Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas Review

TL; DR(eview) - A simple, charming Zelda clone that can tide over people unable to stand the wait until the real deal returns with next year’s Breath of the Wild.

Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas originally launched on mobile devices in November 2013. It received a second wind in March of last year when it was ported to PC in March of last year, and has now received renewed interest yet again with it’s recent port to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Oceanhorn immediately invites comparisons to The Legend of Zelda - specifically The Wind Waker - in terms of gameplay and, to a lesser degree, art style. You play as a young boy searching for his father to find and defeat Oceanhorn, a mechanical sea monster. The game effectively plays out a bit like the first half of most Legend of Zelda games as you travel the seas acquiring the three trinkets that will unlock the endgame.

Most islands, observed and explored from an isometric perspective, feature puzzles to solve, enemies to defeat, and hidden treasures to discover. A couple are significantly less fleshed out and really only exist to store a couple of collectibles. A few can even be skipped entirely in the main campaign. As new islands are discovered (often by talking to villagers or reading messages in bottles), the boy’s arsenal grows from the base sword and shield to unlock classic weapons like bombs and arrows. A handful of spells are also unlocked over the course of the campaign. Experience points can be obtained from defeating enemies, opening certain treasure chests, catching fish in the fishing mini-game, and completing assorted challenges assigned to each island. Some of these challenges are story-driven while others encourage you to find secrets or chase after milestones (like “destroy 100 wooden crates”).

Oceanhorn is never really difficult.* The puzzles are all more or less straightforward. Secrets are mildly tricky to find at times as there isn’t really a tell identifying which walls can be torn asunder with your bombs (no big crack in the wall like Zelda). But even there, there’s typically a treasure chest indicator on the mini-map so you can usually narrow your search. And I don’t think I died once from combat in the game. Enemies are all pretty easy to defeat; some of the later enemies require more hits but the bombs - unlocked fairly early on - made short work of pretty much everything, even the bosses.

* For those interested in this sort of thing, I was able to complete 100% of the game in about 16 hours.

The design of the game is pretty austere with the islands all featuring very standardized block-y terrains. While most of the game’s narrative and conversations are told through simple on-screen text, there are a couple characters voices throughout the game. These main roles are adequate but somewhat forgettable as the story isn’t really a focal point of the game. Enemies grunts and death cries often felt like they were ripped straight from the birds and pigs of Angry Birds though, which occasionally left me pondering if they had gotten the same performer. One of the surprising design quirks of the game is the involvement of Nobuo Uematsu and Kenji Ito, Japanese composers best known for their work with the Final Fantasy and Seiken Densetsu/Mana series, respectively. While Kalle Ylitalo is the primary composer, hearing these two had provided additional support had me excited as I went into the game. I was ultimately let down, however. Uematsu is probably my single-favorite video game composer but the none of the music of Oceanhorn felt nearly as memorable as the themes that I grew up with in the Final Fantasy series. Even after 16 hours, I’m drawing a blank as I try to hum any of the game’s tunes.

Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas is a game that struck at just the right time for me. After two full, rich playthroughs of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, I found myself bouncing from game to game looking for a smaller experience that I didn’t really have to pay too much attention to and Oceanhorn fit that mold perfectly. It certainly scratched the Zelda itch that I’ve had since seeing Breath of the Wild coverage from E3 but I haven’t been so satiated that I’ll skip the real thing when it comes.

Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, mobile devices, and PC. For more information, visit the Oceanhorn developer blog.