Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Rudy Lavaux 26.06.2017

Review for Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas on Nintendo Switch

Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas made a name for itself when it was released all the way back in November 2013 on iOS devices, for not only being a very impressive looking title at the time, but also for being endorsed by big names of the industry like Kenji Ito, main composer of Squaresoft's SaGa franchise, and Nobuo Uematsu of Final Fantasy fame, both of whom composed a few music tracks for it. Then, it was later ported to pretty much every system under the sun: Android, Windows PC, OS X, Xbox One, and back in May of 2017 on the PlayStation Vita. However, despite being clearly inspired by the whole Zelda series, it had yet to grace any Nintendo system at all. The insult is now, however, repaired since it now graced Switch, giving Nintendo players seemingly the best of both worlds by offering them a handheld and home conversion in one shot.

A nameless hero, who has achieved his training, heads out into the vast world to look for his lost father and finish the quest that he had set out to accomplish: slaying the legendary calamity of the oceans, the titular Oceanhorn, who separated the two from the hero's mother in the past. In doing so, the hero will uncover the story of the Arcadian Knights, his own ancestors, and meet with various types of people of different races, from bird people, the Owru, to fish people, the Gilfolk. While the plot is mostly kept relatively simple, it's also omnipresent at the back of the game and regularly comes to remind the player of its presence through text or, every time the player arrives on an island and presses any button on the controller, via a voiced monologue of the hero's father from the latter's diary. This voice over will be heard absolutely every time the island is reached if they, in a rush to try to skip the animation of the hero arriving on the island, try to press the buttons at random, which can be a bit annoying after several times. The hero, through his exploration of islands, caves, dungeons and sometimes villages, will eventually gather new equipment. Bombs, a bow and arrows, a fishing rod, trencher boots that allow him to both jump across short ditches, as well as rolling forward, and so on...

It all feels very Zelda-like, save for a selection of magic spells that also remind of Zelda, but not nearly as much. The one thing that is different is the presence of an experience level system, which does not affect the hero's health or attack power, but will simply reward him with higher storage capacities for bombs, as well as granting bonuses to some magic spells. Overall, it controls not so different from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Each of the four buttons on the right of the controller (or on the Joy-Con's R) performs a different action. Y always triggers a sword swipe, the A button performs the usual contextual actions that 3D Zelda games since Ocarina of Time have made popular, like grab, throw, talk and so on... The X button performs the active spell and the B button makes the hero use the active item. Items and spells are scrolled through one by one by pressing the down or up directions on the D-Pad, respectively. This can be a bit annoying when having to scroll through all of them one by one just to find the right one in the middle of a fight, since they can only be scrolled forward. Otherwise, the action has to be paused and items or spells be selected through the in-game menu. Speaking of which, the menu, because it was meant to be touch-based, feels a bit clunky to navigate through using exclusively the left analogue stick.

Screenshot for Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas on Nintendo Switch

The Switch being also a handheld system with a touch screen, that's going to be the most comfortable way of playing it, especially since spells require the use of the touch screen, which is quick and easy or, if the console is inside the dock, using the joystick to drag around a cursor to point at objects, which is actually not nearly as accurate. Despite the Switch's motion controls lending themselves well to pointing, as proven by World of Goo, Oceanhorn doesn't make use of that.

In terms of content, the number of islands in the game may not be nearly as high as it could be in something like Wind Waker, for example, but it's perfectly acceptable for the price and actually is closer to something like Phantom Hourglass, also a handheld title but one that sold for much more. When playing this for reviewing purposes, it took just a little over 16 hours to complete absolutely everything that the game had to offer, which is completely fair. It's worth noting that, in terms of content, the Switch version, like other console editions, is the equivalent of the Game of the Year 2.0 iOS version, which includes an extra island with some extra challenges that are mostly completely separated from the main game and adds a bit of extra background plot for good measure.

Most achievements found, then, do not take into account the elements found on that island, like, for example, an achievement that requires the hero to acquire all eight heart containers when actually the extra island has four extra heart pieces that amount to one final heart container to the hero's life gauge, which renders the aforementioned achievement misleading for the uninformed. Speaking of achievements, they involve very simple actions, like killing an enemy with a fiery arrow or more long term things, like killing at least one of each type of monster. This adds to the amount of content and things to see and do, but the way it is presented is unfortunately badly thought out and this may well be the fault of the Switch itself in this case. Indeed, other platforms that support a proper achievement system would list those missions conveniently in a dedicated menu of the system's OS, but the Switch is devoid of any of that and, in-game, Oceanhorn only tells of three missions at a time when on any of the islands, despite most missions not being necessarily tied to the place at hand, which makes keeping track of things already unnecessarily complicated on Switch. Completing those missions only rewards varying amount of experience points and does not count towards the completion percentage found inside.

