Since its original release on iOS in 2013, the creators of Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas have been very forthcoming about the fact that the game was intended to be a “love letter” to some well-loved classics. Thank god, because there’d be absolutely no hiding it. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Cornfox & Bros are aggressively flattering the Legend of Zelda like an overeager valentine. It isn’t uncommon for games to take inspiration from those that have come before them, but to try and emulate one of the most successful games of all time is a little ambitious and comes with a whole slew of risks. No matter how lovingly crafted the game is, no matter how accurate the references or the ability to tug on the nostalgic heartstrings, it ultimately needs to be able to stand on its own two game-feet – and that’s where Oceanhorn struggles to measure up.

Very spooky.

Very spooky.

Right from the beginning, you’re smacked in the fact by the similarities. A small boy wakes on his small island, and it isn’t long before he is forced to leave his sleepy homeland and embark on a quest to rescue a member of his family. In this case, he is searching for his father, an adventurer who left to take on ‘Oceanhorn’ the sea-dwelling beast that has been wreaking havoc on the world. Before you can leave, however, you must find yourself the sword and shield left to you by your parents, both of which are buried in a cave and retrieved from a grand chest. Once you’re adequately equipped with weapons and goodies, you’ll begin to sail the seas and discover new islands on which you’ll solve environmental puzzles and kill a bunch of enemies.

oceanhorn1

Almost Wind Waker… but not quite.

For once I’m not being deliberately vague to avoid spoilers, the story just genuinely didn’t grab me. After a while I found myself noticing only the Zelda references and disengaging with the rest of the plot. The characters are a little unremarkable and left no lasting impression, and though there were a few attempts to give some of them a little more personality they just lacked the charm that I’m used to in games like Zelda. The character models also reminded me of Xbox live avatars, but I don’t think I should hold that against them. To be fair, character interactions don’t seem to be the focus of Oceanhorn, far more emphasis is placed on encouraging the player to explore each island and find all the treasure it has to offer, and I did find the puzzles to be quite well-designed, if a little repetitive. The block design of the levels makes everything feel a little too similar, and though each island has its own atmosphere you can tell that it’s ultimately more of the same core mechanic. Even the enemies don’t change much – expect to fight a lot of standard skeletons, crabs and spiky blobs.

Here is our young hero, attacking what I like to call the 'Spiky ChuChus'.

Here is our young hero, attacking what I like to call the ‘Spiky ChuChus’.

Combat is relatively functional if a little fiddly at times, and I did find myself using the elemental powers I was given a few times to take on foes. Unfortunately, that was in part due to the fact that I didn’t trust the game to correctly aim my weapons or acknowledge the apparent hit boxes of the enemies I was attacking, but the combat difficult level was generally low so I never had too much trouble. One of the benefits of this being a stripped down version of a Zelda game is that I feel very comfortable recommending it to younger children, so that easy combat may in fact be a plus. Something that doesn’t feel stripped down is the soundtrack, composed in part by legendary composer Nobuo Uematsu (most notably of Final Fantasy fame), so even when the game feels repetitive it still sounds gorgeous.

The boss fights start exactly the same way as those in Ocarina of Time. Exactly.

The boss fights start exactly the same way as those in Ocarina of Time. Exactly.

I don’t want to be overly negative about Oceanhorn, because it is ultimately a fine game, it just fails to live up to the series that it is so lovingly imitating. Every time I jumped on the boat to sail the linear path to the next ocean I longed for the wide open seas of Wind Waker, and every time I brandished a sword I wished I was using it for the polished combat that Nintendo has turned into a fine art. For someone that doesn’t have access to Zelda games, or who may be a little young for the complexity of these bigger titles, I would absolutely recommend Oceanhorn. It’s a much smaller game and it still has a lot of heart, but it lacks depth. Had I played this in its original iOS format, I think I would have been blown away by how big it felt for a mobile device. Unfortunately, when being measured against other console games, it doesn’t quite measure up.

6/10
Good

Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Oceanhorn for Xbox One.

About The Author

Jess is a psychology researcher by day and is determined to find a way to merge her gaming and professional lives. She loves point-and-click adventures, games with strong narratives, and her love of puzzles in all forms has actually caused her to use the phrase “that reminds me of a puzzle” whilst in a furniture store. She can generally be found on Twitter @zammitjess talking about games, feelings, and her life as an anxious mess.