While various mobile games seem eager to emulate the success of previous app store releases by copying them, either through individual mechanics, overall style or even entire game design, it’s not often that you see a developer take a risk and try to bring the essence of a successful console franchise to mobile devices.
So, while Flappy Bird clones release every hour, Oceanhorn is one of a kind on mobile. It’s extremely inspired by The Legend of Zelda series, and it doesn’t try to hide that. Although it has the seafaring of The Wind Waker blended with level design akin to A Link to the Past (or, more recently, A Link Between Worlds), it’s shown from an isometric perspective rather than top-down or third person, which is something unique.
It’s very much what you’d expect from an action adventure game inspired by Zelda then, with dungeons, items, small keys, boss battles, goblin enemies, heart pieces and much more, but it does have merits of its own. Aside from some decent design, there are aspects such as an XP system that, although limited, offers a different dynamic for upgrading certain things like holsters, as an example.
Gameplay can be a convoluted affair at times. While they’ve kept it minimal with just two buttons (one for using an item and another for action) and swipe controls for moving around the environment, this hinders the game at times, as you have to switch between items in later dungeons. In terms of level design, it only serves to prove how excellent Nintendo’s own teams are at puzzle making and developing levels, as Oceanhorn leaves you a bit disappointed in these areas.
It’s not bad, it’s just very formulaic and doesn’t live up to the polished and near-perfect standards set by Nintendo. But that’s okay. This isn’t a team with decades of experience, but a relatively new developer doing their own thing. The handful of badly constructed points in the environment or poorly paced boss battles don’t ruin the overall experience, and on the other hand, there are some good puzzles. It’s ultimately a well made game.
The thing is, there’s at some point where you’ll be playing, and for some reason you’ll remember that you’re playing on a mobile or tablet device. It might be because of those dodgy controls or because of the level design, but it will remind you how incredible it is that you’re playing an action adventure game of this scale on this system.
Visually, it’s superb. Despite some frame rate drops when other applications interfere by displaying notifications, you’ll see something unlike anything before on these devices. Yes, Infinity Blade had great graphics, but Oceanhorn has superb art direction, with vivid greens, yellows and blues creating contrasts across the islands and sea.
That sea looks glorious, too. It shimmers wonderfully, and while you won’t be able to control your boat as you travel across it across it (that would be asking a little too much), you get to experience the seemingly endless waves in a pleasant manner. Select a way point and your boat will follow that route, allowing you to aim and shoot any obstacles – or sea monsters – in your way. There’s even a lovely soundtrack which compliments the mood.
Oceanhorn is a decent game. In no way does it live up to The Legend of Zelda, but it’s really impressive for a game on an app store. It comes at a premium price compared to others on the system at £5.99, but it is truly a premium experience. Nintendo don’t make games for smartphones – and they say they won’t – but if they did, then Oceanhorn wouldn’t be too far off the mark.
If you’re a fan of the genre, or want a game to really get stuck into on an iOS device, then it’s worth a look – it’s full of brilliant ambition, just don’t expect too much from it.