Developer: Cornfox & Brothers
Publisher: FDG Entertainment
Before I start; yes, this game is heavily inspired by The Legend of Zelda series. It’s a wonder how this game is still on the market, considering how stingy Nintendo is with their properties. Don’t go assuming this game is the same quality as a Nintendo product though. The people at Nintendo are masters of their craft. Not just anyone can develop a quality Zelda or Mario game. Play Oceanhorn and you’ll see what I mean.
You wake up and find a lost necklace passed down from your family, and soon learn that your family has a past with a certain monster named Oceanhorn. Your father went missing trying to bring down the monster, and now it’s your turn. Long ago, your hometown, Arcadia, was involved in a war that robbed the light energy of Arcadia and replaced it with dark energy. This is when Oceanhorn invaded and wreaked havoc.
This is about as deep as the story goes. You encounter NPCs along the way that have quite generic responses.
There is minimal violence. You use a sword and shield to pummel enemies before they fall on their sides.
Oceanhorn is playable with a mouse and keyboard, but best when played with a controller. I used a wired Microsoft Xbox 360-style PC controller during my play-through. The user interface shows your four action buttons (X, A, B, Y, if you’re using the controller), along with trigger(s). Once you find the sword and shield, you use X to swing the sword and the trigger to use the shield. The majority of the game involves breaking pots, chopping down grass, and defeating enemies, such as crabs and trolls. The A button (or space) is used for interaction, such as when pushing blocks or picking up pots or stones to throw them. The right analog stick controls the camera, but only ever so slightly. I found it extremely disappointing that the camera only moderately swivels, maintaining the game’s 2.5-dimensional camera. A full 360-degree camera would be useful for looking at environments and working out puzzles. I felt like I was missing out on a lot of the setting, due to this limitation.
The most fun to be had in Oceanhorn are in its puzzles. Between pressing switches, placing objects on switches, and moving blocks around strategically; this game gets the classic Zelda-style puzzles down pat. Not only do they exist in the game’s caverns, but they are also all over each island. There is fun to be had in the puzzles on each generic island, though the islands are relatively small and have a hit-or-miss platforming feel to them. The “platforming” is problematic at best. For instance, sometimes you can go up a level without a ramp; other times you can’t. Sometimes you can go “down” a level; other times you can’t. It is frustrating, trying to traverse an island when you don’t really know which path you can or can’t take. Trial and error method is your best friend in this respect. A jump mechanic would have been extremely appreciated.
While you traverse each unique island, there are three mini-challenges that give off a mobile game-type vibe. These are partly side-quests that add a bit of replay value if you have already conquered the island. Typical challenges are: “Bounce 15 enemies off your shield” or “Collect 25 coins.” The coins are used for buying things at shops. You can buy hearts (health) and bombs, among other things. Bombs are pivotal in Oceanhorn, as the game relies on your finding secret, explosive-revealing grottoes within walls. Unlike The Legend of Zelda, however, I couldn’t find anything distinctive that would tell me a bomb could be used on a particular wall. You find rare quarters of hearts in special places, and completing a heart gives you another heart in your total health. There are also rupee-like collection items called “gems” that are used to upgrade your character (which just gives you a new title like “Master Apprentice,” etc). Do you want to play an actual Zelda game yet?
When traveling between different islands (which you will be doing a lot of), there is an automatic boating mechanic in place until you upgrade your boat to do more than just sail. For example, you can upgrade your boat with guns so you can take out enemies in the water, eliminate mine traps, and break lost ship debris, which gives you coins and bombs. The aiming of the gun needs refinement because it isn’t very touchy or accurate. It feels like the edge and surrounding parts of the analogue stick axis are mapped to the controls, so if you want to only move a smidge, you have to make a quick flick all the way to the end of the stick axis, as opposed to just moving the stick a tiny bit in a certain direction.
The world of Oceanhorn looks beautiful and bright. Luscious water surrounds every island and rushes under your boat as you glide around the sea. Gritty particles of sand cover the plains of your exploration. Even the background score is filled with soulful clarinets and flutes. If nothing else, the aesthetics is where Oceanhorne best emulates a Zelda game. The whole presentation feels good, but also awfully familiar.
During actual gameplay, you will be scavenging more of Windwaker-type environments that look cartoony and three-dimensional. The User Interface (UI) shows your controls the entire time, exactly as was done in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. When the rare time comes for some story elements, there is solid voice acting, but these moments are few and far between. Most NPCs just give you text to read. The bevy of different islands in Oceanhorn present different races of NPCs, which is interesting, but just too familiar; for example, there are rock golem people and water people, a la Gorons and Zoras.
Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas is painfully close to what we have seen before, but doesn’t do it half as well. Between smashing pots, picking them up and throwing them, chopping grass, collecting heart quarters, seeing your controls in the UI, opening chests (followed by an almost exact mini-cinematic, reminiscent of Zelda), and so on, Oceanhorn is just a carbon copy of better games. Just look at the generic, uninteresting main character–he’s like Link’s younger, would-be, brunette brother. I gave this game many chances, and it let me down each time. If you want to play a Zelda game that’s been stripped of its soul, look no further.
The Bottom Line
Oceanhorn makes promises of greatness, but doesn't come remotely close to keeping them.