Also On: PS4
Publisher: Cornfox Bros
Developer: Cornfox Bros
Imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery. This is a statement that I both agree and disagree with. In some cases, an imitation can be done in a way that compliments that which it imitates and moves forward on its own merit, while preserving the integrity of what made the original great. Others are just a shameless knockoff lacking originality and character of their own. Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas is an original game that very much runs in the vein of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker while staying new enough and different enough to be considered a flattering imitation.
Cornfox Bros, developer for Oceanhorn clearly knew what they were doing and even go so far as to throw easter eggs in their game poking a bit of fun at both themselves and the Zelda franchise. In the village you start your journey there is a store filled with breakable pots, something longtime Zelda fans will instantly recognize. The store is complete with an angry sign telling the hero not to break any jars. I of course ignored this warning and immediately set about to smashing every jar in reach. Experience points in the form of blue crystals spill out and go into the inventory much like a rupee might fall from a smashed pot.
The similarities do not end with the pots, your health is tracked with hearts at the top left of your screen, and your items and controls are shown at the top right at all times. You can run around and chop bushes and tall grass with your sword, you travel from island to island by boat, your interpersonal communication (outside of the narrative driven interaction) is all handled by text box with no real speech to be heard. You are a young boy living in a world threatened by an unknown evil that has plagued the land for generations. Your father took off to fight the evil and now you are left alone to try and follow in his footsteps. These are all tropes pulled directly from other great games, but past them is something different and fresh.
Gameplay in Oceanhorn is simple, as it was originally released on tablets and phones to be played on the go. The porting of this to consoles manages to avoid the awkward controls and graphical issues that usually plague such ports. Combat is also simple, pressing the A button to pick up and thrown objects and using X to swing your sword. Enemies are simple throughout 90% of the game, however the ending bosses become quite tricky all of a sudden. This is a mechanic that suprised me and I sat wondering how one would go about tackling these bosses on a phone or tablet. The difficulty seems out of place in a game that is generally forgiving throughout its entirety up to that point.
The puzzling and dungeoning in Oceanhorn are really where it earns its stripes. Again borrowing from other adventure puzzlers, there are themed dungeons which you must tackle and complete to gather the items of power you need to progress through that game. Earth, water and sun dungeons are but a few that you will encounter, with each bringing its own element to the game as a whole that differ from the others entirely. You may solve a puzzle one way in the earth dungeon and go on to solve a very similar puzzle in an entirely different and unique manner on the water dungeon.
The dungeons are not the only things that differ from area to area. You do a lot of island hopping to progress your story and hunt after your father. Each island is home to unique areas, enemies and races of people/creatures that inhabit it. You learn something new and find some new aspect to the game at each one which keeps it feeling fresh several hours in. And several hours is what you need, this is not some 2 hour rushed experience. It requires dedication, but not all at once. This is a game that feels just as good tackled in 30 minute segments as it does in 3 hour sittings. It is engrossing, but not overwhelming and hard to get into for short periods of time. This is something Oceanhorn does well that stands out. I was able to care about what was happening and the game world without feeling obligated to sit and play for extended periods of time.
My biggest issue with Oceanhorn is that it lacks suitable depth and story to its hours of gameplay. There is a good story here, but there are several times where you will be running around the island dungeoning aimlessly and waiting for some new story elements to pop up. This can hinder progression, but never got in the way and prevented me from enjoying myself. Even when I was unsure of what I was doing, I enjoyed doing it. There is enough exploring and there are enough puzzles to keep the game running smoothly.
Overall I am highly impressed with Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas, it is a very enjoyable game built in the spirit of one of the greatest puzzle adventure franchises ever built. An added bonus here is the musical styling. From start to finish, the music stands out and sets itself above other games in this genre. At the end of the day, Oceanhorn is long enough to be worth your money but not so long that it overstays its welcome. The gameplay is very simple and doesn't do anything groundbreaking, but succeeds on all fronts.