Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas (Switch eShop) Review
I’m always wary when I hear that a mobile game has some to the Switch. I don’t mean to be discriminatory, I just know how (relatively) easy it is to port something from a mobile platform to the Switch hardware. Which to me, signifies keywords like “rushed” or “cash-ins”. Oceanhorn: Monster of the Uncharted Seas is neither of those things, but it’s not fantastic either. A cute little throwback to older games in the Zelda series, Oceanhorn lays the foundation for something special but never quite reaches the heights that Zelda does.
Oceanhorn has a storyline but it’s not that essential to the enjoyment of the experience it provides. In the game, you play as a young boy who wakes up one morning to find that his dad has left the island they live on to kill the Oceanhorn, a creature that threatens the world they live in. That’s pretty much it. There’s almost no twists or turns that’ll keep you hooked (at least, playing for the story solely) and it’s hard to care about our nameless protagonist. I hate to compare, but he ain’t no Link.
At first glance, I wouldn’t blame you if you thought Oceanhorn looked like a bit of a Wind Waker rip-off. To some extent, it is, though it lacks the intricate design and focus to be something truly special. At its heart, it is a Zelda clone that has you moving from island to island in a wide-open sea to find items and progress through the story. It’s a simplistic design approach, though one that functions better when the Switch is with you out and about. When you’re at home, it’s hard to imagine anyone digging deep into Oceanhorn’s simple puzzles and scenarios. It feels perfectly designed for portable, quick bursts of play.
Despite this, there’s quite a bit to see and do in terms of quantity, though it’s the quality that is the big question here. You’ll be able to explore a myriad of islands in Oceanhorn but many of them feel the same – being filled with enemies all cut from the same ilk. There is an attempt to spice things up here, with Oceanhorn letting you explore beaches and caves, but the feel the same which leads to a pretty disappointing slog that’ll take most players about ten to fifteen hours to plough through depending on how efficient you are with your time.
What hasn’t survived the move from mobile and touchscreen to the Switch is the combat system. While at first glance it seems to have heaps of variety, employing the likes of bombs, arrows and swords with shields; Oceanhorn clearly wasn’t designed for someone with real, tactile button controls. Most enemies can be felled by hitting them rapidly with your sword. I don’t expect a game of this scope to have a lock-on system like games like Zelda, but it’s just clear that Oceanhorn was designed for slower touch-based controls.
When you’re not on land you’ll probably be at sea, and Oceanhorn does things a little differently to Wind Waker despite the visuals similarities. Your map is blank when you first begin your journey, but as you progress through the story islands will appear which can be navigated to. Other islands can be uncovered just from listening to gossip and tales from other NPCs too. When you choose an island, your character sails to it. There’s no controlling the boat and little to do while you wait for the boat to move from island to island, but enemies pop up every now and then to shoot down, and other travellers greet you as they pass them. It feels considerably less open than it looks because of this, but it’s still pleasant experience (if not sometimes slightly boring) to sail between land-masses.
In terms of presentation, Oceanhorn looks slick on the Switch enjoying a silky-smooth frame rate and some authentic looking oceans. Despite this, the art direction can look generic and derivative at times. It’s a great looking game but one that lacks visual variety, though I’d chalk this up to it’s mobile origins more than anything else. Somehow, and amazingly, some of the music tracks are scored by Final Fantasy’s Nobuo Uematsu, and these tracks are easily the standout, capturing the feel and the light whimsy of the ocean breeze perfectly. Despite an okay looking game with some standard art direction, the soundtrack really helps build the atmosphere of Oceanhorn’s world.
It’s easy to look at Oceanhorn like I did and write it off as a derivate Zelda knock-off. And to some extent it is. Mixing the best and worst bits of both Phantom Hourglass with The Wind Waker, Zelda fans are bound to find something here to tide them over while waiting for the next big game on the Switch. It has almost all the right elements that you’d expect to find in an adventure game inspired by Zelda.
Despite this, it’s not the strongest offering and is clearly stuck between its origins on mobile and where it’s found itself on consoles. Arguably, the Switch is the best fit for Oceanhorn too. While it has issues, I just know the groundwork has been laid for a killer sequel and I can’t wait to see what Oceanhorn’s world will look like when we return in the years to come.
Rating: 3 / 5