Wednesday, July 12, 2017

[REVIEW] Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas (Switch)

Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas
Played on: Switch
Genre: Top-down action-adventure
Developer: Cornfox & Bros.
Publisher: FDG Entertainment

Originally released on mobile platforms, Oceanhorn is a title that has been on my radar for a while now. That's because it's impossible to not get the feeling that this is a game majorly inspired by The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, which is one of my favorite games on one of my favorite franchises. After spending twenty hours to 100% the game, I came out impressed, even if, as expected, originality isn't really something that's all that present here.

Truth be told, Oceanhorn is less Wind Waker and more Phantom Hourglass, the direct sequel to the former game that was released on the Nintendo DS. Like the latter, it's played from an angled top-down perspective, and the navigation through the open seas isn't directly controlled, but pre-determined, with a few shooting targets here and there to keep you busy while it happens. Luckily, the controls don't really mirror Phantom Hourglass (or even Oceanhorn's own original mobile version), meaning the game has complete support for physical button inputs.

The story is simple, but it does have some nice moments. Your character wakes up to find a note from his father, explaining he's gone away to fight Oceanhorn, a mythical monster who terrorizes the seas. From there, it's up to you to go after him, exploring the ocean and a good number of island scattered through it.

Like expected, the game play as a top-down Zelda, meaning you'll come across quests, different races, and, of course, dungeons. Also like Zelda, each dungeon provides you with a new weapon, allowing you to reach previously unreachable areas. The overall game design is fair and the gameplay itself is very fun, but it has to be said that the puzzles are more simplistic and far less imaginative that the ones in Nintendo's franchise.

The one exception for this is the Island of Whispers, which is a late-game discovery that was by far my favorite part of Oceanhorn. The island was originally a post-launch downloadable content, and it shows, as the quality of game design goes dramatically up. Not only that, the island offers a parallel, self-contained story about a mysterious kid whose ambition led to the end of the local civilization. Figuring out what exactly happened, piece by piece, was an extremely engrossing experience, and the closest the game got to Zelda levels of excellence.

As far as production values go, I have to say the game far exceeded my expectations. The stylized graphics are crisp, colorful, and very pretty. Even more impressive is the soundtrack, which is nothing short of phenomenal, and is complemented in the audio department by excellent voice acting.

There's no two ways about it: Oceanhorn is a Zelda clone, lacking originality to stand as its own thing. Luckily, it features a nice campaign and a surprisingly interesting story, even if the overall game design is a bit more basic that I would have hoped. Each of the game's explorable islands are self-contained isometric playgrounds that are a lot of fun to pick apart, and it all looks great (and sounds even better). For someone looking for a Zelda-lite experience, you really can't go wrong here.

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