Just under a year and half after its original release on the iOS store, Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas hits Steam. Oceanhorn is an action adventure game brought to us by Finnish indie developer Cornfox & Bros who have tried to closely emulate the Legend of Zelda series. For the Steam edition the game has been completely remastered with the game’s graphics now boasting 4 times the number of polygons, sharper textures, and it’s had a complete technical overhaul to improve play on larger and more powerful machines.
The game follows our nameless protagonist who has been left with a message from his father that he has gone to fight the titular enemy Oceanhorn; after his father does not return it is time for him to take up the sword and break out into the world. The game sees you travelling from island to island in search of the 3 emblems of Earth, Ocean and Sol, plus a legendary sword and shield and just generally building up your arsenal of weapons. The story is fairly unoriginal and even features a familiar aquatic princess and a bird race known as the Owru, however discovering your mother and father’s past along with the struggle between magic and technology provides a much more interesting narrative than just saving a helpless princess. The game also tries to throw a love story in between the protagonist and a character called Neeti which comes from nowhere and stops just as suddenly, so you fail to really form an emotional bond with the character at all. All of this combined provides a good 10-15 hours of gameplay, my first playthrough took me around 12 hours with 80 percent completion.
In order to get from island to island you need to discover the locations from talking to the locals or by reading the many forms of lore scattered throughout the world, which can leave you a little spoilt for choice in the early stages of the game but this lack of direction leaves you open to explore the world in your own way. Travel between the islands is possible with the use of a small Wind Waker style boat, selecting the island that you wish to travel to through the overworld map locks you on that route in an on rails system. These sections are very quick taking only seconds to complete with the longest trips taking around 40 seconds to a minute of your time with the additional speed bonus you can acquire later on through level progression. However these sailing sections can be rather boring, the addition of enemies and the pumpkin seed gun to destroy obstacles and other floating jetsam can net you with some small bonuses but its feels like it’s just been added to fill time.
The gameplay closely resembles that of a Zelda game, in particular Wind Waker and Link to the Past. You explore the different islands in search of dungeons that contain some form of weapon that can be used to unlock the next island and locate the dungeon and so on. These dungeons are all rather linear and very rarely change their layouts; while all of the puzzles they contain make a nice change from fighting enemies they are not particularly challenging. The weaponry you obtain also closely fits those you find in a Zelda game including bows and arrows but does feature the addition of spells. The world is explored through an isometric view plane which looks nice but can be a bit of an issue for one or two of the weapons, particularly the bow which is rather inaccurate when trying to hit targets unless you’re using the mouse and keypad setup to play.
Oceanhorn also uses a level system which can give the player extra abilities such a spin technique, reduce the amount of mana required to use spells and increase the capacity of your bombs and arrows. An interesting addition is the challenge system which can gain you a good amount of extra experience for completing them. The game can be played with either the mouse and keypad setup or with a gamepad, and both have a solid control scheme. Combat is enjoyable using your shield to stun enemies and expose them to a flurry of sword slashes, although later enemies will require a bit more strategy having you resort to using spells. The boss fights are one of the best aspects of this game, they are enjoyable and challenging having you solving puzzles while in battle to survive.
The main issue Oceanhorn has is with the different puzzles found littered throughout the game; they’re all too similar. Each puzzle fits into the same pattern of either moving blocks onto buttons, hitting switches or moving blocks to plug gaps in walkways, they get a little more interesting later in the game after you started to gain new spells, but it would have been better to have seen more of them. The dungeons are also fairly linear with only the occasional few rooms added in but really only contain small rewards such as extra gold and equipment refills.
Oceanhorn is visually impressive with a brightly coloured aesthetic and with the new version it now includes new lighting effects and real-time reflections which really add a little extra to the experience. The PC version is the Game of the Year Edition from the iOS version and includes an additional DLC Island (Island of Whispers) that fills in some backstory and adds the fishing system. The PC version features a couple of new items that are all available at the shop including the Ancient Arcadian Radar, Second Chance Potion and Mana Refill Potion which is very handy when facing the frustrating Ice Dungeon which requires the use of fire spells a number of times.
Oceanhorn perhaps tries a bit too much to be like a Zelda game and could do with a bit more originality. Despite this it is still a very enjoyable game with its challenging boss battles and colourfully detailed world, however with a bit more polish to some of its puzzle mechanics it could have broken its boundaries and left more of an impression of its own.
This review is based off a review code of Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas provided by Cornfox & Bros.
This review was originally published on the site GamersFTW which unfortunately has now been taken down. It’s been published on my personal blog, DanielVaughanReviews, out of respect for the developers/publishers that were kind enough to give me review copy of their game.