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Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas Review

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Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas is a single player action/adventure role playing game that was originally developed for smartphones back in 2013. It has recently (7th Sept. 2016) been polished up for a big screen release which has seen the graphics upscaled for the current generation of consoles and also big daddy PC's via Steam.
Oceanhorn can be referred to as an homage, copy, clone or complete rip-off of the famous Legend of Zelda games that any gamer worthy of the title would know all about. Using an isometric, or from a high above camera position, you play as a young boy that finds himself in certain trouble when he locates his father's long lost sword and shield along with his mother's necklace. Just like in the Zelda games, your character is not called Oceanhorn, rather that is the name of the beast that you quest to overcome. Further to the similarities, one of the dark entities in Oceanhorn is called Triloth. Although not exactly the same as the Triforce of the Zelda series, but yet another similarity or homage. So as you learn of the darkness that is on its way to hunt you down, you embark on an adventure that will include combat, boss battles, levelling up, upgrading acquired weapons, cutting bushes for loot and destroying ceramic pots. The overall goal for such a young boy is to search for Oceanhorn, the great monster of the uncharted seas and destroy it. This all has the makings of a great game.

The game play in Oceanhorn is just like the game's setting. It is very much in the same vein as the Legend of Zelda series. I wanted to try not to mention Zelda too much in this review but the fact of the matter is that Oceanhorn resembles it too much to ignore. Using a simple attack and block control system, the game play feels solid and works well. Most of the general combat with minions or enemies will be easy prey, although some of the enemies will take some getting used to and can pack quite the punch. I found it to be quite well crafted to find that some enemies were easy enough to destroy with the regular sword swipe, while some other were taking little to no damage. This lead to the use of other successful tactics of using objects such as nearby rocks to throw at the enemies to inflict bigger and more effective damage upon them.

Boss battles do make an appearance in Oceanhorn, however they have lacked the difficulty of some games of this genre, and I often dealt with them by throwing the overpowered bombs at them. Oceanhorn follows a set pace that will have you exploring medium sized islands set within a semi open world. While exploring the islands you aren't confined to a grid on the ground so you will be free to move around as you will. The islands are designed with verticality in mind, meaning that you will be climbing ladders and falling into dungeons to move around the areas. Frustratingly though, there seems to be an inconsistency in the height of the ledges that you can fall off or climb up. On some occasions I found myself able to climb ledges that were of similar height to others that I couldn't. The same goes for trying to fall off edges to get to an area of interest.

When exploring the islands you will find certain areas or puzzles that you won't be able to get to or solve. These will often require you to continue on in the game to find an upgrade or new ability to then return to complete. This furthers the similarities to the Zelda games, even to a point where you need bombs to open up dungeon entrances. 

The islands are a decent size for exploration, but they sometimes appear a lot smaller than they are. Often there is a large portion of the islands that are concealed underground or just out of sight. You can't swing the camera around to get a look at things from a different angle which can be constricting at times.

You will be required to take boring trips to the other islands using a sail boat. The sailing sections likely serve as a cover for a loading screen and can get quite mundane and annoying. In the beginning there is nothing for you to do on the seas while your boat autopilots across the seas leaving you to do nothing but watch. As you progress through the game and level your character up you will unlock a gun that you can use on your voyages. Although this does break up the monotonous task of doing nothing, it won't make you eager to travel. The gun you are given will then give rise to risk on the open waters with floating mines littering your path and sea enemies popping up to be shot at. You will gain XP for shooting things on the water but they offer little to no excitement along the way.
The graphical appearance of Oceanhorn is quite nice for the style that it has chosen. Another similarity here to the Zelda games is the art style. Oceanhorn appears to have taken its palette and art direction from Windwaker. Also considering that the game's location requires sea travel, they have also included a little boat for you to use to get to the different islands which looks and feels very much like Windwaker. 

Further to the considerations for the appearance of the game is Oceanhorn's smartphone origins. The game looks absolutely amazing on the Playstation 4 even with its simplistic graphical design. The art style works well and it runs smooth at all times. At times the screen will zoom in during a cut scene or a dialogue sequence which may show off some of the lower resolution textures, but this is nothing that will detract from the game. It still looks appealing and the bright colours are nice change from other drab styles.

The soundtrack for Oceanhorn was composed by Kalle Ylitalo, with a few additional compositions by Kenji Ito and Nobuo Uematsu who are known for work on Final Fantasy titles. This is testament to the quality of the sound track that has been used here. The music is grand and really adds to the adventure setting by using strong orchestral sounds that set the mood from low sombre strings to booming bass for tense moments of combat.

Overall Oceanhorn is obviously very much like the Legend of Zelda series but that doesn't make it a bad game for taking strong inspiration from another game. You could say that Oceanhorn lacks original direction, which I would say is very fair, but nothing grinds my gears more than a copy of a game that plays horrible when compared with the source material. Oceanhorn isn't like that at all. Its likeness can't be mistaken but it still remains a great game to play. It's a little simple overall but that simplicity likely remains from its mobile platform origins. It plays well and the excitement is real when you finally unlock a new weapon to use which will likely also mean that you can access new areas using that newly found weapon.

Oceanhorn is going to grant you over 10 hours of gameplay where the story is concerned but if you're keen to visit all of the islands and uncover all that it has to offer you're likely going to be invested for double that time. For a small scale developer and a game that originated on mobile phones, there's a lot to be seen. Oceanhorn is satisfying to play on a console using a gamepad and ticks a lot of the right boxes when it comes to adventure games of this type. Fans of the Zelda games can go one of two ways and either love this game for being a Zelda style game that is accessible on consoles other than a Nintendo, or they will loathe it for not having the deep lore that the Zelda games have developed over decades.
Thanks everyone for checking out this review and getting this far. You all make this worthwhile. Now go and have fun playing video games.

SCORE: 7 out of 10

Positives: 
  • Beautiful colour palette
  • Smooth 1080p resolution with 60fps
  • Decent port of a mobile game
  • Helpful mini map
  • Excellent music score
Negatives: 
  • Unenthused slow travelling
  • Easy puzzles and bosses
  • Frustrating invisible walls and ledges
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, iOS, PC/Steam, Mac OS
Genre: Single player Action/Adventure RPG
Initial Release: 14th November 2013
Developer:
Cornfox & Bros.
Publisher: FDG Entertainment

Lucas Aurelius
Aussie Gamers Express
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