It’s not hard to draw comparisons between Oceanhorn and a certain iconic Nintendo Franchise. So it’s only fitting that the game eventually made it’s way to Nintendo’s newest platform, the Switch. Looking at screenshots, it’s easy to see that the developers were inspired by Nintendo’s tunic wearing hero. The similarities are undeniable; the hero’s appearance, the game’s narrative, and overall design choices scream The Legend of Zelda. I’m not saying that’s at all a bad thing though as Oceanhorn takes the formula and gives it their own touch. Whether it’s any fun is a whole other issue.
The game is viewed from a top down, isometric, perspective and set on a series of islands. There’s various buildings to enter, caves to explore, and puzzles to solve. You can explore the lands freely but the game does gate you through keys, bridges, and gates. You can’t jump in the game so to travel around within the islands, you have to search for places with ladders and tunnels to pass obstacles. So yes, you’re at the whim of the environment when it comes to navigation. You can fall off ledges but they have to be of low enough heights, but you’re mostly stuck to the ground.
The Switch’s face buttons are used for combat. You’ll get things like swords, bombs, arrows, and a shield if you want to block; you’ll find that on the should ZR button. Even with the console controls, this game still very much feels like it’s mobile roots. Combat is simplistic and often very easy. It as if the enemies were designed to be easy for playing on touchscreens. I could easily defeat foes by blocking then attacking after they swung; rinse and repeat. So it is rather disappointing that the difficulty wasn’t upped more with the move to a more traditional, more tactile feel of buttons.
To it’s credit, the game does run smoothly. It’s colorful visual design is pretty to look at and feels like it’s performing at a steady 60fps. Whether in TV or in Portable mode, the game runs the same so kudos Cornfox & Bros. I came across no technical hiccups during my playthrough and the game didn’t seem to eat up the Switch’s battery any more than say Breath of the Wild did. Technically, this game works very well on the Switch, and as I mentioned earlier, it looks pretty. Graphically feels like a mix of Bastion and A Link Between Worlds. It’s a little tough to explain but that’s what I got out of it on first glance.
Once you get past the overall look of the game though, you’re at the mercy of the game’s puzzles and environmental designs. Early on they seem ok. They’re simple, teaching you the ropes of how the games thinks. But as the game progresses, they never really change; they continue to feel very simple. You’ll mostly run into the same puzzles, requiring you to move a block to cover a switch or locate a button to open doors. The game doesn’t get more complex than this. My biggest issue with this game though, navigation. Trying to make your way around or figuring out what it is you’re to do next is terrible. The mini-map was mostly useless to me and trying to find my way around any island was torture. The mini-map does show the locations of enemies, NPCs, and things like treasure; but it will not show you if you’ve talked to an NPC already, or opened a chest. You know, some sort of completed mark. This made things tedious when I backtracked or retraced my steps trying to figure out where or what to do next.
I found myself getting lost all the time. I’d get stuck in an area, start backtracking and talking to NPCs with no indication of where my next steps should be. At one point I had spent 15 minutes exploring an island just trying to figure out what the game wanted me to do. I eventually gave up and look at a guide online. Come to find out the game wanted me to get back in my boat and go to another island. I did speak to an NPC who mentioned something about another island, but at no point was it made clear that was where my next objective was. Talk about wasting time.
When you do ride the boat between islands though, you have no control over it. You just point to the island you want and the game sails there for you. To make up for this, the game has you perform an on-rails section where you’re shooting a cannon at enemies and boxes in the water. It’s not the most fun thing and gets rather repetitive. I can only assume the game is hiding it’s loading under these sections, which is why you’re not able to just fast travel or control the boat.
Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas has a few problems in it’s design choices and others stemming from its mobile roots. But the developers did do a fitting job paying homage to the classic adventure genre and giving that Legend of Zelda formula their own spin. Even with that though, it’s not fun. It got frustrating, not to mention it has that simple combat. If you’re a fan of the adventure genre and looking for something to play on your Switch, maybe look elsewhere. At $15 it seems a little much for what it is, especially when the iOS version is $8. If you’re willing to overlook the issues I had with this game though, you may have some fun and find the $15 perfectly suitable. It’s not for me though.