First impressions are everything, and mine was that Oceanhorn looks and plays a lot like Zelda: The Wind Waker – which is no bad thing – but can the Monster of Uncharted Seas craft out its own identity?
A request from your father sets you on a journey to learn about a fearsome monster of the deep – Oceanhorn – each island is made up of an isometric area built from squares of varying heights. While simple, each island is constructed so that a route through is not necessarily obvious, with plenty of secret areas containing valuable loot.
Upon landing on each island three new challenges are revealed. Rather than restricted to that island, each of the challenges can be completed during your overall progress in the game. By slaying enemies and completing each challenge XP is awarded, which goes towards your character’s adventurer title. Each new title rewards different abilities, like increasing the total number of arrows you can carry at once.
Beyond exploring each island and battling the many enemies, there are dungeons to explore and various environmental puzzles to solve. Dungeon crawling through the various island locations soon becomes a rinse and repeat affair. Environmental hazards that require you to have certain skills aren’t enough to make each dungeon feel different enough, with the exception of the Whispering Isles, which was not only fun to explore but had the best set of puzzles to solve.
At times it’s not obvious as to where you should be headed, exploring each island that has been marked on your map is sometimes the only lead you have into where you should be headed next. There’s no adventurer’s log and no icon marking important locations.
I found Oceanhorn to be a bit too simple. Death is only a minor setback and your items can easily be refilled by hitting clumps of grass or ceramic jars, which respawn anytime an area loads. Boss fights were hit and miss too. Each boss lacks narrative or character, with one fight in particular feeling far too cheap. The final boss was also rather easy – possibly a hang over from being a mobile release.
What Oceanhorn does have going for it is a great art style and superb musical score. With some slight tweaks to gameplay and some adjustment to boss fights, Oceanhorn could have played so much better on console, instead it feels far too much like a mobile port with little attention to the possibilities that a controller could bring to combat mechanics.
With plenty of influences from the Wind Waker shining through, Oceanhorn never steps out from Zelda’s shadow. The charm of its characters can’t keep up with those from the Great Sea and the trek from island to island via boat isn’t as fun as the Wind Waker, and while the world is full of charm, it just doesn’t feel as alive as Link’s.
The initial charm of Oceanhorn wore thin, underneath is a Zelda lite game that while fun, lost its appeal due to samey dungeons and limited combat, which is a shame because it looks great and the soundtrack is stunning. Hopefully Oceanhorn 2 takes console as its lead platform and brings to life a world full of potential.