Review: Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas (Switch)

The Legend of Oceanhorn.

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 09/13/2017 19:30 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
1-Up Mushroom for...
Delightful presentation makes the world look like a glossy diorama; combat is enjoyable in bursts; delightful soundtrack
Poison Mushroom for...
Lack of enemy variety; sailing isn't all that exciting; exploration can be frustrating due to dodgy environment geometry

I first came across Oceanhorn back when it dropped on iOS in 2013. It was clear from the outset (I swear that wasn’t a pun) that The Legend of Zelda had a huge influence on the development team at Cornfox & Bros., particularly The Wind Waker. The lead character wears a tunic, brandishes a blade and shield, and utilizes items to navigate the environment and solve puzzles. Now, the game has been rechristened as Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas and has been released on multiple different platforms. With its arrival on Switch, however, the title has found perhaps its true home. It’s rough in spots, but Oceanhorn is at its best here.

The game revolves around the exploits of a young man who is following the instructions his late father left behind in an old notebook. The fate of the kingdom of Arcadia is at stake as the kid makes his way from island to island in a quest to destroy the nominal monster known as Oceanhorn. It’s not the deepest narrative I’ve ever encountered in a game, but I respect the effort that Cornfox & Bros. put in to making the kid’s world feel real and lived in. There’s also some solid voice work on display that further fleshes out the experience. I wanted to know the answer to the mystery at the core of the game, which made me want to get to the end of the game to find out.

I mentioned that Wind Waker acted as a heavy influence on Oceanhorn‘s development, and that’s especially evident in the game’s visual style and boating mechanics. The character designs are highly reminiscent of Wind Waker‘s stocky denizens, as well as the multitude of islands that make up the game world. Gameplay takes place from an isometric perspective. The world is resplendent, with tufts of grass pocking the land, waves lapping at shorelines, craggy rock surfaces, and more. The game was already a looker on iOS, but the transition to a graphically stronger platform like Switch has afforded Oceanhorn a much more potent aesthetic than before. Some of the islands start to blend together, but overall there’s some solid variation between them.

The soundtrack is also a standout. Given that the likes of Nobuo Uematsu and Kenji Ito helped compose it, that’s not much of a surprise. With games like Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger under their belts, it was a brilliant move by the dev team to get two exceptional composers onboard for Oceanhorn. The music is a perfect complement to the action on screen and helped suck me in to the adventure even more.

As one would expect from an adventure game meant to mimic Zelda, exploration is a huge part of the experience in Oceanhorn. Part of the roaming is done on land; the kid travels up and down various cliffs, through caves and caverns, and much more as he attempts to unravel the mystery of Oceanhorn. A lot of the puzzle solving will be familiar to Zelda fans, particularly once inside more elaborate dungeons. Pulling stones and shooting switches feels right, and though I never was too vexed by any of the puzzles, they did require a bit of thought to complete.

Combat is simple but engaging. Swipe your sword, block projectiles with your shield, and use items like bombs and arrows to take out foes in packs or at a distance. Taking down baddies in Oceanhorn is satisfying, but the game’s mobile origins are sometimes betrayed by how limited the variety of enemy types is. Thankfully, some of the boss fights help to spice up the action, but players should expect to simply bludgeon most enemies into submission. Given the transition from iOS, it would have been nice if Cornfox & Bros. beefed up the action.

Along with the so-so combat, the exploration is also slightly hit or miss. Some of the geometry on land is confusing; drops from certain perches are allowed, yet move over a few feet and that same leap from a virtually identical looking piece of the environment isn’t allowed. Some of this is to prevent puzzles from being solved out of order, but in general, it became a bit frustrating blindly bumping the character against edges to see where he could and couldn’t go. I also wasn’t a fan of how the hero runs. A button press allows for a quick burst in a straight line, but I tended to have to wrestle with the controls to get him to do it on command when I wanted.

Sailing forms the other half of exploration in Oceanhorn, but it’s rather restrictive. Select an island on the map and your ship will automatically sail towards it—there’s no free roaming. Eventually, a small gun is attached to the ship, which can be used to shoot obstacles and enemies while out at sea. It was a welcome addition but didn’t prevent sailing from feeling overly linear and unexciting. This is another instance where the game’s mobile roots crept out and I couldn’t help but wonder if the mode would have benefited from being expanded a bit. Overall, there’s nothing really compelling about hitting the sea beyond soaking in the pretty visuals.

Oceanhorn is an admirable attempt at taking a stab at the Zelda formula. There are plenty of islands to explore, puzzles to solve, and baddies to bonk. The controls are serviceable outside of a couple small hitches with running and a somewhat clunky interface. While imperfect, the presentation makes the world look like a stunning diorama and the music serves to enhance the experience even further. I genuinely had fun with Oceanhorn, and I hope that the upcoming sequel irons out of some of the original’s kinks. For those wanting a more traditional Zelda experience, I recommend giving this one a shot.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Log In 0 points Log in or register to grow your Ninja Score while interacting with our site.
Nintendojo's RSS Feeds

All Updates Podcast
News Comments
Like and follow usFacebookTwitter Friend Code Exchange + Game with Us Join the Team!