropped on the Switch. Originally released in March on PC and Xbox by Microsoft, Nintendo fans finally have access to the atmospheric Metroidvania platformer, previously heralded by many as an absolute masterpiece. Things haven’t changed.
Much like Ori and the Blind Forest, the narrative begins with a seamless series of heart-wrenching cutscenes, this time following Naru, Gumo and Ori as they raise the hatchling of the deceased antagonist of the first game. They name the owlet Ku, and in the first of a Finding Nemo-like turn of events, she is born with a broken wing. Ori attaches a feather to help her fly, but on their maiden voyage the two are separated by a raging storm. As the main gameplay begins, Ori must manoeuvre his way through the forest of Niwen to find Ku and bring her home.
What follows is some of the smoothest, most responsive gameplay I’ve seen offered on the Switch, period. Ori starts off with few abilities, but steadily gains more through acquiring Spirit Shards, some of which are upgradable. These are rewarded after sidequests, encountered at Ancestral Trees, or bought from a slightly unsettling NPC called Twillen. But it’s from the moment Ori equips Spirit Edge – a quick cut of light not dissimilar to Blind Forest’s main weapon, adapted to feel more saber-like – that the game’s combat takes off. I typically relish more brutish gameplay, so stuck to the satisfying Spirit Smash, even amidst the delicate audio-visual tapestries of Will of the Wisps; for those less keen on melee, a bow of light called the Spirit Arc is a great alternative. Essentially though, the customisable Spirit Shard system allows for any type of player, in any situation the game can conjure.
Another brilliant adjustment made from the game’s predecessor is its more aerial focus. Its automatic hover-attacks are sublime, as is its Bash technique, whereby Ori can launch himself off dangling bulbs, hostile projectiles and even enemies themselves. The game’s overall increased verticality is reminiscent of recently successful indie platformers like Celeste – it’s evident from its trailer that the second Hollow Knight game, Silksong, will prioritise a more acrobatic style of gameplay as well.
The difficulty has definitely been upped too. Not particularly in its map – finding the way forward is still relatively undemanding – but in its bosses and escape sequences. Apart from the simple fact that they’re beautiful (we’ll get to that later), they often take multiple attempts to get through, which brings with it an intensely rewarding feeling when you do eventually pass it. Blind Forest’s Soul Link system (where the player chooses when to save using an energy point) is completely done away with, which is an interesting choice considering how core it was to the first game. I, for one, am happy to see it go – too frequently I would get frustrated with myself for not saving when I should have. Instead, the game automatically saves at certain checkpoints. These are usually quite kind, though Ori does occasionally respawn right in the middle of a nest of enemies, which can prove a little tricky.
Something else which really lends life to Will of the Wisps is its vibrant world-building. This is partly owing to the utter volume of NPCs introduced: some who sell Ori maps and Spirit Shards, others like the Moki who pop up all over the map to point the way or initiate side quests. On entering the Wellspring Glades, it almost resembles the Village in Shovel Knight – with a more densely populated world, the map starts to resemble a huge living organism with separate operating parts. Each subsection of the forest (be it Inkwater Marsh, Luma Pools or Silent Woods) feels self-contained in its own inner-workings and optics.
Not least due to the game’s terrific visuals. Much like Blind Forest, Will of the Wisps employs parallax scrolling, wherein an illusion of depth is created through the background layers moving past the camera slower than foregrounded ones. But here, the glow of floating air particles, dynamic use of colour, and beautiful cutscene direction all endow the title which that much more immersive magic – like something out of a Studio Ghibli film. Even with the relatively limited graphic capabilities of the Switch, an astonishing amount is achieved: I would go as far as to say it’s one of the best looking games currently on the console.
It may even be the best sounding one, too. Will of the Wisps’ soundtrack is not only stunning – the kind of stuff that’ll stay with the Journey soundtrack on my work playlist forever – but also immensely diverse. Other than the hauntingly angelic vocals overlaying the main theme (much like Blind Forest did, but better), the sheer variety of instrumentation and ambience is great: personal highlights include the subdued piano of Inkwater Marsh and the jaunty Harry Potter-esque danse macabre that follows Ori throughout the warreny junctures of Kwolok’s Hollow.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a perfect sequel: one that rivals the second Paddington movie in the one-upping of its antecedent. It takes every single little thing from Blind Forest and tweaks it to allow for a more expansive, majestic, and heartfelt narrative gaming experience. Of course the Switch version makes the game look a lot more attractive for those wanting to play on the go – but it’s what Will of the Wisps does for the Switch that really matters here. It proves that a multi-platform game can make just as much of a lasting impression ported to the Switch as it can on a higher spec console.