Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas is a Zelda-like that has been prominent on mobile devices, but has made the jump from there to the PlayStation Vita (yes! It’s still alive and they still make games for it!) Is it a worthy game in the style of the legendary warrior Link? Or is it doomed to die, tangled in its own morass of bombs and swords?
The hero of Oceanhorn is a strapping young lad who goes off on a quest to bring peace to the land by defeating Oceanhorn, the monster of the titular uncharted seas. Along the way he’ll fill his inventory with things, defeat many strange beasts, and even discover the truth about who he is. It’s a very familiar trope if you’ve played a Legend of Zelda game before, along with the whole “get the toy, use the toy to unlock new area, get a new toy, kill the boss” and the familiar sets of keys that unlock doors in a given sequence so that you can get a new key to unlock the locked area to get a toy (like bombs!) that gives you access to the boss key…you get the idea. One of the interesting diverges from the game it’s based on is the availability of spells to your hero, but when you stop to think, it’s just another toy in your arsenal.
But then Oceanhorn diverges from the familiar to become something of its own. The environments, for example, are all isometric 3D landscapes, and where The Legend of Zelda wants nothing to do with XP or levels, these are a part of the Oceanhorn experience. The homages are all still there, though, from Zora-like sea creatures to being able to sail the oceans like in Wind Waker, but even there, you’re less piloting a ship and exploring the ocean and more hearing about an island and autopiloting your way there. Despite the charm, it’s still a shadow of the game it’s paying homage to.
While Oceanhorn is mostly smooth sailing, I ran into some issues that had a lot more to do with design than with game bugs. One of these is how difficult it was to figure out which walls were bombable and which were just ordinary walls. If there was a colour difference, I did not perceive it, being colourblind as I am. This meant that there were periods of time where I was running around not seeing a way to proceed without bombing every wall in sight until the right one disintegrated.
Combat was nothing too complicated, which once again belies the game’s mobile roots. The PS Vita, a bona fide device with buttons, could have done with a tweak to the combat to make it more engaging. That said, where you use it, it’s competent and I had no complaints about it otherwise.
I never played the original iOS version, but on the PS Vita, the game has plenty of screen real estate to play with. It’s delightfully colorful and seems to have been destined for the system. It’s a brilliant game to play in small increments on the go. Graphical fidelity notwithstanding, I ran into the odd graphical glitch, such as the camera going straight into the head of the Hero. I know they say that to understand a character, you should get into his head, but I don’t think this is what they meant. Many parts of the game are fully voiced, but there’s no definite consistency. That being said, the voice overs are competent, and not overly jarring, barring the one or two youngish voices that are supposed to go to an older character.
Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas is a fun game, and it kept me engaged during the time I played it. On the one hand, it’s very clearly a love letter to the game it takes inspiration from, and it’s easy to appreciate it as such. On the other, it’s also clearly a game that came from mobile, and the simplistic puzzles and fighting system makes this all too apparent. There’s not much replayability value, but there are enough collectibles scattered around the various islands to keep you hunting for a decent amount of time. Play it? Of course you should. It’s still fun, and it’s always fun to pick out those bits of homage to the games it’s based on. And of course, there’s the sequel to look forward to!