There's a quest quite early on in Ori and the Will of the Wisps that neatly encapsulates pretty much everything that's so wonderful about Moon Studios' superlative sequel. Charged with making your way through a windmill in order to get its great big wheels turning again so the poisoned waters of Niwen may run clear once more, you find yourself traversing a fiendish gauntlet through a twisting, turning maze of spiked walls, spinning wheels, lasers, grapple points and angry enemies topped off with a breathtaking chase sequence which puts every skill and trick you've learned up to this point to the test as you attempt to outrun a screen-shaking monstrosity. It's a perfect example of the game's incredible environmental design as well as a showcase of its precise, intricate platforming and newly expanded combat, all of which meld together here to create one of the best platformers we've played since, well, since the last Ori game.
Taking place in the immediate aftermath of the events of Ori and the Blind Forest, this sequel sees our tiny little guardian spirit hero and his brand new owl friend Ku separated and lost in the wilds of Niwen. In time-honoured Metroidvania fashion, Ori is stripped of his abilities and it's up to you to make your way to your beleaguered little pal, rediscovering a vast array of skills and getting caught up in a quest to save the land as you go. Along the way you'll meet Kwolok, a great big toad who informs you of the current plight of Niwen, requesting your aid in helping clear the land of the infection and decay which has spread across it since the passing of the Spirit Willow.
Like the first game in the series, Ori and the Will of the Wisps manages to tell its tale in a wonderfully minimalist fashion with short cutscenes managing to convey a surprising amount of emotion – although it's really not too hard to feel for an injured baby owl lost and alone in a terrifying forest – however, in almost every other respect this is a sequel that expands on what was found in the original, with a more fully fleshed-out combat system and a greater array of traversal options and unlockable abilities at your disposal.
As you make your way in and around the world's map here you'll discover spirit shards – some of which you'll have bestowed upon you, others you'll have to buy using in-game currency. Spirt shards replace the old skill tree from the first game with Hollow Knight-style equippable perks enabling you to, for example, stick to surfaces, perform triple jumps, dish out more damage at the expense of lowered defences or have orbs dropped by enemies automatically make their way towards you. Just three shards can be equipped at one time to begin with, but this is upped to a total of eight as the game progresses, adding a nice level of diversity to proceedings and giving players a little control as to which aspects of Ori's abilities they wish to focus on and upgrade.
Alongside the abilities granted by spirit shards, Ori also has a much more robust array of attacks at his disposal in this sequel, with his Spirit Edge light sword making short work of most run-of-the-mill enemies. He also has a Spirit Arc ranged attack which can be upgraded over the course of the game – enabling him to fire multiple shots at once – and a hugely powerful Spirt Smash attack that can be employed to both grind enemies to dust or break open barriers that impede your progress. As well as this greatly expanded set of attacks, Ori can also now grapple, dash, dodge and launch himself around the screen and – after a bit of a sluggish opening hour or so where you're left to fend for yourself with very little in the way of traversal options – the game really comes to life as Ori expands his skill set, his new moves fusing beautifully with the intricately-designed platforming action.
Indeed, it's the wonderfully organic nature of the platforming here that's the real star of the show with the various gauntlets you're required to run fitting beautifully into the game's intricately handcrafted world. Every ledge you jump to, every branch you scramble up reacts to your presence, helping to really bring Niwen to life as you move through it. Platforms move dynamically under your weight, crumbling and shifting as you land on them, the surface of water ripples as you swim through it and leaves and branches move and sway as you barrel past. This really is one of the best-looking games we've ever clapped eyes on, with every area of its world absolutely dripping in detail. Ori is also a delight to control, his moves meticulously animated, and it's incredibly satisfying to manipulate him through and around obstacles, zipping to grapple points, clambering up walls, redirecting enemy projectiles to bash through barriers and dashing in and around his foes as he smashes them to pieces.
In terms of the Metroidvania aspects of Ori and the Will of the Wisps, the backtracking elements of proceedings are quite pleasingly downplayed here and you'll rarely find yourself particularly stuck or lost – certainly not in comparison to most other examples of the genre. You'll still find yourself heading back to earlier areas in the game – using the incredibly efficient fast travel system – and employing newly unlocked traversal options to gain access to hitherto unreachable secrets (upgrades for your health and energy or perhaps a new spirit shard that's tucked out of sight somewhere) but, for the most part, the flow of your journey through Niwen is a satisfying forward-march with the greatest tests you face being a handful of beautifully-crafted big boss encounters and the constantly challenging platforming action that makes up so much of this awe-inspiring world.
There are some niggling problems holding Ori and the Will of the Wisps back from ultimate glory, however. During our time with the game on Xbox One X, we encountered some pretty constant performance problems which seemed to get worse as the game progressed, with stuttering, hitching, graphical anomalies and some pauses which lasted a good few seconds when we opened up our world map or respawned after a death. It's unfortunate, and is something which we hope will be addressed in an incoming patch which has already been announced by the developers. Beyond this handful of unfortunate performance problems there are also one or two sections which err a little too much on the side of annoying trial and error – with one stealth sequence against a huge enemy proving to be a particular nuisance – and for as much as the combat has been expanded upon and improved here it can, very occasionally, feel a little scrappy, most especially when there are numerous airborne enemies attacking you in enclosed areas.
Overall though, and in spite of these niggling performance issues, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a resounding triumph, managing to retain all of the strengths of the first game in the series while successfully expanding on several fronts. It may not come as such an out-of-the-blue surprise this time around, but Moon Studios has nevertheless crafted another op-notch Metroidvania platformer here that's every bit as beautiful to behold and satisfying to play as its stellar predecessor.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is another excellent entry in the series that manages to build successfully on everything that made the original such a standout experience. With satisfying platforming, a handful of amazing boss encounters, expanded combat options and a story every bit as tear-inducing as its predecessor's, this is another outstanding effort from Moon Studios – as well as being one of the most beautiful games we've ever laid eyes on and easily one of the best platformers currently available on Xbox One.