Let’s get the obvious out of the way then, shall we? Yes, Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas has borrowed quite a lot from a certain other famous series – The Legend of Zelda can be seen throughout, quite clearly. But does that mean it’s, by default, a bad game? Not at all. If you want to create a great experience, you look at the best in the industry for a few hints on how to do that. So that’s what the game’s developer, Cornfox & Bros., have done.
The isometric Oceanhorn features the puzzles, combat, and exploration you’d very much expect from a developer who’s been inspired by Zelda. In particular, The Wind Waker is the ultimate muse here – we even get to see our young protagonist sailing triumphantly across the impressively rendered ocean. However, Oceanhorn isn’t a soulless cut and paste affair, make no mistake, it’s full of its own charm, character and heart.
You’ll need to discover and sail to new islands to get anywhere in the game. We say sail, but this is pretty much an interactive loading screen with the ability to fire at enemies with your gun while you wait. In other words, you don’t control the boat like in Wind Waker and you can’t freely explore the oceans – this is not something we expected from a small indie title, but it’s worth pointing out. Once you arrive at these islands you’ll sometimes find towns where you get to meet the friendly folk in Oceanhorn. Mingling with these people helps to flesh out the story and culture of the world as you search for your missing father. You’ll be able to buy items, such as heart pieces and arrows, in the shops you find as well.
Over the course of the ten hours or so that Oceanhorn lasts, you’ll encounter puzzles that consist of placing objects onto switches, blowing up secret walls, setting alight torches and pushing boxes into the correct place. There were very few times where we found ourselves stumped by the puzzles – they do repeat the same ideas quite often – but they were still fun to solve. The dungeons, where most of these puzzles can be found, aren’t overly complicated either, but they’re still rewarding to complete, especially as making your way through each of them grants you a power-up that enables you to advance further in the game. These upgrades include the ability to throw bombs, shoot arrows or even conjure spells and are useful in battles.
The combat, that can be found everywhere in the game, is simplistic though. Most times it does feel as if you can blindly mash the attack button, with very little in the way of strategy, to win. Lobbing a volley of bombs at your clumsy enemies is equally efficient in this regard. The one saving grace of the battle system? The experience you acquire after you defeat foes (and complete in-game challenges), allows you to level up and gain new perks. This is something we really liked, and it helped to differentiate the game from its evident inspiration.
Oceanhorn has landed on the Switch four years after its iOS debut, so by now the character models – and their facial expressions – are a bit dated. However, the overall presentation is impressive on the hybrid console. The game runs seamlessly at 60 fps / 1080p in docked mode and at 60 fps / 720p in portable mode, (both look great, although we mainly played on the Switch’s lavish screen for comfort). Visually then, what you’re getting is a clean, colorful and bold image – it’s certainly the definitive version of the game.
Oceanhorn’s soundtrack is a treat to the ears as well. Backed up by industry legends like Nobuo Uematsu, (Final Fantasy) and Kenji Ito (Mana), along with Cornfox’s own talented Kalle Ylitalo, it won’t be long before you start appreciating the music this group has created. From whimsical and heroic themes, to dark and mysterious ones, there are some beautiful, and powerful, compositions in here. You can get a taster below of the main theme, composed by Uematsu himself.
Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas is an enjoyable game, and it’s perfect for those just getting into the action-adventure genre. It doesn’t quite hit the lofty heights of a Zelda title, but it’s a damn good attempt that’s full of soul. The combat and puzzles might be too simple for those expecting more, but the stirring soundtrack, great visuals and sheer amount of love that has gone into the game mean it’s defintely worth a go.