Oceanhorn (Switch) Review – the Greatest form of Flattery

Originally released in 2014 o   n mobile platforms and released on PC in consoles, in the following years Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas has enjoyed universal acclaim from players and critics alike.To capitalize on the Switch’s success and create a new player base to a Zelda inspired adventure Cornfox & Bros has released a port of their much loved title on Nintendo’s newest console and it couldn’t feel more at home.

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Anyone that’s played The Legend Of Zelda franchise will feel immediately familiar with Oceanhorn. From the opening scene that pays homage to A Link to the Past to the gameplay structure itself, Oceanhorn almost feels like a proper Zelda title at times. Oceanhorn tips its cap once more to the Zelda series (this time Wind Waker) by putting players in a boat to sail between the various islands that is the overworld in search of the formidable the Oceanhorn monster.

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Whether sailing the high seas or trudging through desert sands, Oceanhorn’s visuals pushed mobile phones to their limits back in 2014, so it’s understandable that these same visuals in 2017 they are a bit underwhelming. Though the graphics won’t turn heads even at their best, the hue (??) of the vibrant colors of the world and smooth almost pastel-like art style is satisfying and easy on the eyes. At their worst, textures look a bit muddy and the lack of detail on some enemy models is downright bad in this day in age. It’s nothing to write home about to be certain, but when they are at their peak the graphics elevate from serviceable to charming; then when they combine with award winning gameplay it’s apparent what makes Oceanhorn a wonderful experience.
Though the visuals are serviceable the gameplay is stellar, and this is the reason Oceanhorn has been able to transcend the label of “mobile game” to a proper console game. It does a marvelous job of recreating the adventure/puzzle formula that Zelda originally popularized. From engrossing dungeons complete with pedestals that must be stood on, boxes to be moved and torches lit in order to progress. To the winding tunnels and maze-like hallways requiring keys to unlock doors and chests containing equipment, it’s dungeon design that would make the father of Mario himself proud. Capping off the Zelda experience these labyrinths, is a chest containing a master key that unlocks the final room where players engage a fearsome boss in battle.

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Unfortunately it’s in these capstone encounters were the similarities with Zelda fade. The bosses aren’t particularly interesting, though some do have neat models. Overall the combat is just too unsatisfying to make the encounters fun. Swordplay in both boss battles and the entire game is lacking. Instead of the smooth and responsive slashes that I’ve become accustomed to in my top down adventure games, Oceanhorn’s combat feels sluggish. The swords hit box is a little deceptive, and the protagonist himself is ridged. This typically leads to simply standing in front of an enemy and mashing the B button until the enemy fades off screen. Luckily combat is sparse and doesn’t feel obtrusive, though it does break the momentum previous exploring has built up. While similar in their mechanics to Zelda, dungeon layouts are much more streamlined than their Nintendo counterpart. You won’t find the backtracking that defines Link’s games; it’s a design choice that’s smartly suited to the mobile pickup-and-play audience the game was originally designed for.

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This mobile design formula pervades Oceanhorn’s composition. From the expedited dungeons to the restrained graphics but the gameplay keeps Cornfox & Bros title afloat. Even in 2017 it’s tough to find a game that does such a good job of paying respect to the Zelda franchise. It doesn’t make a lot of improvements on the Switch, but does benefit greatly from having a larger screen and physical controls, plus the portability it was originally intended for. It’s not going to compete with Breath of the Wild for your time but if you’ve finished that excellent title and are looking for a fun solo experience to pick up on the Switch, Oceanhorn should be at the top of your list.

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