Ori and the Will of the Wisps Review

I would give Ori and the Will of the Wisps a glowing recommendation; it hits all the right notes in terms of gameplay and controls, wrapped in a beautiful musical score and an art-style that would give Bob Ross a run for his money; but I can’t. As much as I would love to recommend this game, it needs a lot of work on the performance front. It stands on the precipice of greatness but falls short in the most important aspect of all. This game is incredible, but also very disappointing.

A sequel to the 2015 “Ori and the Blind Forest”, it surpasses its predecessor in so many ways while staying true to what made the first game so great. You follow the adventures of Ori, a guardian spirit who finds herself on an adventure in a strange land outside of her home of Nibel. She, along with her owlette companion Ku, fly far across the sea only to be stricken down by inclement weather and trapped in this foreign land. Ori and Ku struggle to go back home after being separated and Ori becomes entangled in an adventure to restore the land from the corruption that had long since consumed it. The story is very emotional, and I even shed a tear when I reached its gripping conclusion. Moon Studios just knows how to tug at the heartstrings of anyone who is fortunate enough to play through the game in its entirety.

The combat has been refined and smoothed out with a fine-toothed comb. No longer are you limited to the Spirit Flames that served as the primary attack in the Blind Forest. Now, Ori has access to a versatile assortment of weapons giving the player freedom of choice in a variety of play-styles. These weapons include, but are not limited to, a sword that slashes away at enemies quickly, a bow that provides range, and a cumbersome hammer that can destroy enemies’ armor and shields. Combat is much more pleasant in this sequel and empowers the player where the Spirit Flames did not.

The platforming should also be praised. Movement is buttery smooth, and each platforming sequence feels perfect in every sense of the word. If you are competent with the controls (and after playing some of the more challenging sequences in the Blind Forest, you should be) you can achieve these incredible platforming feats with such grace and fluidity. It is a masterpiece to behold. There were moments where I would initiate a sequence of jumps and launches and just be amazed by the mobility of the character, almost in disbelief that I input what I was witnessing on screen. It wouldn’t be unfair to say this may be one of the best platformers on offer in 2020.

The art is breathtaking to say the least. Each individual frame of the game can be screenshotted and would make the perfect desktop background. This is the perfect example of games as an artform. Side scrolling backgrounds are masterfully hand drawn and are bursting with color. Landscapes are jaw-dropping and awe inspiring, creating environments that are so full of life. This game, along with its predecessor, are two of the best-looking games I have ever laid my eyes on. It’s pure perfection.

The musical score contributes to the flavorful landscapes in the best way. It is all orchestral tunes that elevates the gameplay to a whole other level. The music howls at you as chase sequences pick up the pace and lulls you to sweet serenity when leisurely exploring the beautiful environment. The art alone is beautiful. The music alone is beautiful. The combination of the two is like Reese’s chocolate and peanut butter, and I honestly could not imagine one without the other. Not only is this one of the best-looking games I’ve seen, but the music stimulates the senses in ways I never thought possible. Expertly orchestrated, from a visual and auditory standpoint the execution is flawless.

And that brings me to my one and only complaint about the game, and boy is it a doozy. Ori and the Will of the Wisps is plagued with performance issues at nearly every turn. It stutters often, especially when transitioning into a new area. This is almost game breaking, and heartbreaking for an otherwise perfect title. At about the 8-hour mark I was frustrated by the constant slowdown and stutters. In one instance the game even crashed on me and I had to load into it from my last checkpoint. I was overwhelmed with anger and frustration that I thought about hanging my hat with this one and finishing my playthrough there, but I persevered and made it to the end, and I am glad that I did. This game desperately needs a patch. I would give it a perfect score were it not for these persistent performance issues. As it stands, this game is incredible but these issues in a 2020 release, and published by Microsoft at that, is unforgivable.

