Monday, September 12, 2016

Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas Review (XONE)

Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas is basically an indie copy of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker.  There is no other way to describe it.  It looks like Wind Waker.  It plays like Wind Waker.  Its pretty much Wind Waker.  That isn’t automatically a bad thing, of course, as indie games often try to recapture old gaming thrills by paying homage to classic games, but usually those games add something new to the formula to make the experience unique.  Oceanhorn instead seems content to just borrow wholesale from its inspiration without changing much, which leaves the game feeling quite bland and hollow despite being competently made and actually having a fair amount of polish in the presentation.  See our full Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas review for details.

Game Details

  • Publisher: FDG Entertainment
  • Developer: Cornfox & Bros
  • ESRB Rating: “E10” for Everyone 10+
  • Genre: Action
  • Pros: Great music; looks good; definitely has that Zelda gameplay rhythm
  • Cons: No charm; a bit simple and repetitive; doesn’t do anything new
  • MSRP: $15

Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas is the tale of a world where mankind’s thirst for a precious resource accidentally unleashed ancient monsters into the world.  Most of those monsters are gone now, but the biggest and baddest of them, Oceanhorn, still roams the seas.  After his father disappears while tracking down Oceanhorn, the game’s hero picks up his father’s sword and shield and sets out to find him. 

Along the way you’ll sail around a large open ocean hopping from one specifically themed island to another, find powerful and mysterious items scattered around the world required to defeat evil, explore dungeons, discover new weapons, and break a lot of clay pots.  If all of that sounds familiar, that’s because it is!  The story setup is obviously a little different, but pretty much everything else is borrowed from Wind Waker. 

The gameplay is exactly what you’d expect.  You have a sword and shield as well as items like bombs, a bow and arrow, and other genre tropes.  There isn’t any sort of lock-on “Z-targeting” mechanic here, but the levels aren’t really true 3D anyway – you see things more from a fixed isometric camera angle – so you don’t really need to lock on.  Instead you just mash the attack button and wail away with your sword, occasionally blocking when you need to.  The game is dead simple to play and fairly easy, honestly, which likely is due to the game’s origins on mobile devices where you can’t have too complicated of controls or too taxing of action.  There are boss fights too, of course, which do require a little more strategy and thought than fighting the normal enemies, but even they are generally easier than most Zelda bosses.

The other main aspect of the gameplay is sailing from island to island, but it is surprisingly disappointing because you don’t actually have control in these sections.  You just select whatever island you want to travel to on the map and then the game automatically sails you there while you watch.  You do get the ability to shoot while sailing fairly early on, which lets you attack enemies or destroy floating crates to find treasure, but it is pretty darn boring in practice.  There is no sense of exploration or discovery while sailing in Oceanhorn.  You’re just along for the ride, which isn’t satisfying at all.

Don’t get me wrong, despite my negative tone Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas actually plays just fine.  It is just that if you’re blatantly cribbing from some of the most beloved games of all time, you should probably aim higher than “just fine”.  It needs to do things better than Wind Waker and other 3D adventure games, not simply be the same or worse.  Even the things the game does try to do differently, like having a fishing minigame (whose controls barely make sense) or using a level-up XP system (that seems arbitrary since you can’t choose how to upgrade) simply don’t add much to the experience. 

They also forgot one important aspect of not just Wind Waker, but Nintendo titles in general, and that is charm and likeability.  The cast in Oceanhorn is bland and forgettable and the overall world is just sort of by the numbers and boring.  There is none of that magical special something Nintendo always manages to add to draw you in and instead Ocearnhorn often times just feels like its just ticking items off a checklist of “stuff it should have”.  It isn’t especially fun.  It doesn’t do anything special.  It is just a copy without the charm.

I do have to give Oceanhorn credit for one thing, though, and that is the presentation is actually pretty awesome.  The graphics are quite good looking overall and are very bright and colorful and pleasant to look at.  The water also looks great.  The sound is a little more hit and miss – the voice acting is a definite miss – but the soundtrack from Nobuo Uematsu and Kenji Ito (they basically made all the good music for Square back in the day) is very, very good and easily the most memorable aspect of the whole experience.

Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas is a totally competent 3D adventure game, but it is also totally unspectacular.  It doesn’t do anything truly special or new or unique and it seriously lacks the charm and soul that so effectively draws you in to other games in the genre.  It is particularly disappointing when other recent Xbox One indie releases like Hyper Light Drifter and Stories of Bethem: Full Moon have done a great job delivering a 2D Zelda-like experience on the system, so it is a shame Oceanhorn couldn’t do the same for 3D Zelda.  One thing working in Oceanhorn’s favor is that it is only $15, so it isn’t a huge investment if you’re curious and want to check it out, just don’t expect the same magic you feel from the games it’s inspired by. 
Disclosure: A review code was provided by the publisher.