By Anthony L. Cuaycong
CONSIDERING the thematic foundations of Oceanhorn: Monster of the Uncharted Seas, you wouldn’t be wrong to argue that it harks closely to titles in The Legend of Zelda (TLoZ) series, particularly The Wind Waker, A Link to the Past, and Phantom Hourglass. After all, it bears plenty of the elements of, and often looks and feels like, the aforesaid TLoZ releases. Still, it would be unfair for you to dismiss the creation of developers Cornfox & Brothers — known for churning out Death Rally and De Blob Revolution on mobile devices — as a clone; the homage notwithstanding, it possesses attributes that distinguish it from its inspiration.
Perhaps because of its iOS roots, Oceanhorn’s story is straightforward and simple. The character you control is spurred into action after his father leaves the island they inhabit to do battle with a thousand-year-old sea monster. The hows and the whys are part of what await you as you embark on your adventure, but success is as much in your journey as in your destination. En route to your final encounter with the titular enemy boss, you encounter obstacles and are compelled to explore islands in order to prep yourself for the challenges to come.
If you’re looking for a sweeping epic with multiple crests and troughs on the Switch, Oceanhorn isn’t for you. TLoZ: Breath of the Wild it isn’t. That said, it makes no pretenses to being anything more than it actually is: a fun romp that won’t tax you or leave you frustrated and intent on finishing it by way of giving its developers the finger. In search of your father, you go from island to island, overcoming foes, solving puzzles, and claiming items you need — without really breaking a sweat. There are no head scratchers; you have more than enough at your disposal to keep following the trail in an open world that isn’t quite as open as it seems.
Creditably, Oceanhorn boasts of smooth framerates and solid controls. There are no movement or input lags, and its predilection for instant gratification — as opposed to long bouts in combat for similar adventure titles — makes it a good fit for the Switch’s mobility. It certainly fares well in small doses. The little time you have between chores can be spent talking to NPCs or seeing more of the island you’re in (and thereby uncovering more of the map you’re given), or even engaging in a random battle or two. Soon enough, your playing hours add up and bring you closer to your ultimate boss fight.
Parenthetically, Oceanhorn benefits from its technical excellence. Even as the game has you fulfilling side quests in order to meet your ultimate objective, you find yourself taken in by the visual and aural experience. Clearly, Cornfox & Brothers paid painstaking attention to detail in porting the title — initially released for smartphones and tablets in 2013 and then for the XBox One and PlayStation 4 last year — to the Switch. The graphical design is stunning and the soundtrack — courtesy of indie artist Kalle Ylitalo and Mana and SaGa series composers Nobuo Uematsu and Kenji Ito — strikes the right immersive tones.
To be sure, Oceanhorn isn’t perfect. Navigating terrains, for example, can be a hit-and-miss exercise, bogged down by programming limitations or by the absence of still-to-be-acquired equipment. Camera placements are likewise hampered by unexplained restrictions, a disappointment in light of the Switch’s multiple input options. And then there are the hurdles, which, while mostly elementary, can border on the repetitive.
In sum, Oceanhorn delivers plenty of value for money. At $14.99, it costs a quarter of the price of TLoZ: BoTW and yet provides some 15 to 20 hours of enjoyment. It’s best appreciated as a handheld offering for the Switch; it’s nowhere near revolutionary, but it’s good to go on the go, and it figures to keep you engrossed far longer than you think.
Video Game Review
Oceanhorn: Monster of the Uncharted Seas
• Simple and fun
• Can be taken in spurts
• Visually and aurally striking
• Unoriginal and can get repetitive
• No features exclusive to the Switch