A gamer and writer at heart who wants to combine his hobbies into one. I am 25 years old and I'm from the Netherlands. Having played many games over the years, I wanted to express my love for them, however obscure they may be!
I am very familiar with the inspirations behind this game, but I will judge the game on its own merits. I might use the inspirations as an example to strengthen my arguments however. Before I started writing this review, I have made sure to do everything the game has to offer. As far as I’m aware, there’s only one difficulty so that’s the one I played on. The version I played is the Steam version, and I played with an Xbox 360 controller. Oceanhorn is also available on PlayStation 4 and Vita, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and of course the original release on mobile platforms.
On multiple occasions, I’ve stated that I absolutely love The Legend of Zelda franchise. My blog doesn’t really reflect it as I haven’t made a single review of them yet, but that will change very soon. Also spoilers. But let’s ignore that for now and take a look at a game very much inspired by my beloved franchise!
Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas is one of the more popular indie games inspired by the Zelda games. I’ve actually known about this game for quite a while, but to avoid my usual story of a game being buried in my Steam library, let’s keep it at that. Regardless, it was definitely something I wanted to try out for the longest of times. Yet, I was never really familiar with the history behind the game or well… anything. I know it has an ocean to traverse with a ship which immediately means it’s a Wind Waker rip-off (sarcasm), but that’s all. I didn’t even know this was initially a mobile game which would normally raise questions, but it’s not even noticeable at all! Suffice to say, I was intrigued in playing this game and as it was one of the Twitch poll winners, that’s exactly what I did!
Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas was originally developed for IOS by Finnish studio Cornfox & Bros. From what I could gather, the studio had made a game called Death Rally on IOS just before they moved on to what would become one of their biggest successes ever. Oceanhorn was very positively received, especially by more well-known gaming outlets which resulted in a good boost in popularity. Multiple awards were granted, but there was something even more special about Oceanhorn that even made my black heart melt: legendary composers Nobuo Uematsu and Kenji Ito from classic Squaresoft games lent their assistance to the musical score of the game. Suffice to say, this game was a massive hit to the point that it released on multiple modern platformers later down the line, with Steam being the first to have the honour. And fortunately, that was also not the end of the Oceanhorn franchise. Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm released in 2019 and is a prequel to the original Oceanhorn, and there’s also a dungeon crawler spin-off called Oceanhorn: Chronos Dungeon. The prequel has very recently been announced to come to all modern platforms, so I will get my chance eventually to play it!
The game opens with a cutscene of you being left behind all alone while your father fares off to fight a giant evil. Not a bad start at all; you definitely have my interest. The protagonist is completely mute and has less facial expressions than a protagonist from Pokémon X/Y so I don’t know if he’s sad or happy about it, but that’s beside the point. The build-up is good, and the story remains fairly consistent for the remainder of the game because the game does a good job on world-building. It often refers to how things were in the past and how the world ended up the way it is, and uses these flashbacks as a driving force to move forward. I’m only surprised by a girl falling in love with the main protagonist who literally met each other just 5 minutes ago, but I’ll just make up my own story and say she was hit by Cupid’s arrow or something.
After the cutscene ends, you’re on your own on an island with your new mentor Hermit. That’s his actual name. Whenever he calls you on his… seashell phone, he introduces himself as Hermit. So what you’re telling me is that a mother had a child inside of her for 9 months, suffering from pregnancy, just to call him Hermit? …Eh, I’ve seen worse.
There are already some enemies to fight before the tutorial to get a sword and shield officially starts, as you have a stick of death and destruction. Swordplay doesn’t change anything aside from power though, and overall I’d say the combat feels… alright. I can’t say I’m a big fan of it but at the same time, it doesn’t do much harm. There just isn’t any weight to attacking, and a successful hit doesn’t stop the attack animations of the enemies either. This goblin-like enemy is charging his crossbow, and you can be sure as hell that he’ll commit to it; no amount of attacks will distract him from shooting you, unless he dies before he can. You can very quickly switch to your shield though, so you can still block their attacks even if you attacked just a millisecond before them.
There just isn’t any weight to attacking, and a successful hit doesn’t stop the attack animations of the enemies either
After obtaining the sword and shield, it’s time to venture the world in search for your father and the living fortress Oceanhorn. Given that Wind Waker is one of the main inspirations behind the game and that the world is a big ocean, I don’t think it comes as a surprise that travelling to other places is done by boat. There isn’t anything too special about sailing though, as you decide an island you wish to go to and you just… go there. It’s all on autopilot, and the only thing you can do in the meantime is shoot your gun filled with infinite pumpkin seeds to get rid of barrels or sea monsters. Not much would have changed if sailing wasn’t included, but it also doesn’t take long to go from one island to the other so it’s a harmless feature.
I do genuinely like that the game is split up into islands which will grow in count over time. There’s just something special about the world opening up this way. This is also because quite a lot of islands are optional and only appear to the curious who talks to every villager or finds different clues. I have no idea how “I’ve heard rumours of this awesome island called Graveyard Island” automatically turns into me knowing where exactly that island is, but I’ll just file that under your usual game logic.
Your main objective is clear from the start though: gather three emblems that are necessary to take out Oceanhorn. To reach these emblems, you need to find a dungeon on an island which, given the inspirations for this game, should give you the expectations you need. But this does actually bring me to a few… annoyances. The game does make it clear why these annoyances exist, but it does frustrate me at times regardless.
