There’s a recent trend of premium priced mobile games jumping ship to PC and consoles. Sometimes it’s a successful transition, while at other times the results have been less than desirable. Oceanhorn: Monsters of Uncharted Seas is one such game trying to make the transition, but it’s also a game that isn’t even vaguely shy about its inspirations, borrowing liberally from a venerated Nintendo franchise.
Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first: Oceanhorn: Monsters of Uncharted Seas certainly takes some liberties with the definition of what could be considered derivative. At least the premise is that you’re out to save your Dad from the curse of a sea monster rather than a princess. It’s essentially an action adventure game with dungeons and new items to find, where you traverse between islands on a ship with a ranged gun. The Zelda influence is therefore not just “a bit on the nose”, but more like a slap in the face with a wet fish.
This extends to the combat as well. Normal enemies can just be slain by swords or the sub-weapons you’ve collected. Tougher enemies require a more defensive approach, raising shields and attacking at various opportunities, with the camera focusing on the foe ahead. Sub-weapons definitely take the tropes of Bombs to blow up walls along with the bow and arrow for ranged combat. That said, the controls are well converted to console and combat feels responsive.
As you fight more and more, you’ll receive experience that upon levelling up automatically makes certain things easier. More bombs to carry, more stamina when holding up a shield, a faster ship; you get the idea. The only risk to your experience is that when you die – mostly by drowning due to very excruciatingly precise timing when swimming outside – you lose a small chunk of the XP accumulated to restart at the various checkpoints.
Islands are discovered as you learn about them from reading materials or townsfolk talking about them. Once on the ship, you can traverse across the sea, shooting at octopi, mines, and crates that litter your way. Diversions are also somewhat limited, with fishing being the only real thing that is completely separate from the main quest.
Even exploring the dungeons is lifeless at times, as the puzzles have all been done before. Not one puzzle hindered my progress as it was mostly pushing objects down on switches to unlock the gate, or blowing something up with bombs. It even suffers from the classic problem of finding core items in dungeons that are then the solution to finishing the dungeon almost exclusively. Perhaps it’s a result of simplistic mobile oriented game design, but on console, Oceanhorn’s dungeon design feels stale.
Its isometric viewpoint is attractive at first glance, but beyond that Oceanhorn’s iOS roots are obvious in the console version with not much in the way of sprucing it up visually. Character models are basic in their movement and most areas look relatively barren. Dungeons look slightly nicer, but that’s not saying much. The music however is enchanting, thanks to famed videogame composer Nobuo Uematsu’s work, and is both whimsical and entirely fitting for the adventure.
As I played more and more, I found myself getting increasingly wound up by the fact that it doesn’t seem to have an original bone in its body. It’s a bit like that South Park episode where the annoying little kid says “Simpsons did it” over and over. There’s one side quest where you must solve puzzles that lead up to obtaining… a Coral Sword. It’s an obvious Master Sword ripoff and there’s plenty more examples besides this one.
There’s nothing wrong with taking influences from classic franchises, but the very least one could do is make it transformative enough to warrant its own game. Oceanhorn: Monsters of Uncharted Seas is both mechanically too similar and at the same time somehow inferior to the The Legend of Zelda franchise. It has a lovely score, but there are far more original interpretations of the genre out there.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4