Being labeled a “rip-off” of a classic gaming franchise can destroy a game before it ever gets the chance to see the light of day. That being said, games that successfully pay homage to a popular title are not only welcomed among fan boys, but are sought after when those gamers are craving more of the same. These types of games can also bring to life classics in ways that can cause your inner child to jump with glee. Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted seas by Cornfox & Bros dangerously tip toed on the line of being classified as a rip off, and after doing some research, many people can’t get passed the similarities it shares with their favorite gaming series of all time, Legend of Zelda. Zelda is Nintendo’s baby, right next to Mario, and for good reason. Combining the in-depth, immersive world-building, top notched graphics, and fluid gameplay, Zelda is a franchise that will hold a throne in the video game hall of fame until the human race is eradicated from this planet. Needless to say, I was hesitant when starting this game. After spending some quality time with Oceanhorn, I can safely say it pays homage where homage is due, and created a unique footprint that solidified its place as a well-made Zelda-like game in my mind.
This story begins on an island that once belonged to the powerful kingdom of Arcadia, which was a group of islands united together. Arcadia was able to reach an age of enlightenment, which led to outstanding Scientific and Engineering breakthroughs. Of course, someone always has to have their panties permanently in a bunch and attempt to ruin the peace that illuminates the kingdom. In this story, that bunched-panties villain went by the name of Mesmeroth. He was upset due to not being chosen for the position of Archmage. In order to fulfill his thirst for vengeance, he tapped into the power of creation itself, known as TRILOTH. Using the power of TRILOTH and his army of Direfolk, he waged the war of all wars, destroying the enlightened age that Arcadia relished in.
When tapping into the powers of creation, only a fool would expect everything to work perfectly. Due to Mesmeroth tapping into the power of TRILOTH, three powerful sea monsters appeared, one of them being Oceanhorn. Fast forwarding to present time, Oceanhorn is the only sea monster that has survived. It’s a dark creature, born under the light of TRILOTH, and somehow your father’s destiny is linked to this sea monster. You are a teenager, left on an island with your father’s friend after he decided to leave, to prevent any harm that could happen to you. Once the hermit (the friend of your father) trained you for what is to come, he revealed that your destiny is also tied to Oceanhorn.
This is when the story started to pull from classic RPG templates. There are 3 sacred emblems, which hold power for the Gods. They were used to maintain balance, but Mesmeroth found a way to drain that power from them. Your quest is to find those emblems, save Arcadia from Oceanhorn, with the side mission of finding your father, and be known as a hero, your name being the inspiration for folk songs. Although the story does have many cliché elements to it, the voice acting and the way it was written pulls you in, starting with the first cut scene. I was always looking forward to the next bit of story that would be revealed to me, and Cornfox & Bros did a fantastic job creating their own world in a way that would make RPG fans proud. I also enjoyed how interactive the story felt. A lot of the story progression happened due to random interactions with townsfolk, mentioning an island in conversation. Just basing my enjoyment of the game off the story alone, there is enough quality meat available to satisfy my hunger all the way down to the bare bone.
Gaming was a huge part of my childhood, as it was for a lot of people in my generation. Titles like Pokémon, Mario and the original Zelda are some of my most cherished memories from my early years. Gaining that overwhelming sense of nostalgia is the main reason I still play every new Pokémon game and revisit the classics. This is also why Oceanhorn has my respect. It succeeded in satisfying my inner child, which is not always an easy feat. The main reason for this extraordinary achievement is due to the fluid gameplay that brought so many giddy feelings to the surface. Oceanhorn implements the classic sword and shield gameplay all the way down to the trademark spinning attack. You also have access to an array of utility and range items like Jumping shoes, bow and arrow, and the infamous bombs. Another great feature was the spell system in the game. The first spell you receive allows you to drop objects on areas of the map that you would not be able to reach on foot, adding a tactical layer upon the game while creating interesting puzzles.
Speaking of puzzles, many games fail to find the happy medium for the puzzle/action/exploring ratio, but Oceanhorn was able to effectively locate it. Each island was packed full with obstacles, challenging enemies, hidden items, and the right amount of puzzles. I feel like puzzles that demanded more time and effort would have improved the overall feel of the game, but I still found myself enjoying them as is. Having hidden items on early-level islands that were unreachable at first added to the overall immersive feel of the game. Realistically, you would acquire many different items during a long-term exploration mission, and not every problem could be overcome with the shield and sword you leave home with. Using an early example in the game, one of the first islands you encounter was home to a mine that is blocked by debris, and there is no way to remove it at first. In order to gain access to the cave, I had to sail to Bomb Island, follow a story mission to unlock bombs, and only then was I able to unlock the mysteries of that cave. It may seem like a simple mechanic, but it added a lot to the game for me, and also reminded me of the classic adventure games I grew up with.
The quest system in Oceanhorn was presented in an interesting fashion. Whenever you land on a new island, a list of objectives appear on the bottom of your screen. These tasks can range from ‘slaying three monsters with pots’ to ‘Help keep the peace’. Some of these quests can’t be completed until later in the story, which caused me to search one island a lot longer than needed before coming to that realization. Each quest has a crystal value attached to it. These crystals represent your experience points. Each level awards you a new title and provides you a perk, like holding up to 15 bombs instead of 10. Another great gameplay feature has to do with sea travel. Instead of clicking on an island you want to travel to and being instantly sent there, you have to experience the trip to that island. After you reach a certain level, you get a gun which you can use to attack monsters and various items that you will encounter during these voyages.
The Cartoon approach to the graphics in Oceanhorn helped provide the nostalgic feel the developers were aiming for. Overall the game is beautifully designed. While sailing across the open seas, I panned the camera to the back of the ship, watching the waves rippling away into the blue expanse. I was so immersed into the simple act of watching waves that I forgot about bombs and enemies that were put there to block my path. Each island had a unique design to it which made me feel the rush of adventure. I’m sure you have played adventure games where it felt like you were doing the same thing repetitively and the levels were pretty much identical, despite a different texture pack. The soundtrack was also wonderfully made and had classic RPG sounds implemented into it.
I wanted to wait until the end of the review to mention this, since a lot of people would avoid the title simply for this fact. Oceanhorn was originally released for Mobile phones. Yes, it was an Android game that was ported to the PC. If I did not get this information from the Steam page, I would deem anyone who told me this as a liar. It blows my mind that this game looks the way it does and is an Android port. This steam version does have extra content that the mobile game did not and they made sure that it would function properly on Steam. Instead of this being a deterrent, knowing that it was a originally a port makes me appreciate the game and Cornfox & Bros even more.
The main reason I see this as a tribute to Zelda instead of a rip-off is due to the feel of the game. This is something that is hard to explain, and better to experience first-hand. I could just tell that Cornfox & Bros love this genre. They grew up with a certain style of games, and wanted to create a worthy tribute to the style of gaming that they love. When playing Oceanhorn, you can feel the passion and detail that they poured into their game. To understand their vision with this game, here is a quote from the Cornfox & Bros blog; “Development of Oceanhorn began from our love towards old console adventure games, where instead of looting dungeons and grinding XP you explored the world and solved puzzles.”
With the price tag of 15 dollars, I would highly recommend it to anyone that is into classic adventure RPGs. If you want to check this title out for yourself, you can find it here.
So tell me, what was your favorite video game from your childhood?