The first annoyance comes from there being a lot of vertical travelling. For whatever reason, this mute protagonist can lift barrels and rocks bigger than his own body, but he can’t climb the slightest of ledges. The game is definitely built around this limitation, but it did frustrate me sometimes. My most obvious example is that I had to climb into a well, but instead of just climbing inside the well, I had to make a long way around to make it to an equal ground of the top of the well, and then jump in. In some situations, I understand this limitation since it is specifically done for a puzzle, but at other times it feels unnecessary.
For whatever reason, this mute protagonist can lift barrels and rocks bigger than his own body, but he can’t climb the slightest of ledges.
Speaking of puzzles, annoyance number two! Well, the puzzles weren’t actually that bad I’d say. They are very easy though, which may put some people off. However, the game mentions right when you obtain bombs that you should use them everywhere, and that’s exactly where a lot of optional puzzles come from. If the radar says there’s a collectable nearby or you see a chest out of reach, maybe blowing up stuff is the answer. The game did warn me for it, but there is no indication when something is destructible. I’m fine with that since that means less handholding, but some collectables feel really cheap to collect as a result. I was looking for a Bloodstone (a collectable) for ages, and the solution was bombing a completely ordinary-looking wall.
The final annoyance is one I’m not so sure about if it’s a legitimate issue or if I’m the problem. Obviously I can’t blame myself for something so I’ll just keep a neutral position. I sometimes just didn’t understand how to beat a boss and when I found the solution, it was obvious but still something that scratched my head. The example I would have here is the final boss but spoilers, I won’t bring up that, so I guess I’ll talk about the first boss instead? It’s obvious that you need to get rid of the tentacles, and then he becomes vulnerable. The most obvious conclusion would be to use the weapon from the dungeon, the bow and arrow, but… that didn’t work out for me due to the enemy sucking me in and, get this, insta-killing me. A first boss, and it insta-kills me. Beautiful. Bombs did the work eventually, but it still caught be off-guard. An actual annoyance however, is that the camera is always locked-on to the boss. This makes specific bosses, especially ones that teleport or move around, quite annoying to deal with.
But enough about annoyances since it almost looks like I dislike this game or something, which is not true. On the other side of the spectrum, Oceanhorn also gets rid of some annoyances I have with classic Zelda games. Swapping items is very easy to do and doesn’t require you to go to a menu to select what item you want to use. There’s also a bunch of magic spells to find, each with different effects. I’m not 100% sure if these work on bosses since I’ve never actually tried, but they are pretty easy to work with. I also like the experience system that slowly makes you stronger over time, gained from killing enemies or doing in-game achievements. I love myself some achievements so obviously this is right up my alley.
I should also stress yet again how fun it was to do the optional side content that are not necessary for beating the game–specifically Graveyard Island and the Isle of Whispers. These were complete islands with dungeons on their own, and would offer just as much as the main islands. The game also shows how your progression you’ve made on each island and the game as a whole. Despite progression being very prevalently shown on screen, getting 100% on the islands or the game as a whole unfortunately doesn’t offer you anything. It doesn’t matter too much since I had fun just completing the game, but a reward is always nice.
It’s hard to believe that Oceanhorn is a port of a standalone mobile game, given its impressive soundtrack and fun gameplay. Unfortunately though, I am reviewing the ported variants of this game which leaves me with a few annoyances that were more understandable for the original release due to limitations. I’ve mentioned it through this review a lot, but there are a lot of gameplay mechanics that I’ve mostly called “harmless but not spectacular”. Sailing doesn’t have a lot going for it due to its simplicity, but also doesn’t do much wrong. Combat isn’t my favourite and puzzles are okay at best, but they work. Vertical traversing is the bane of my existence, but the game is built around this limitation. But despite my annoyances, I can’t understate how much fun I had with exploring the game and all the islands that popped up, including the dungeons and the many challenges that came with them for a levelling system. The mechanics may not stand out, but they did still work in providing me with a fun journey.
- Exploring is very fun to do.
- Optional side-content that are arguably just as fun as the main content.
- Quite impressive for an early mobile game.
- A lot of vertical traversing which is not fun to do.
- Combat, sailing and puzzles are all simplistic.
Thank you for reading! I genuinely enjoyed writing this review, especially because I’ve decided to up the humour for this one while staying informative. I hope I didn’t come across as harsh, but I don’t want to give this game a biased review because it came out on mobile first. If you’re looking for another Zelda adventure however, you really can’t go wrong with Oceanhorn. Can’t wait to play and review the sequel when it comes out on Steam!
I have been making a lot of progress on reviews which is nice! They will just keep on coming, as a few more are currently in the works! Like this review, I’m going to attempt to up the humour again, so hopefully I’ll see you again next time!
What is your favourite game inspired by The Legend of Zelda franchise? I specifically mention this franchise as I’m looking for an adventure where you’re heading towards multiple caves- or temples to obtain a usable item and/or beat a boss at the end. Not really exclusive to the Zelda franchise, but most people don’t know about the predecessors.
There are currently two answers for me: an indie game called Shipwreck, and Darksiders. I haven’t played the former in ages, but it was a really solid top-down Zelda-inspired title. I should totally replay it again. Darksiders is a game that I actually haven’t finished yet (even though I was in the final dungeon), but it felt really satisfying to play. I should totally replay that as well.