While Ori and the Will of the Wisps exudes perfection in almost every objective angle, where it faults is in one of the most important areas of a video game. I would not be surprised if many people put this game down out of sheer frustration, but I implore anyone giving this title a go to persevere through it, because the ending really needs to be experienced. If you can look past its flaws, there is so much more here than can be described. I believe that an almost perfect score is appropriate for an almost perfect game.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 4/5

Story: 5/5

Graphics: 5/5

Replay Value: 4/5

Total: 23/25 or 92/100

Dead Cells Review

It is rare to find a gem, so masterfully crafted as Motion Twin’s Dead Cells. It is the epitome of an amazing game. More so if you own a Switch and want a game that you can jump in and out of on a whim, anywhere, any time. It is of the highest pedigree and should not be passed up no matter what platform you own. Metroidvania and Roguelike elements blend so delightfully to create one seamless whole that is far greater than the sum of its parts. In short, Dead Cells will have me chasing the proverbial dragon for many months to come. It is my introduction into the Roguelike subgenre, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The game revolves around the central, headless character, whose shtick is that he cannot die. Whether he likes it or not, he is constantly revived at the end of every run. A funny reminder of this is the stacks of dead bodies in the mutations room, presumably those of the fallen hero. This sets the stage for the narrative to intertwine with the fundamentals of the genre, making perfect sense to an otherwise nonsensical plot-hole that I can only assume most of its predecessors have fallen through. Again, this is the first Roguelike I have played, but I thought the gimmick was handled quite well while being a little tongue-in cheek.

The prisoner is on a mission to slay the king, who is likely to blame for his incarceration. As you roam the winding passages of the underground holding cells, it becomes clear that you are not alone down here. An outbreak, called the Malaise has made many sick; and worse, has turned some into horrible mutations that you must slay your way through to get to the next area. Along the way you will find little tidbits of story scattered here and there within holding cells and chambers that are stumbled upon seemingly at random. These mostly serve to emphasize the hardships that those residing underground have faced. It is not uncommon to randomly spot hanging corpses and putrid carcasses. It is all handled with a dark sense of humor however, often rewarding these finds with a drumstick or kebab to replenish a bit of health.

The game mechanics are also air-tight. Responsiveness in controls and abilities make the player feel powerful, allowing a skilled player to never miss a beat, and a rookie to feel like he could become a skilled player. A mishmash of rolls, double jumps, and a plethora of pick-up abilities all culminate in a delightful experience that remains unmatched. No other game has made me feel the way Dead Cells makes me feel. Like I can accomplish anything within this world, and if I can’t, I’ll have another go at it with little to no consequence. Sure, the Roguelike elements mean that many of the items and powerups will die with you, but the abilities that do carry over are enough to give a nice sense of progression. The cells as a currency was fine tuned to make you feel that no run is a wasted effort.

The games graphics and sound also add something indescribable to the experience. It is done in a pseudo-16bit art-style that is really nice to look at, with a wide range of color pallets that keep the game looking fresh, be it for a five-minute run or a 30 minute one. The music made me feel like I was in a dystopic world, often ramping up whenever a more difficult enemy or boss was standing before me. The sound effects too did not disappoint. Every swing of the sword that landed, or every twang of the bowstring felt satisfying and rewarding. Ultimately, the sound and art-style were handled perfectly and with fine craftsmanship.

This game is highly replayable on top of all that has been mentioned above. The whole point is to repeat playthroughs, progressing slowly at first, and faster when you get the hang of the game and can put in longer runs. The cells can be spent on a variety of abilities and weapons, and there is almost always something to strive for. The more desirable abilities will cost more cells, encouraging further playtime. This is one of those games that is just so hard to put down, and when it is put down, it is not too long before it is picked back up again. I cannot emphasize enough how fun this game is. A must own in any video game library. It’s a perfect game in my book.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 5/5

Story: 5/5

Graphics: 5/5

Replay Value: 5/5

Total: 25/25 or 100/100

Control Review

On occasion, a video game comes along and turns logic on its head. Control does exactly that through the supernatural and incomprehensible themes littered throughout Remedy’s latest action game. It is a journey best experienced at a slow pace, leaving no stone unturned as the multitude of collectibles are discovered. Patience is key as you stumble your way through narrow corridors with the hope that you’re on the right track; and if you are, this game will inevitably derail you.

