When a game takes heavy inspiration from another game, it usually goes one of two ways. It could go wonderfully like The Turing Test, which drew heavy inspiration from Portal. In this case, The Turing Test played similarly to Portal while maintaining a sense of self and even improving certain aspects that made Portal so great. If it doesn’t go well it will most likely go terribly, much like the ill-fated Smash Bros clone, PlayStation All-Stars. Unfortunately, Oceanhorn seems to fall into the latter category. Drawing inspiration from The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, Oceanhorn seemingly mirrors every aspect of the GameCube classic.
Everything from the overall look of the game to the finer details such as the player character’s special attack, Oceanhorn looks and acts very much the same. With that said, Oceanhorn looks pretty good and sounds alright, but doesn’t feel much like a living world. If you’re not interested in playing a Zelda clone, you may as well move on now. I feel I should just list some of the similarities I noticed. First, I’ll talk about the overall similarities and then comb through the finer details.
The protagonist of the game is a young boy (destined for greatness) that uses a sword and shield to defeat monsters in a oceanic world which is traversed by sailing from island to island. Our hero has a health bar made up of several hearts that can be increased by heart containers that are scattered over the world. Accompanying this health bar is a mana bar that is used when the hero uses spells. Throughout his journey, the hero will encounter a village island filled with nice helpful people that will sometimes provide quests, a group of bird-people, a group of fish-people, and even several enemy types that look strikingly similar to LoZ enemies (I’m looking at you, spider with a skull on it’s back). On top of all these, the hero will be asked to work through many dungeons to collect three relics that represent the elements so that he may become powerful enough to defeat a dark enemy that is clearly far more powerful than he is. Now, all of this could be said about nearly any Zelda game, but Oceanhorn manages to tick all these boxes while using an art style that looks eerily similar to Wind Waker.
Players may also notice they can use the face buttons (labeled in the top right) to use various weapons and tools that will be found throughout the game. Some of these include the bow and arrow, bombs, and a fishing rod. The bow is used to shoot targets (and enemies) to solve puzzles and activate mechanisms. The bombs are used to open hidden paths and destroy any rubble blocking a normal path. These weapons/tools are all very useful, but none match the use of the good old sword and shield. This classic weapon works nearly identically to how I expected it to (since I imagined I was playing Zelda when I started up this game). Tap X to swing a few times, hold RB to block with the shield, hold X to perform a spinning slash. The sword can also perform poking attacks while moving towards an enemy and is used to cut down bushes or tall grass in the hopes of collecting health, money, or ammo. Finally, there are various bosses throughout the game that seem to try and ‘test your skills’. Much like a lot of other things in this game, these bosses fall flat when put into practice. One example was the very repetitive and formulaic Forest Shrine boss, Turmos. I would explain how to defeat this boss, but the picture below tells nearly all a player needs to know.
I want to be clear here when I say that Oceanhorn is not a bad game. The game plays it safe most times and is simply average. Since the game was originally released for mobile devices, it suffers from trying to appeal to a completely different audience that expects different things. As a mobile game, this game would stand out as being a long adventure game that can be played whenever and wherever. As a console game, Oceanhorn simply doesn’t do anything spectacular. I looked and looked, trying out every mechanic I could such as fishing, magic, and sea travel but simply could not find a mechanic that worked better on consoles. The magic system has enemies stand in place while you select a target (either an enemy or a switch for a mechanism) and waits for you to cast the desired spell. I personally only got two spells in my near 8 hours with the game. I got one spell that dropped a seemingly random item wherever I selected and another spell that froze any enemy I selected so they could be defeated in one swing. This magic system felt sluggish because it was designed with mobile players in mind.
While magic feels too slow, fishing doesn’t make a whole lot of sense at all. After casting the fishing line, the bobber floats on the water as it waits for a fish to bite it. This is all well and good but I could not figure out what the game wanted me to do here. The player has the choice to pull the bobber left and right but there’s nothing indicating that what the player is doing is actually doing anything. Eventually, a fish will bite the lure and the player will begin the final step of the mini game. During this final step, players will be asked to wear out the fish by pulling the fishing rod the opposite direction the fish is swimming. There is a bar at the bottom that shows how much strength the fish has left and is either harder or easier depending on (I believe) the type and size of said fish. This system feels half baked and is tedious to play. Besides fishing, players will travel between islands using their boat. This would be more fun if the player could actually sail around freely instead of simply picking a destination and watching the hero sail directly to that destination. The hero does gain the ability to shoot a pumpkin seed gun while traveling, but this simply isn’t fun after the second or third time.
Sailing from island to island is (as far as I know) the only way to travel around the world and seems like an attempt to pad total playtime. Besides being forced to watch sailing, players may often find themselves backtracking to figure out just where they are supposed to go or because they’ve hit a dead end. Most of the dungeons I went through had a way to exit them roughly halfway through but no easy way back in, forcing me to retread the same ground for no good reason. Backtracking is a problem a lot of adventure games suffer from but I feel Oceanhorn could have fixed part of this issue by simply allowing fast travel once a location has been sailed to a few times (or just to Tikarel and other major locations that may need revisiting). According to the in-game tracker, I got roughly 33% through the game and unlocked one of the 3 elemental emblems. This means I defeated a few mini-bosses and one major boss while exploring roughly a third of all the islands in the game. I truly wanted to get further into the game but could not get past how cliché the story felt or how downright boring it was to traverse the world.
Most of the things that seem taken from Wind Waker do not work the same or nearly as well in Oceanhorn. For example, players will travel from island to island on a boat, but will not get to actually guide said boat. This traversal period quickly becomes an on-the-rails shooting gallery as players must shoot water-bound enemies before they can shoot the player’s boat. Even though most of the game seems like a copycat, Oceanhorn does do several things differently, for better or worse. First off, the normal LoZ roll is replaced with a button for sprinting. This sprinting isn’t too bad except it’s tied directly to a stamina bar that drains fairly quickly and often. This bar drains when you sprint, perform a spinning attack, or block an attack with your shield. I don’t think I would have minded this as much if it did not seem so out of place in such an obviously casual game.
Another thing Oceanhorn does that is unique is the addition of it’s Explorer level. The player can increase their Explorer level by collecting XP crystals, completing challenges, and finding chests with Explorer crystals in them. With each level up, players will gain different perks and will often have their ammo refilled. I actually like this system a bit but it isn’t enough to make this game wholly unique. Oceanhorn does often try to create an interesting and mysterious backstory but I find it hard to be interested when the gameplay simply isn’t that fun. It’s not like anything in the game is inheritently broken or not functioning as intended, Oceanhorn simply wasn’t fun to me. Plainly put, Oceanhorn is Wind Waker without any of the things that made Wind Waker a great game. Oceanhorn is an average adventure game without much going for it to create its own identity. After putting 8 hours into the game, I simply could not maintain interest. If there is, in fact, any unique mechanic or late game activity I missed out on, I could see myself changing my opinion. As of now, I feel I have played enough to form an informed opinion.
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