A Link To The Past
HIGH It’s Zelda, for those unwilling to pay for the real thing.
LOW It’s not Zelda, no matter how hard it tries to be.
WTF Leading enemies to water and watching them drown themselves never gets old.
I approached Oceanhorn with cautious optimism. On one hand, this was billed as an Action-RPG in the vein of the 3D Zelda titles. On the other hand, this is a direct port of a mobile game – a platform not exactly known for originality, new ideas or top-tier gameplay. The end result is a game that definitely (and abundantly) honors its influences, but rarely, if ever, surpasses them.
Though I tried to keep the games separate in my head, I’ll have mentioned Zelda three times by the end of this paragraph, and it’s unlikely to stop. There’s simply no avoiding it – Oceanhorn is incredibly derivative of the venerable Nintendo cash cow – most notably via the gameplay styles of A Link to the Past and The Wind Waker.
This isn’t necessarily a knock on the game. If a company is going to ‘borrow’ ideas, it might as well borrow from the best. But, by the midway point of this ten-hour adventure, even the most ardent Link-lovers will tire of Oceanhorn‘s throwback gameplay and yearn for something more original. It was as if developers Cornfox & Bros. set out to create an homage to Zelda, and ended up creating an unofficial sequel instead.
Beginning on a tiny island, we learn that our protagonist lives with his father in a small tent. Dad left home in the middle of the night to kill a sea monster that has eluded him for years, and – rather than waking his son to explain this dramatic life decision – details his plans in a short letter. It sounds like a hopeless, near-suicide mission, but Dad clearly felt that single parenting was more frightening, so off he went.
Gamers shouldn’t worry about a thin plot. Despite our hero living on this island his entire life, a group of chatty villagers are more than happy to provide every possible background story detail. After meeting the requisite local hermit for even more exposition, our boy sets off to find his father, kill the monster, and – good golly – save the world.
Anyone will notice this is not groundbreaking RPG fare, but accessible mechanics make Oceanhorn a breeze to get into. Easy-to-learn combat and sailing controls welcome newcomers right in, while more experienced fans will appreciate the no-fuss simplicity. Within minutes, all but the most ham-fisted will be navigating the landscape with ease.
If there’s any complaint to be made about the controls, it’s that the developers took too much freedom from gamers’ hands by putting all the sailing sections on rails. It forces users to point, click, and endure lengthy travel sections without the choice to skip ahead. Sure, players can fire cannons at passing monsters and obstacles, but it doesn’t mask the need for more agency. Perhaps its inspiration (The Wind Waker) made it too easy to get lost while sailing, but there’s a happy medium between open-world and forward-progress that this design team missed by a pretty big margin.
On foot, the top-down perspective fits like an old shoe. Using a sword, bombs, or bow and arrow against enemies (while protecting a life bar represented by hearts, to boot), our unnamed protagonist can dispatch opponents with ease. Of course, all weapons and armor can be upgraded by progressing through the game, but other than a few boss fights, it’s not clear why the upgrades matter.
Heck, even the spells – a rare step away from Zelda – don’t seem to be effective, and before long, gamers will likely use them just to mix things up. Swords and bombs are easier, and usually just as effective.
One item of note: The enemy AI is lame. Not “I wish this was more challenging” lame, but more like “how do these creatures not drool more?” lame. Low-end foes act like lemmings, trotting in predictable patterns until users cross the imaginary line of action which sics them directly on the player. So, if the player decides to take the hero for a swim at the beach, these nasties will follow him right into the water, never to return. It’s like a tiny little Jonestown, right in the middle of fake Hyrule.
The appeal of Oceanhorn’s visuals depend on how forgiving the player is. All character models are nicely animated, and backgrounds are pleasant. But, there’s no mistaking that this is a port of a mobile title. The same can be said for the audio, which is innocuous at best and distracting at worst. Every track and audio effect sounds exactly as it would from a monaural phone speaker, and headphones do nothing to enhance the experience.
Once the campaign concluded, I was left satisfied, if not a little underwhelmed. Oceanhorn is a perfectly adequate Action-RPG, but one that adheres too closely to the obvious source material. Most of the Zelda series is fantastic, but that doesn’t mean it should be ripped off at will. Even with a few unique elements, this title does nothing to stand out against a broader range of titles in the genre. Gamers who absolutely need a quick, harmless Zelda fix can safely download it, but anyone else should probably take a pass on Oceanhorn.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Cornfox & Bros. It is currently available on Xbox One, Windows 10, Steam, iOS and PS4. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Xbox One. Approximately 10 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E and contains nothing objectionable other than some serious plagiarism.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game contains subtitles, and only uses audio to enhance the experience. Gamers who are deaf or hard of hearing can enjoy Oceanhorn without any limitations.
Remappable Controls: The simplistic controls are not remappable.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.