Over the years, many games have attempted to capture the magic of Nintendo’s beloved Zelda series. However, there’s a fine line between using these inspirations to craft something that still has some form of individuality, and blatantly cloning it in hopes of finding an audience.
While Cornfox & Bros.’ Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas is somewhat enjoyable to play, I spent most of my adventure wondering if it’d ever step away from its formulaic approach to The Legend of Zelda and eventually become its own game. Unfortunately, it didn’t.
Instead, Oceanhorn strikes me as a bite-sized Zelda-like experience that uses nostalgia as a crutch, rather than attempting to distinguish itself in any way, shape, or form.
Each of the events that transpire in Oceanhorn had me reminiscing about the great times I’d had in other, better games, rather than focusing on what was occurring on my TV screen. A boy wakes up in an empty house, doesn’t talk, and stumbles across a sword and shield. There’s an old hermit there to assist him in finding his lost father, alluding to an epic showdown with the monstrous beast Oceanhorn.
There’s clay pots to throw and tall grass to cut, both rewarding things like heart and mana refills, or coins. The boy eventually learns how to use bombs to expose secret walls, a bow & arrow, and even a fishing rod. Not only does he receive a boat to ride from island to island, but he’s on a quest to find three magical artifacts and a powerful sword.
If all of this sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Almost verbatim.
Even combat itself fails to exhibit any form of originality. Most enemies simply require repeated slashings to take down, with other notables being ripped directly from the pages of The Legend of Zelda, yet again.
One enemy in particular is an octopus-like creature that erupts from the ground and spews a rock that must be reflected back using the hero’s shield. The game’s first major boss encounter is no different, tasking you with slashing various parts before tossing bombs in to its exposed mouth.
The silent protagonist also has use of a limited dash, a charged spin-attack, and Link’s iconic “NYAH! HYA! HYUH!” roll, and can even extend the length of his heart meter by (you guessed it) finding four hidden heart pieces.
Visually, it captures that pseudo-vibrant Nintendo look of games like Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker and, to a much lesser extent, Wind Waker, which provides some aesthetically pleasing environments. There’s multiple islands to explore, from standard tropical fare to the more mystical settings that act as home bases to a race of owl and fish-folk.
Environments are constructed in such a way that almost resembles an isometric Minecraft, with various levels and slopes crafted from a series of blocks. The player’s hero is unable to climb, and may only drop down a single block level, making traversal a bit maze-like and somewhat unsatisfying.
Throughout the adventure additional islands open up that can be reached using the hero’s boat, which surprisingly lacks a talking dragon head. While this does give the game a sense of scale, it’s an unnecessary addition that adds nothing to the experience. You’re given no freedom to explore the titular “uncharted seas,” but rather open a map, select a destination, and hang back while the game shifts to auto-pilot.
Though most of Oceanhorn failed to connect with me, its magnificent soundtrack vastly exceeded my expectations. Kalle Ylitalo, along with help from Square Enix veterans Nobuo Uematsu and Kenji Ito, have together masterfully crafted a series of whimsical tracks that play in to the game’s sense of adventure and exploration, and Oceanhorn is significantly better for it.
The same care doesn’t extend to the game’s voice acting, however, which comes across as shoddy and surprisingly low budget. It’s not as if the voice actors had much to work with, given Oceanhorn’s forgettable narrative, but the stark contrast between the soundtrack and voice over quality is pretty staggering. Of all things to not borrow from the Zelda series, it’s the addition of voice acting — and it backfired.
At times, Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas feels like the most devoted love letter to The Legend of Zelda series ever written, but it mostly suffers from a severe identity crisis. We already have a plethora of fantastic Zelda games across a number of available Nintendo platforms, so Oceanhorn’s draw is only to those with sole access to the Xbox One or PS4.
To anyone else, is there a reason to care, to invest your time and money in a game that’s fine being “like Zelda,” but on platforms other than Nintendo’s? Personally, I’d rather revisit A Link to the Past, or Ocarina of Time.
We already have The Legend of Zelda, and I have a hard time arguing that anyone should want to play a game that borrows 95% of its core from a legendary series that has not only stood the test of time, but is readily available and does everything significantly better.
As someone who owes their entire passion for gaming to The Legend of Zelda, I understand its importance and get why such a treasured series would cause a group of developers to become inspired by it. I just wish they would have applied more original ideas and showcased their artistic prowess, instead of neatly coloring within the lines.
Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas isn’t necessarily bad, as there’s clearly an adventure buried somewhere underneath its 30 years of source material, but I just don’t see where it fits in with modern gaming unless you don’t have access to a Nintendo platform.
*So where’s the final score? There isn’t one. I spent a lot of time conveying my opinion in the above text, and I hope that’s worth more to you than some arbitrary number or a sequence of shaded-in star shapes. Basically, I’m not a fan of scores so I no longer use them. Read the review and judge for yourself if the game is worth your time and money.
Full disclosure: This review was done using an Xbox One copy of Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas that was provided by the game’s publisher, FDG Entertainment. While I’m sometimes given games to review, I pride myself on providing unbiased reviews to fellow consumers, along with constructive feedback to hard working developers and publishers. Whether or not I pay for the game is completely irrelevant.