Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas Review (Switch) – “A Link to the Wind Waker”

There’s no denying the impact that The Legend of Zelda has made in the video game industry. The sense of exploration, discovery, adventure, action…it all culminated in providing a rich gaming experience. Since that series’ conception, many others have tried to replicate that style of gameplay with their own twists. FDG Entertainment and developer Cornfox & Bros have done this with their new IP, Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas. Is this Zelda imitator a journey worth setting sail for?

Oceanhorn is an isometric, action-adventure title that replicates the older Zelda style games. You control a boy, whose father goes missing on an adventure out at sea. It’s not soon after where you set forth on your journey to find him, and go after the monster of the seas, Oceanhorn. When starting the game, you will not have a weapon off the bat. You explore the home island, speaking with the townspeople and reading tutorial signs to help get you acclimated. You start by fending off enemies by throwing objects off the ground at them, until you finally acquire your trusty sword very shortly in.

If you’ve played a Zelda title, you will feel right at home with combat. You can simply slash at enemies with the Y button, and can block with your shield holding ZR. Weapons will not break, but you do have to watch your stamina bar. Blocking attacks will deplete this, which will certainly leave you vulnerable when fully depleted. Also, you can do a charged spin attack by holding down the attack button (which also uses some stamina). As you progress, you will get additional items/weapons such as a bow, bombs, magic, etc. These can be used to fend off enemies, as well as solve puzzles scattered through all the lands. Puzzles play a pivotal element in exploring these islands. There are just the right amount of hints in the environment to assist in these. There will also be boss battles that await. These battles each take advantage of specific items you earn in the area, while also providing a fair challenge.

When exploring the game’s fairly vast world, you will set sail between all the islands. Initially, there are not many locations to access. However, as you speak to NPCs and progress through the story, more islands will appear on the map for you to set sail to. Setting sail to these islands is a matter of simply clicking on the island of your choice when you are on your boat. The game will switch into a third-person view, with you being able to see all of what is ahead of you. You will use your Pumpkin Gun to fire away at any enemies and bombs that appear on your sail path, as well as crates that contain coins to earn. Sailing is handled automatically so you only need to focus on your surroundings. Given the fact that you won’t control the boat yourself, this automatic sailing is handled very well. Even when on course to an island, you can simply change course to a different island mid-sail, and the boat will quickly reroute to your new location.

As you fend off enemies, you will earn gems for XP. Earning enough XP will allow you to level up and acquire a new trait. These can range from holding more arrows and bombs, using less mana for magic, faster sailing, etc. More interestingly are the Challenges implemented for each island. When arriving on an island, you will be introduced to the name of the island when docking, as well as three challenges pertaining to that island. The challenges may occasionally be story-related, while others require certain stipulations to be completed. These may require you to swim a certain distance, use certain objects to kill “x” amount of enemies, etc. Completing these will net you a huge chunk of XP. Thankfully, leveling up never felt like a grind by any means, nor did it negatively affect progressing through the game at all.

Oceanhorn does have a few gripes that are worth mentioning. First, and foremost, the game was originally a mobile title, and it shows a bit here. While the conversion to console is incredibly well done, the game’s menu system feels catered more to a touch-screen than a physical controller. Thankfully, you can quickly select items using the D-Pad in real-time. There’s a map on the corner of the screen showing a segment of the surrounding area, but unfortunately you cannot view a map of the entire island or cave. Also, there are times where certain quests require you to carry an item, but require backtracking at a slower pace due to actually holding the item. While theoretically that’s more realistic than pocketing a bucket of fire (for example), it does make for a slightly tedious process. The dash button is also the same as the interact button, and there were times I wanted to dash but instead ended up picking up an item, talking to someone or opening a door. Given that console controllers have the extra buttons, it would’ve been better suited to map the dash button separate from the interact button. Lastly, there is no HD Rumble support here. All-in-all though, these gripes are far from game breaking and are just minor nuisances.

Visually, Oceanhorn is an immensely nice looking game. The world is incredibly vibrant and vivid, with great art style and nice texture work. Animations are solid for the most part, but it does show its limitations derived from the mobile hardware it was built for originally. I cannot stress enough though how smooth the game runs. Native 1080p and a rock-solid 60 fps really make this game pop on-screen. The lush greens and beautiful waters you will be venturing through really are eye-candy. Even when playing in 720p undocked, it looks terrific and still maintains the locked 60 fps. While the character models up close (during cutscenes) may not be the most detailed aspect, they’re still more than fine during gameplay. Audio wise, Oceanhorn has an adventurous, orchestrated score done by composers Kenji Ito (Secret of Mana series) and Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy series). The tunes here definitely do a great job capturing the game’s setting and tone, with the final boss song being the best of the bunch. Whether exploring the town of Tikarel, or the aquatic Gillfolk’s Drop, each composition fits the game superbly. Sound effects are also well done and hit all the right notes, whether attacking with a sword, exploding bombs, defeating enemies, or collecting items. There’s even voice acting during cutscenes that is pretty solid.

Oceanhorn may be a heavily-inspired Zelda clone, but that’s not a bad thing when executed correctly. The overall package found here is very well polished, with great visuals, interesting lore, superb audio, and addictive gameplay. For only $14.99, there’s plenty of content here to keep you engaged. Oceanhorn effectively works with the classic Zelda style gameplay, taking nods from “A Link to the Past” and “Wind Waker”. They say “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, and it clearly shows here. Fans of adventure games should not hesitate to pick this title up for their Switch collection.

Overall Score: 8.0 out of 10 = BUY IT!

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas! Copy reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

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