An Inspired Adventure That Shines on Its Own
By Edwin Velez
Reviewed on Xbox One
Released on September 6th, 2016 on Xbox One - Also available on Steam, PS4, Nintendo Switch, PS VITA, and iOS
Developer: FDG Entertainment Publisher: FDG Entertainment
NOTE: This article was updated on 8/13/2017 to reflect our thoughts on the Nintendo Switch Version
Time and time again the gaming world is plagued or blessed with clones of classics. From cheap imitations to bona-fide spiritual successors, many devs have taken a swing at either cashing in on the classics or drawing inspiration from them. Many "clones" come in the form of mobile downloads, as they require little to no marketing yet can net people some easy ad revenue just by way of nostalgia. Oceanhorn is a title that too got its start on a mobile platform, specifically iOS. Having just been released on Xbox One, I can without a doubt tell you this is no cheap imitation. At first glance, it is easy to see that The Legend of Zelda series is a clear inspiration, but the more you play you will realize that Oceanhorns level of quality and appreciation of the subject matter makes it a standout game.
Having been originally launched on iOS, Oceanhorn is that much more impressive. As a Windwaker-esque title, you are in for one heck of an adventure. It’s abundantly clear early on that this game does everything that a TLoZ game should do like solid combat and puzzles while maintaining whimsical exploration. But what really pulls through is where it pushes its own boundaries, bringing to the table a strong narrative that is backed by fully voiced scenes and narrations (all of which are solidly acted out.) Packed with lush vibrant landscapes, my hours of exploration were easy on the eyes, as well as the ears. The soundtrack is incredibly impressive, hitting the right notes at the right times. From tunes that embody mystery and wonder, or even dread and horror, the songs chime in at just the right moment to tie everything together.
As you journey to stop the beast known as Oceanhorn, you will see a wide variety of people, enemies and landscapes. The variety for a game of this scale was great. There were multiple sprites for townsfolk, which featured three different races all with unique personalities. Enemies too looked different, and some even changed up depending on which one of the many islands you were on. You will face several bosses throughout the game, each emulating a sense of excitement with each encounter. The islands themselves were great to discover and explore, varying in both size and scope. One of my personal favorite features of Oceanhorn is how you actually unlock new islands. While some come about through natural story progression, others come by way of interactions with townsfolk. Chat with someone and they may mention an island, and if that’s the first time you have heard of it, that island is now open for travel. The well sized and populated map is traversed by way of your sail boat. While there is unfortunately no controlling the boat, there is some interaction to be had on the high seas. Whether it is a friendly greeting from a passersby, or the player taking out his pellet gun to blast away enemies and debris, the sailboat is a fun trip to enjoy.
The solid combat is supported by a respectable arsenal of weapons and equipment. The standard fare, bow and arrows as well as bombs, allow for ranged combat in addition to helping you solve puzzles. There are also magic abilities, of which I found two during my time with the game, although it would seem there are more hidden elsewhere. These slow down time when you are in the middle of casting, as it is a point and click style maneuver. I wish this was tweaked a little more for the port, as the point and click style doesn’t really work as well as everything else does. Another gripe I have is with the fire spell, which when launched, does not show a lick of fire on the screen whatsoever. It may not be a huge deal for some, but for a title that already features fire in multiple facets, I feel it would have been an easy addition to add to the overall effects. Other than those, your other options are more or less equipment. The Trecher Boots, for instance, allow you to jump gaps and roll dodge. These are great, but their only downfall is that they are attributed to the same button as your other equipment. If any item deserved its own face button, it’s the Trecher Boots. To top it off, you get a fishing rod early on that allows you to fish anywhere there is a dock or suitable platform near water. It’s a really fun minigame that offers a welcome change of pace and only adds to the overall package.
Oceanhorn is just really easy to love. It’s a touch more on the casual side in comparison than a Zelda game would be, but considering its mobile roots it is completely understandable. It is not to say that it does not work in the titles favor, because it totally does. Aside from some cheap tactics on the last boss, I was never once stressed out during my playthrough, and that is without a doubt due to the lax nature at hand. As I said before, the game has that magical, whimsical feel and it really just drives the pacing as a whole. Oceanhorn has a much stronger narrative than I would have expected in a title of this nature, and it is truly hard to believe a game of this quality originated from a mobile app store. Fans of old-school action adventure will find an easy buy in this title, one they surely will not regret. Oceanhorn is a lighthearted, high quality, and memorable experience that will make fans of The Legend of Zelda series more than at home and excite them for a sequel like it did me.
NINTENDO SWITCH NOTES:
A good game is one that can stand the test of time, coming out on the other side strong and renowned as ever. Oceanhorn is a great game by many merits, that last notion included. Now out on the Nintendo Switch, it is finally on a console from the family of which its clear inspirations are home to. Being a Zelda-esque game, Oceanhorn comes to a platform that is host to a Game of the Year contender, that being Breath of the Wild. Though similar in essence, the two are wildly different iterations of the genre. While BotW is a massive, in depth adventure title, Oceanhorn is smaller scale, being a bit more casual on approach. It is still a gorgeous game to look at on the Switch, running smooth and popping with colors. While I preferred the controls on my Xbox One playthrough, it still handles pretty solid on the Switch, though I did notice my character movements were not as accurate, resulting in a lot of bridges having to be re-walked when I fell off from time to time. All in all though, it is a great time to pick it up if you have not already played through it on one of its many other platform releases. Though it’s not the first time it has gone mobile, it certainly has to be the best, fitting right at home on the Switch.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purposes of the review
Final Score: 9/10
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