You are Jesse Faden, a woman on a mission to find her missing brother Dylan, leading her to the Federal Bureau of Control’s doorstep. The entire game takes place within the walls of the FBC, but these walls are not always static. As you progress through the game, some walls will take shape to open passages for further exploration. This happens by cleansing control points. The FBC has been overrun by the Hiss, interdimensional beings with no sense of physical boundaries. They invade the minds of Bureau agents, turning them into scary, alien-zombies all while distorting the building itself. By cleansing certain Hiss-infested areas, order is restored to the world around you. Gaining this power to fight the Hiss through her promotion as Director of the Bureau, Jesse wields an otherworldly weapon that is crucial toward her survival against all manner of enemies she may face. While the main story unfolds in a manner that is sure to confuse even the most out-of-the-box thinkers, the true narrative is revealed through hidden files that remain scattered throughout the building. It is in reading these files that clarity is shed on the issue at hand, so skipping these details is not recommended.

Control rewards exploration, sharing elements with what some may call a Metroidvania. Meaning you will be traversing some areas multiple times with new abilities to help you progress in a different direction. While it may prove to be tedious to some, the controls and movement make traversing these landscapes a pleasure. I am always elated whenever a game is so responsive as to completely immerse me. And Control truly controls like a charm. There is fluidity to the movement, and it feels so responsive that it emulates a one to one response from the button input to the on-screen character’s reaction. Add the character’s supernatural abilities to the fray and you have yourself one bad ass, immersive experience. The game truly makes the player feel like a superhero. The glaring issue that I combated during my playthrough of this game was the consistent drops in framerate whenever a menu was closed. And here is where I say there is no game without its flaws. The immersion created by a precise control scheme was counteracted by these framerate drops, reminding me that I was in fact playing a video game, and not actually throwing concrete with my mind. With some minor graphical issues compounding this, it was hard not to notice these flaws.

Don’t get me wrong, this game is pretty. It’s impressive how the facial expressions and all-around graphical mastery of emotive responses elevate this game. It is for this reason it actually seems to be a pleasure to interact with the Bureau’s occupants. That is, if they are in focus. And that is my biggest complaint about Control’s visuals. It was too often that I ran ahead of the game’s ability to speedily render the world around me, making things out of focus, and in fact leaving some characters looking like someone trying to create a snow angel in midair. This occurred multiple times in the same area, and I found myself purposely triggering it because it was just that ridiculous. This game takes itself very seriously, so when there’s something as laughable as this, it really changes the mood and atmosphere the developers have tried to create.

Speaking of atmosphere, the FBC is an incredibly ominous and creepy place. From the floating bodies, to the creepy orientation videos, to the musical ambiance, I was deeply unsettled. And the music plays well into this unsettling feeling. Not only was I terrified when I first heard the ambient tunes around me, but the use of silence is just as terrifying. I’m in a cafeteria, there’s no noise but my footsteps. Suddenly I come across a radio and I turn it on. The music spewing from the radio’s speakers catches me off guard and I immediately want it to stop, in fear that the Hiss may hear it too and come to devour me. These moments truly make Control shine and there are enough of them throughout the progression of the main missions to satisfy. Most creepy of all however, definitely goes to the mumbles and “hissing” in the distance as incantations are being recited with no real discernable sense to them. It is within this lack of comprehension of what is being uttered that is profoundly disturbing. That unsettling feeling is what separates Control from other games, and it persists long after the final mission is completed. It is rare to witness such an incredible use of sound in a video game, and for that, my hat’s off.

While not giving me much of an urge to replay this game from the beginning, the experience I had with Control was very enjoyable. The game is not without its flaws, but they can mostly be looked passed when judging the game as a whole. From the sound and convoluted story, to the incredible voice acting, this game should not be passed up.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 5/5

Story: 4/5

Graphics: 4/5

Replay Value: 3/5

Total: 21/25 or 84/100