Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas (Switch eShop)
Oceanhorn has a reputation of being a Zelda clone, but the game's isometric perspective is more reminiscent of the Genesis/Mega Drive game Landstalker. Regardless, most of the inspiration stems from Nintendo's IP, so the story is about gathering three emblems from three peoples and prevent the evil Mesmeroth from conquering the world. Said world is nothing but a blue sea until you've found hints that unlock new islands. Traversal between them is kept simple: You select your destination and watch your ship follow the shortest path automatically. Eventually you'll be able to shoot enemies and barrels along the way, but the sea offers no exploration.
The real gameplay takes place on the 14 main islands and three reefs where a few meaty dungeons and lots of caves are located. Combat is only serviceable as controls and animation do not really feel fluent or dynamic. Bosses do not constitute a highlight because of this. Much of the (still moderate) difficulty results from enemies having an almost annoying amount of invincibility frames during their attacks. The majority of the puzzles are of the kind where you have to find switches and keys, commonly combined with block-pushing that is occasionally timing-based. None of it is as challenging as what you encounter in the aforementioned Landstalker, but that's probably for the better as Sega's game had some really tight windows. Oceanhorn isn't easy, but its difficulty never goes above medium either.
The most original aspect of Oceanhorn is an experience system for your adventurer level. The rewards are not more strength or health, but rather perks like sailing faster or bigger capacities of bombs and arrows. While each defeated enemy yields EXP, there's no need for any grinding. The bigger sources for EXP are treasure chests and especially challenges/tasks. New objectives are displayed each time you reach a new island, but you can actually complete them beforehand as long as it is something general as successfully killing ten enemies with combo attacks. It's a neat idea with competent implementation, because the max level can be reached by simply completing the game 100%.
The Zelda formula is fun. Explore the world, fight enemies, solve puzzles, obtain tools that unlock new areas. Oceanhorn offers all that and has plenty of things to do in it. It feels like a proper game despite the low amount of actual dungeons, because each island in and of itself provides the satisfying elements. Of course, the amount of items is limited in an indie game. There are only bow and arrow, bombs and boots that allow you to jump under certain conditions. Magic spells are only occasionally used, but they are there. The d-pad allows quick cycling through items and magic, so the only need to go into the menu is to look up challenges for the adventurer level and your completion rate on any given island.
My first impression of Oceanhorn was mixed because the combat isn't good, but ultimately that's the only important thing where the game dabbles in mediocrity. Everything else is fine. I've wanted indie developers to make Zelda-like games instead of all the tripe they usually do, and here is such a game. Yes, Oceanhorn doesn't play in the same league as Zelda and the combat is definitely a shortcoming, but it satisfies the appetite for more Zelda in an age where we aren't blessed with regular appearances of titles like Landstalker, Neutopia and Beyond Oasis/The Story of Thor anymore. "But the score is only a 6." - There's a reason why a 6 is green and not yellow in my reviews.
|Controls||10||Combat feels stiff and a bit clumsy, but traversal
and puzzle-solving are well done.
|Gameplay||Heavily inspired by the Zelda series in general and
The Wind Waker in particular.
|Story||Pretty much all of it feels like a ripoff from other games.
A certain German phrase commends such behavior.
|Single-player||Puzzles and exploration are a stronger focus than combat
which mitigates the biggest weakness of the game.
|Graphics||Water and other surfaces look great, but animations
and physics aren't on the same level.
|Sound||Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy) and Kenji Ito (Secret of Mana)
were gotten on board for this indie project.
|Value||8-10 hours to complete the story or
12-14 hours for 100% completion.
|Replay Value||No additional difficulty settings or any other incentives,
but the quality is on a very consistent level.
|Score||6||Oceanhorn succeeds in delivering Zelda-like gameplay,
although the combat could definitely be more satisfying.