A link to the genre.
I am still humming the main theme from Oceanhorn on a daily basis. It is one of those tunes that will stick with me forever. That isn’t too hard to believe as it was created by Nobuo Uematsu, one of the most well-known video game music composers of all-time. However, the music is not the only thing that will stick with me. Oceanhorn delivered an adventure I didn’t know I was missing. Sure it wears its inspirations on its sleeve, but it is much more than cheap imitation.
There is no possible way to describe Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas without talking about Nintendo’s fabled Legend of Zelda series. Take one look at a screenshots of this game and it is uncanny. It is clear the developers have a true love for that series. While there is no magic triangle or princess to save, this game’s inspirations are apparent from the get-go. That is not always a bad thing, as long as the core game remains unique and interesting enough to stand on its own. Thankfully Oceanhorn does just that.
Platforms: XB1 (reviewed), PS4, PC
Price I’d Pay: $14.99
Players take on the role of the hero (he doesn’t have an official name) as he embarks on a quest to find his father. He wakes up one morning to discover a letter he left and a mysterious necklace. The next ten hours are spent uncovering what happened. Story is told through text as well as cut scenes throughout the game. The voice acting can be rough at times, but the whimsical adventure reminded me of epic tales stemming back to the NES days.
Oceanhorn wears its inspirations on its sleeve. This is an adventure game built on exploration and item collection. The world is broken up into islands available for the player to explore. Each one contains new items and stories to tell. There are even dungeons on some of them that require wits, and of course a certain item to complete. There are master keys, heart containers, and the destruction of several bushes to find much needed items – All the staples of an adventure game.
Combat is mainly based on sword and shield action, but our hero also obtains bombs, arrows, and even some magic spells along the way. One of the biggest differentiators here is the level-up system. Defeated enemies garner XP, which then levels up our hero. Each new level comes with a perk, such as being able to sail around the world faster, or simply be able to carry more bombs. It is a clever way to progress an otherwise mediocre grind.
Sailing is also a big part of the game, but don’t get any ideas of Wind Waker exploration. When I set a course for a new island, the sailing happens automatically. Instead I am relegated to shooting items in the water for coins and XP. It is more of a mini-game than anything else. Islands are discovered by talking to NPCs on the various islands, or discovering things like bottles with messages in them. This game doesn’t hold hands when it comes to its progress, which continues to spark comparisons to its clear inspiration.
It is easy to tell this was originally a mobile game. While the controls are fine, the menus are littered with large buttons, I simply want to reach out and touch. Most of the UI design translates fine, but there are sections of tiny text that can be hard to decipher. Also the spell casting mechanic was not improved from the mobile version. The world also feels limited due to its origins. Every island is crafted in a way that makes movement with a traditional controller awkward at times. Also not being able to spin the camera around can get annoying.
The main adventure took me just under 10 hours, and I managed to complete several optional islands. I want to return though. The game does an excellent job of tracking progress, and showcasing little challenges to complete for each island, even if they can truly be completed anywhere. I found myself compelled to 100% this game and that is not something I often find the urge, or time to achieve.
Fans waiting on that next great adventure would do wise to check out this under-the-radar gem. It may borrow a lot of its aesthetic and mechanics from a certain pointy-eared hero, but it has a charm all its own. I can’t recommend it enough to fans of the adventure genre. The small price is more than worth the hefty adventure that lies ahead.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.