Oceanhorn - Monster of Uncharted Seas is a title that has come a very long way. Originally releasing as an App on Apple’s iOS, it has since seen releases on the PC, the Mac OS, and most recently both Sony’s PS4 and Microsoft’s XB1. Using both a game play and visual style that pays homage to a few of Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda games, you are tasked with searching the seas for a way to defeat the mechanical sea monster known as Oceanhorn.
If anyone could have ever made an homage to The Wind Waker, Cornfox & Bros have. Oceanhorn while feeling “Zelda-y”, especially in the vein of Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass, still manages to find its own footings and charm even hours into the adventure. Once equipped with your basic, yet trusty, sword and shield it isn’t long until you are given a boat to leave the tutorial island behind.
Using a simplistic approach that works in its favor, setting out on the high seas is done easily and early enough with simply walking over to your boat telling yourself that you’ve had enough of this Popsicle stand. Once inside of your boat, there is a bit of transition as you are brought from the Island over to the world map where you can set a course to your next destination. Instead of having sail through each and every grid in hopes of running across what you are looking for, you instead pick and island and the rest is automatic sailing.
With the automatically sailing, finding new islands has to be done in another way. Instead of sailing blindly, talking with various people on each island will unlock other adventur-able islands through conversations. Since these people will be talked to anyways, it was a good avenue in order to figure out the paths forward. Other times finding names of islands can be done on washed up messages in bottles that are just begging to be read. In essence, by discovering islands in this manner both advances the plot and shows off some other islands in which you can’t quite conquer yet due to not having the right tools. Those will come soon enough though a bit of exploration and finding your own way is required.
Even from the start and once you’ve set off sailing, Oceanhorn doesn’t hold your hand which is refreshing. The tutorials themselves are pretty much sign posts on the first island while looking for your father’s gear but aside from that there are no long winded conversations or tutorials that make you follow their instructions to the letter. Just being able to get out there and go was awesome. As such there are a few things that will take some time in order to get used to and even now I’m not sure if it was a design choice, or a limitation originally put into place to reduce frustration on the platform of origin.
Environment designs are all done with blocks set onto multiple levels that sit atop of one another. At first it seemed bizarre, if not annoying, that I couldn’t just drop down that two block level drop and then it occurred to me. Touch controls, while they themselves work very well, the fingers using them may not always follow along the same lines. So either the choice for limitation was done for this reason or it was done as a design choice. Either way, the level designs themselves are easy enough to navigate and to solve the puzzles though some back tracking will be required now and again due to the lack of items and tools such as bombs or the bow and arrow.
The interesting thing about the level design is that it doesn’t take very long in order to come to the conclusion that you should head off somewhere else to explore. Seeing an object out of reach, seeing a wall that can come down, these are indications that either mean there’s another way through or you’ll just have to come back. The backtracking never really feels like it encumbers the adventure as every time you come back with the items required there are new places to see. With the island hopping that doesn’t take that long, hoping between each location while looking for your way forward is never really an issue and can open up some newer places to explore.
Where Oceanhorn differentiates itself from being a pure homage is that there’s experience and leveling up that can be done. Defeating monsters, finding experience in chests (it’s a thing), completing quests, and finishing challenges all give off their own amounts. Once enough has been gained for a level up then your title changes and access to new abilities or extra equipment is granted. Each level has its own specific reward with some granting the ability to carry more bombs and arrows while others allow for faster sailing making the island hopping that much faster. This isn’t new by any means with classics such as SoulBlazer back on the SNES having added RPG elements into the Action Adventure while following the Zelda formula, but, it adds a bit more spice and the backtracking becomes even more useful as the experience from monsters alone can always bring you that much closer to the next level up.
Even if it originally launched back on the iOS platform years ago now, Oceanhorn is gorgeous to look at on the PS4. With plenty of exploration to be done, leveling up in order to discover new rewards in order to make the journey even smoother, this homage to The Wind Waker has more than enough to stand on its own two feet. I’m happy that Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm was announced and it already looks good. It means that this excellent experience is just the start!
Cornfox & Bros.
Cornfox & Bros.
Article by Pierre-Yves