Let’s get this out of the way at the very start, Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas is very much inspired by the Legend of Zelda franchise. There is no hiding this fact, but this really isn’t a bad thing. Oceanhorn does enough to set it apart and earn its own identity, even if it isn’t a perfect ride. Through the nine or so hours it took me to complete Oceanhorn’s campaign, I never felt that this was a cash grab or clone, but an adventure made by those who loved what had come before them.
Originally released on iOS in November of 2013, Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas puts you in the shoes of an unnamed hero, sometimes referred to as “kid”, and has you sailing the vast seas to collect three magical objects to stop a great evil. This evil, you discover after you are left a notebook by your now missing father, describes a giant robotic monster named Oceanhorn who has it out for your family and has left the world in pretty bad shape.
You start on Hermit island and have to find your sword and shield and are welcomed into the mechanics and rules of this world. There is no jump button, and most ledges are fall-proof which does save on a bit of frustration. One of the features that stood out to me the most was the challenge and leveling up system. Each Island you visit has three challenges that can be achieved anywhere on the map or even before you find them, such as spending a certain amount of money at a shop or destroying X-amount of enemies. I always love these because they give you other ideas of how to play a game or what to focus on. As you complete these challenges and others, you can level up and earn different rewards like more health or the ability to shoot from you boat, which I will get to shortly. While the rewards were never game changing, they did provide enough incentive to push me forward and keep me curious of what was next.
Speaking of the boat, you travel from island to island completing story and side missions and it is very reminiscent of a game like Wind Waker, even though it is all on rails. You choose your path on a map and automatically head to your destination, but as you level up, as I said previously, you gain the ability to shoot. I would have liked to see some free-roaming capabilities, because the game looks very good and just begs to be explored, so it was unfortunate that you are limited to a set path.
Once you arrive on land, you have a pretty standard move-set of attacking and blocking, and using other items you get throughout your journey, like bombs. The combat is pretty simplistic and the AI is nothing to write home about. This is where the mobile device roots really show and the slowness of combat and weak AI stuck out like a sore thumb. You also unlock some magic abilities, but the controls didn’t lend so great to switching between said spells and since most enemies fell to my blade, I didn’t have the desire or need to fight through the controls to get the spell I wanted.
There are also a bunch of puzzles to solve. These mostly consist of your standard block and/or switch puzzles. Some later on try their hand at higher complexity, but end up being obscure and I felt frustrated after figuring out the answer because it really didn’t make all that much sense organically. However, the pacing of the game holds up and being at around nine hours, moves briskly and keeps you engaged. I appreciate a game that doesn’t overstay its welcome, and Oceanhorn feels as though it stays just long enough.
The music and sound of Oceanhorn is another standout. I was surprised to see Nobuo Uematsu of Final Fantasy fame credited for some of the music, and it really shows. There are some great themes and the sound design really stands out. Some of the themes got a bit repetitive, but overall the tone and style of the music really elevated the action and adventure appearing on screen.
When I was prepping for this review and reliving my journey in Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas, I kept coming back to one word; unremarkable. This game isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, and I actually had an enjoyable time learning this world and seeing what was around the next corner. However, there is nothing in Oceanhorn that is that memorable or surprising. It is a very well made game that is a love letter to some of the greatest games in history. In all honesty, what truly holds this game back in my opinion is its age and mobile roots. It’s been announced that Oceanhorn 2 is on its way, and I hold out hope all these issues will be a thing of the past in the sequel and will give the developers all the freedom and power they could ever need.
So, I do recommend Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas, but I say this with a caveat. I want you to start this game with your expectations set correctly. This is a port of a mobile title from 2013 and the age and limitations do show. That being said, there is a charming and wonderful adventure waiting for you and hopefully the start of a great new franchise. I was very happy to play this title, and it felt right at home on the Nintendo Switch and being able to play on the go, and I can’t wait to see what this studio comes up with next.
Marooners’ Rock also reviewed the PC version of Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas for PC in 2015 and you can view that review here.