Indie games are getting complex every year and there is usually a niche genre that is fulfilled by these indie developers. Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas looks like a Zelda clone at first with inspiration taken from some of the classic Zelda games like Wind Waker and the 2D Zelda games for handhelds, but it carries a certain charm once you spend some time with it.
The story in Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas is fairly simple and executes on a fairy tale like premise. The beginning explains the origin of the monster Oceanhorn and how it is a threat to mankind. You can learn about the history of the world right from the beginning which makes it easier to understand the motivations of the main character. You soon learn that the main protagonist’s father went missing when he was a kid after he decided to defeat the monster Oceanhorn. The game begins with the main character as an adult who decides to go in search of the finding and defeating the monster Oceanhorn. This leads him to a quest that takes him across the seas through a variety of different locations.
It is hard not to compare the game to Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda series since it is clear from the start that the developers are inspired from the game. A lot of the mechanics have been directly taken from past Zelda games. Combat and dungeon exploration is one of the aspect and using a ship to sail around the world is another. This is not necessarily a bad thing because there is nothing wrong with learning from the best and Oceanhorn proves it.
The game has its origin set in mobile so a lot of the design seems to be mainly built for the mobile audience. The controls are simplified so there is not much strategy to carry out in combat. Majority of the enemies can be easily taken out without having to resort to blocking their attacks. There is also a lack of a proper evade move in combat. Even though the controls are full mapped out to work on the Nintendo Switch, there is a certain clunkiness that can be felt as you control the main character. Dashing around the map doesn’t feel as smooth as I had hoped but it is just a minor qualm in the grand scheme of things.
The story sends the player on a quest to collect various artifacts that are scattered across the world. The lack of memorable characters is felt along the journey as you sail on your ship to the different Islands. One of the cool aspect that I thought was nicely integrated in Oceanhorn was regarding the discovery of these new Islands. Once you visit a town, you can talk to the various people there to learn more about locations that you haven’t visited and this can also unlock them for exploration on the world map. Even though the game is short, I thought this was a pretty neat idea from the developers even if it is not exactly new.
The combat feels clumsy and part of it is due to the controls. You don’t really have much freedom in how you execute your attacks so you can simply block and attack enemies however even the blocking feels optional. There is also a lack of enemy variety in the game so it is easy to get tired of killing the same enemy. I have talked about a dodge button before and this is something that could have worked well here adding some dynamism to the combat. The lackluster battles really bring down the overall experience of the game. As for the boss battles, the developers have attempted to differentiate them from regular battles by attempting to use specific items to weaken them during battle, however they still don’t stop the combat from feeling bland.
Some of the design mechanics feel outdated at times especially during exploration. One is the lack of ability to jump and it feels deliberate because of how the developers have designed each of the dungeon and Island. They try to force the player to take an alternative route that could have been easily avoided if you had the ability to jump. The dungeon exploration feels lackluster compared to other similar games. The puzzles are relatively simple and straightforward to solve and the items that you collect don’t offer much excitement.
Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas feels like a good first step for an independent developer but it is hard to ignore its flaws. The game doesn’t take much longer either can can be cleared in 10 hours if you take your time with it. If you were curious about the performance of the game on Nintendo Switch, it feels like a pretty good port. The visuals look really nice on the big screen and even in handheld mode, the game doesn’t look that bad. The art style is subjective so you might not like it, but I thought it looked good enough for the game.
Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas Review (Switch)
Game Reviewed on: Switch
Game description: Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas is an action-adventure video game developed by Cornfox & Bros. It focuses on a boy protagonist's quest to find his lost father and defeat the sea monster, Oceanhorn.
Despite having a charming art style, the combat can feel underwhelming. Still as the first effort by a small independent team, the game is highly polished and offers an enjoyable experience on the Nintendo Switch.