Screenshot for Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas on Nintendo Switch

One of the great things that Oceanhorn does is its dungeons. Most random caves or indoor mines and such will behave exactly like independent dungeons and never reveal themselves straight away as being main dungeons that will advance the plot, instead of making it clear cut which is which. What seems to be a simple cave of no importance may, completely out of the blue, surprise the player with locked doors and a treasure chest requiring a master key that holds a new item or magic spell, with its own set of puzzles and so on. This is something that the Zelda series didn't really explore at all and could actually benefit from taking inspiration from since it does not make sense for certain elements of logic to be arbitrarily forbidden to exist outside of dungeons that hold your classic series of ancestral artefacts that need to be collected to advance the story. The dungeons and caves themselves require a lot of logic, too, being filled with puzzles that mostly involve platforming and accessing hard to each places, one way or another, which does feel somewhat different in its execution from what Zelda puzzles have made people accustomed to.

Speaking of puzzles, they range from very clever to downright frustrating at times. Oceanhorn has the luxury of trying out new things with some of the mechanics already found in Zelda, as mentioned previously, like, for instance, incorporating fishing with the hero's rod into puzzle solving, whereas Zelda pretty much always limited it to fishing mini-games. On the other hand, however, some puzzles do prove to be a bit too convoluted for their own good. Elements that need to be bombed to move forward, for example, are not always necessarily easy to spot, leading to a lot of blind and random bomb throwing in hope of finding something that will break down, opening a new passage. In Zelda, hitting the walls for a hollow sounding one was a common trick, or there would be at least some cracks there as a hint. Not so much in Oceanhorn, however. Granted, the latter should not be faulted for not doing everything like Zelda, otherwise it wouldn't be much more than blatant plagiarism. However, those aforementioned things exist in Zelda not to give it its identity but for an obvious reason: bombing walls at random is not fun. Breakable walls are a staple of the Zelda franchise so if that's an element you're going to look to incorporate in your game, other things, such as clearer hints, should be brought along for the ride, as well. This may sound like nitpicking on just one flaw, but it's not the only little frustrating element about puzzles. While most of them are just fine, and a lot of them actually downright clever, some of them seem to play against the player's expectations, while giving no hints that it does so.

Screenshot for Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas on Nintendo Switch

In certain parts, there will be puzzles with blocks to place in certain spots that are easily solved, while in other spots, identical looking blocks that gamers would be expect to be able to move all the same are completely impossible to move and just put there for no apparent reason at all but to mess with expectations as they are not part of any puzzle.

On the same page, the lack of a proper in-menu map system can make navigating some places a bit of a chore. The only map available is the tiny one that is permanently found in the bottom-right corner of the screen during exploration, which shows the player's direct surroundings. It shows treasure chests by default and whether or not they have been opened but that's pretty much it. If gamers know that they haven't completed the area 100% and are looking for an unopened chest, they will have to explore the area again manually, constantly checking the mini-map as they go in hope that an icon of an unopened chest will pop up on there. This is either bad game design, or a deliberate attempt to artificially make the game longer to complete than it needed to be.

Then there are glitches, mostly involving clipping in the scenery and getting stuck, forcing a return to the title screen from the in-game menu to re-spawn at the last strictly automatic quick-save point. It gets worse, however, when, in certain spots, the player may attempt to gain access to seemingly perfectly reachable areas in search of secrets only to find themselves irremediably stuck because the development team forgot to restrict access to that part of the map by means of an invisible wall or anything of that effect.

Those are little things that you don't expect from a finished product, yet they are present, but those are not limited to the Switch version itself it seems, so it's not something to be faulted on this particular release. They are also elements that, in a 2013, relatively affordable mobile game, would feel perfectly acceptable, but on a game released on a major console in 2017, it's a bit harder to swallow… and yet, lo and behold, despite those apparently big complaints... Oceanhorn still manages to remain surprisingly addictive. When those few and far between moments of frustration are not in effect, it provides a kind of Zelda-like experience that, because of its low level of hand-holding and sometimes cryptic moments, gives off a rewarding sense of adventure that a fraction of the Zelda fan-base had come to miss a lot for all those years, until Nintendo decided to go down that route again with Breath of the Wild, of course. Monster of Uncharted Seas certainly has its flaws, but when they are not in the way, what remains is a good Zelda clone that even manages to do a few things better than the Zelda series ever did here and there, all while looking and sounding great, so it is hard to only keep its flaws against it, because it still provides a very good time.

Screenshot for Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Oceanhorn is a competent, budget, bite-sized Zelda-like experience that is not without its flaws, both in terms of glitches and in terms of sheer game design. Those, however, are not inherent to the Nintendo Switch version itself but are found in all releases of the game and, despite those, it still manages to entertain, to provide a jolly good time and to even impress at times with the graphical effects it pulls off, although the graphical side of things has high and low points, notably in its draw distance at times. It is, however, priced fairly for what it offers and, due to its mobile lineage, it plays best on Switch in handheld mode due to the touch screen aiming for spells and touch menu features, making this effectively potentially the best home conversion, simply because it can be enjoyed on the big screen just as much as on the go, where it truly shines. It is just simply sad that despite being re-released multiple times, a lot of its elements are left as-is when they could have been improved, but there's hope at least that the upcoming sequel, Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm will not repeat any of these. Do not be mistaken, though: Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas is still a lot of fun to play.

Developer

Cornfox & Bros.

Publisher

Cornfox & Bros.

Genre

Action Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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