I’m a sucker for an old school adventure title and Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas seemed to tick a lot of the right boxes for me. An attractive world to explore? Check. Plenty of puzzles to solve? Check. Dangerous dungeons and bosses to conquer? Check. That alone appealed to me from the get go, so I’d been looking forward to playing it – especially since it also bared some similarities to a much loved Nintendo franchise…
Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas casts you as a young adventurer who’s Father has disappeared after encountering a mysterious monster known only as ‘Oceanhorn’. After leaving you a letter telling you to reach out to a Hermit on a small island, you decide to try and find your Father and help him take out the monster once and for all. The task requires you to discover a series of artifacts across a wide variety of islands, and thus your adventure begins.
It’s a fairly simple tale that’ll never surprise you, though it’s charming enough to keep you entertained throughout the roughly ten hour adventure. Whilst the dialogue of the game is a little corny, its quirkiness kept me smiling. There was a neat Twin Peaks reference too, which is something I can always appreciate in any video game.
The islands of Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas have a distinct old school vibe, with each location adopting a block-like style. That’s not to say the game doesn’t look nice though; there are no ugly Minecraft-esque textures, the game instead offering a decent amount of detail with its surroundings. Everything is incredibly brightly coloured and vivid too, fitting in with the pleasant vibe that the game has. Whilst not extraordinary, the visuals do a good job of engrossing you into Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas’ delightful world.
The action takes place from a 3D isometric viewpoint, with the camera fixed in one set position. Not being able to move the camera around felt a little awkward initially, especially with how high the environment tended to be, but it was something I got used to quite quickly.
Every island had a different style too, with some focused around a dungeon to conquer, some having a village to explore, or some simply offering a bit of loot to discover. The game actually rewards you for taking your time to speak to everyone you meet, with NPCs typically either revealing secrets about your surroundings or even revealing the locations of new islands for you to explore. Alternatively you can discover island locations by finding messages in bottles, something that fits in perfectly with the whole ‘at sea’ vibe of the game.
Each new island offers plenty for you discover, with chests, collectible bloodstones and items waiting to be found. There are plenty of little optional puzzles to solve with varying rewards too. Each island his different challenges to complete, typically consisting of the likes of spending a required amount of gold, defeating enemies by different means or simply swimming for over 500 metres. You won’t get bored on islands and it’ll take you awhile before you 100% them all.
Sailing between islands is neat, but it’s a shame that you’re not actually able to control the boat yourself. It’s effectively an on-rails section, with the player able to shoot out at any sea monsters (of which there’s only one type) and crates full of items en-route. I think the game missed an opportunity by not introducing an epic sea battle set piece, whilst journeys between islands eventually feeling started feeling a little laboursome and un-varied.
Combat in Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas is efficient and enjoyable, though it doesn’t ever really require too much thought. There isn’t really a big differentiation with enemy types, most of them easily taken out by mashing them with sword attacks. You do have magic abilities to use too, but they felt a little awkward and broke up the action since you’d have to manually aim them. It typically felt easier (and more effective) to just keep mashing foes with your sword, though there were a few exceptions where enemies did need to be weakened with a magic attack first. The simple combat mechanics work well – they’re just not very invigorating and lack the ingenuity found in the Legend of Zelda titles.
Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas’ bosses are pretty cool though, each one requiring more than simple button mashing to take out. The enemy design of the game is neat, something that’s all the more evident in the boss battles – you come up against the likes of giant plant monsters, dark cultists and huge mechanical beasts. Whilst they don’t provide too much of a challenge (I only died twice in the whole game), they were satisfying to take down.
You’re able to level up in Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas with your character gaining XP from beating enemies, finding XP in chests, or by completing the various challenges in the game. Leveling up unlocks new abilities, allows you to hold more items, and rewards you with new items and coins. It was really satisfying to level up, especially since you never know what boosts you were going to unlock.
The game’s puzzles are enjoyable enough, though I think that the developers depended too much on ‘pushing box’ puzzles. There wasn’t a whole lot of puzzle variety with nearly every dungeon tasking you with pushing around boxes to clear a path – it was a bit disappointing that there wasn’t a little more that made me think outside of the ‘box’ (see what I did there).
From the moment you start playing you’ll see that the Legend of Zelda series was a clear inspiration for Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas; it never tries to hide this inspiration, but instead wears it like a badge of honour. Besides the gameplay itself, there are heart containers to be filled, grass to be sliced to find loot, boss keys to open doors in dungeons, bombs to blast open walls, a silent protagonist… the list goes on. There’s even a neat fishing mini-game that allows you to try your luck at getting some big catches, though I didn’t spend too much time with it. It’s certainly more like the classic Legend of Zelda games from a gameplay perspective, though the boat travelling is a little more reminiscent of Wind Waker. Legend of Zelda fans will certainly like what they’ll see in Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas though, even if it doesn’t reach the levels of ingenuity found in Nintendo’s famed franchise.
Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas’ soundtrack is fantastic, though it’s no surprise when you consider the game has famed ‘Final Fantasy’ composer Nobuo Uematsu on board. The tunes constantly impressed me, my personal favourite being the sailing theme that invoked a sense of wonder as I went from island to island aboard the boat. Wherever you are in-game, your adventure is always backed with a superb composition.
The voice acting is decent too, though there’s not a whole lot of it throughout the game. The dialogue could be a little corny and I did notice a couple of instances where the sound would cut out mid-sentence, but the delivery was competent enough.
Though it never reaches the levels of its obvious inspiration, Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas still provides a lot of entertainment with its adventuring gameplay. It lacks the ingenuity seen in Legend of Zelda titles and the game’s puzzling could be a little lacklustre, but still, there’s plenty to enjoy in this charming old-school style experience.
Developer: Cornfox & Bros.
Publisher: Cornfox & Bros.
Release Date: 07/09/2016
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC, Mac, iOS