It’s not uncommon for mobile games to be lacking in the individuality department, because developers tend to like to borrow ideas from other titles without reservation. You can say what you want about this practice, but it’s sometimes successful, as things are reworked and improved upon to create more engaging experiences. Although those occurrences are more rare than they are common, Cornfox & Bros. has managed to enter this category with its top-down action-adventure game, Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas.
Taking just one look at Oceanhorn reveals the type of game that it is, and it quickly becomes apparent that this action-RPG contains more Zelda than anything else. It’s obvious that the developers were big fans of both A Link to the Past and The Wind Waker, because those two adventures are emulated closely within. That’s not a bad thing, per se, given that Cornfox & Bros. were able to pay homage to their inspiration by doing its iconic mechanics justice, but their obvious lack of creativity is hard to overlook.
Things begin on a small, hermit’s island, where our hero and his father have been living in a tent perched on top of a picturesque cliff. The parent doesn’t stay long, however, and leaves the area without waking his son. A note – detailing his mission – is all that is left for the boy, who awakens to a bout of confusion.
Simply put, our protagonist’s father has left to kill a monster that he failed to dispatch of during previous attempts. Not just any beast, either: it’s Oceanhorn, the last remaining creature from a catastrophic era that brought devastation to the world and ruined civilizations in the process. The man feels that it’s his duty to end things once and for all, but his pride has led him into a likely suicide mission.
After awakening to find that his father is gone, the young boy reads the letter. It’s following that explanation that our quest begins, with a trip down to the hermit’s hut, to learn some world history and get some pointers. Minutes later, it’s decided that we’ll take up our father’s cause, and will do everything we can to both save him from certain doom and destroy Oceanhorn forever. It’s not going to be easy, though, because long lost seals must first be discovered if we’re ever going to stand a chance.
Needless to say, this storyline is typical role-playing fare, and doesn’t do a whole lot to separate itself from the crowd. There’s a neat and somewhat interesting world to explore, but even it lacks the depth you’d find in a larger game of this ilk. Then again, Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas began its life on mobile before it came to Steam and current-gen consoles, so one’s expectations must stay in check.
Over the course of this eight to nine hour-long campaign, you’ll sail the open seas and explore various different islands, all of which have their own secrets to discover. It’s here where the Wind Waker references really shine through, since sailing from one place to another was a key part of that colourful game. However, unlike the big budget affair it so obviously borrows from, this particular title never gives its players control of their boat. Instead, one must chart course by pointing to an island on the hero’s sea chart, before enduring an on rails trip to that location.
Those who hated getting lost in Wind Waker will appreciate this simple and much more straightforward approach to travel, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t miss the freedom. The good news, though, is that there’s something you can do while sailing, that being firing a cannon at attacking sea monsters. Said cannon can also be used to blow up bombs that threaten your passage, and to destroy floating boxes that usually offer money in return.
When you’re not sailing to and from both familiar and rumoured about islands, you’ll find yourself engaging in classic Zelda gameplay, while using a sword and a shield for combat and defence. Enemies come in several different forms, from bats and skeletons to orcs and fire breathing masks, and most bring to mind creatures from Nintendo’s iconic franchise. The same is true of the bosses, who are large and enjoyable to face, albeit not as original as they could have been.
Oceanhorn‘s enemies also aren’t the brightest creatures. Sometimes they’ll follow you into water and commit suicide in the process, while others will simply stand there and let you hit them. For instance, a certain one-on-one boss fight was made easier by the foe continually walking into a wall as I slashed away at him. To avoid taking complete advantage of his idiocy, I stopped and let him regroup so that it’d be more of a fair fight.
Thankfully, these lapses aren’t all that common, though the average enemy still offers little in the way of a challenge. Some do, though, by gleefully slamming large hammers and axes with reckless abandon. To avoid this, you must simply pull out your shield after each swipe and repeat until the beast is no more.
Perhaps the above can partially be blamed on Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas‘ mobile roots, much like its somewhat simplistic gameplay can be. However, more could surely have been done to make this a more challenging and harrowing experience than it is. The good news, though, is that things play out in a mostly solid fashion without anything in the way of major technical problems. The gameplay is solid, and offers the odd interesting dungeon and thought provoking puzzle, but it’s all very much A Link to the Past. Hell, the items you find (outside of a fishing rod for hobby fishing) are almost all borrowed from Zelda, including the familiar bow and arrow, bombs and heart pieces. Spells change things up a bit, but they’re not the most useful things out there and are better served for puzzle solving than general combat.
Despite its lack of creativity, Oceanhorn still manages to be a very solid and enjoyable game. It won’t appease everyone, but those who are willing to check their expectations in favour of playing a Zelda-like quest on a non-Nintendo console will find a campaign worth experiencing.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.
It's obvious from the get go that Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas feels no shame about borrowing heavily from classics like The Wind Waker and A Link to the Past. However, despite being very clone-like in nature and lacking in originality, this game still manages to be quite good. Sure, it doesn't live up to Link's name, but it's polished, interesting and enjoyable enough to be worth a gander.