There are certain sorts of games that seem right on a hybrid platform like the Nintendo Switch. Metroidvanias have always been one of them. There’s something about a game where you’re constantly able to do and see more as you explore and unlock abilities that translates well to a system where you can play it on a big TV or all cozy on a smaller screen somewhere. The Ori and the Will of the Wisps Switch port is a game where it not only fits perfectly on the system, but works in sublime ways you would never expect.
Ori begins on an optimistic tone, which quickly turns sour. Ori is living with Naru, Gumo, and a new owl friend named Ku. We watch this family grow together, though there’s a pallor over their happiness as Ku longs to fly, but can’t. After Gumo and Ori help fashion a fix for Ku’s injured wing, Ori and Ku set out on a flight together. Which… leaves them separated, stranded, and in danger.
It’s also a perfect excuse for any Metroidvania staple, which is starting out with nothing and building up to something. You quickly lose the ability to Glide, due to being separated from Ku and the feather. And so, the game is organized in such a way that eventually Ori will gain abilities that let you reach more places. Eventually, Ori will learn to burrow into sandy spaces or grapple onto flowers. You might become better at battling and surviving after buying the ability to throw Spirit Stars or finding out how to regenerate health.
It’s a fairly typical sort of platformer, though one where everything feels tight, responsive, and perfectly plotted out. Ori is able to jump, drop, and scurry through the forest seamlessly. Areas get more precarious as you venture further, which makes sense since prior locations prepare you for it. You’ll find yourself needing to collect items to appease people or reach new locations. Enemies will start out rather basic and mostly harmless, but eventually become real threats that you have to be prepared to fight. It doesn’t do anything super unconventional or new, but it is satisfying.
And, with this sequel, there are features that feel even more in tune with a Switch lifestyle. The save system is a bit different this time around. In Ori and the Blind Forest, you saved at Spirit Wells, fast traveling was only implemented later, and you could create Soul Links with energy to act as a checkpoint. Here, the Spirit Wells are back and immediately act as fast travel points, but the game frequently autosaves. How frequently? You have 10 backup saves ready to help you out. It works very well for someone perhaps playing on the go.
A lot of what’s going on with Ori and the Will of the Wisps is building. The story is more intense and we have a greater sense of connection, since we know who Ori is at this point, the bonds they have with the people they love, and the challenges they face in Niwen. It feels like the platforming is tighter, the enemy design makes as much sense as usual, and you’re more equipped to seek out those little extra rewards and skills to let you reach places you maybe couldn’t before. (And all those saves and fast travel options certainly make it easier and more encouraging to do so.)
It also helps that it feels smooth and natural. Now, while Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a very pretty game on the Switch, it isn’t as gorgeous as the Xbox One or PC versions. You can tell that the sacrifices made to make this port happen knocked things back a bit. This is especially true in darker areas, like the Inkwater Marsh where everything kicks off. But while that price was paid, it otherwise functions so effortlessly that it can feel like a good trade-off. Whether I played docked or in handheld mode, it stayed at 60fps. Ori practically sailed across the screen and gently flowed when I would use combos or tumbled through areas.
Though, if you are playing it portably, I would say that the audio takes a hit as well. There’s only so much the Switch’s built-in speakers can do, unfortunately. But then, it still has this incredible and lush soundtrack that really helps hammer home those absolutely heart-wrenching moments. (And oh, boy, does Ori and the Will of the Wisps have a lot of those.)
Ori and the Will of the Wisps being a great game isn’t something that’s exactly hard to contest. It’s gorgeous, offers a gracious challenge if you let it, and builds on the prior’s foundation both in terms of story and mechanics. The Ori and the Will of the Wisps Switch port is fantastic fun and the sort of title any Metroidvania fan should own. Is it as gorgeous and great as its big siblings on the Xbox One and PC? No, but it comes very close and excels in other ways by letting you play it anywhere with some minor sacrifices.