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Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Cornfox & Brothers
Release Date: March 17, 2015

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.

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PC Review - 'Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas'

by Brian Dumlao on June 3, 2015 @ 3:00 a.m. PDT

Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas combines captivating storytelling, breathtaking 3D visuals and exciting gameplay into one epic action-adventure experience.

There are certain genres and games that aren't surprising when they transition from iOS and Android to PC: endless runners, match three puzzle games, 2-D platformers, and runaway hits like Angry Birds and Cut the Rope. What is unexpected are sprawling adventure games, mostly because they're such a rarity in the mobile market. In 2013, the iOS got such a game in Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas, and a couple of months ago, a remastered version of the title was released on the PC.

The story is compelling enough, even if it is rather standard for the genre. Long ago, a great war was fought, and an evil wizard brought forth dark creatures to rule the land. He and his monsters were defeated but not before they decimated much of the world, leaving nothing behind but some scattered islands and a vast ocean connecting them all. You play the role of a young boy whose father had gone out the night before to seek the Oceanhorn, a creature from ancient times that has returned to wreak havoc. Armed with your mother's pendant and an old sword, you head out to seek your father and the Oceanhorn.


The story waffles between being rich and going for the bare minimum. Though the title doesn't feature lots of letters, diaries and other devices to fill in the backstory, you get plenty of that from signs that you encounter. Anecdotes from your father's journal also play when you reach a new island. It fleshes out the world in a way that doesn't require much input from the player, and some may not immediately realize the trick until much later in the game, when they notice emerging patterns. On the other hand, the characters don't interact with you enough to make you all that invested in their stories. There's enough to give you a basic idea of their plight, but it's not enough to make you invested in the later surprises. The mini-stories feel rushed and uninteresting when you encounter the conclusions.

The gameplay will be familiar to adventure fans. At all times, you're armed with a sword and shield that can be used to deflect enemy shots and block attacks. You can also sprint, but this and your shield are governed by a stamina meter, so you can dash all over the place or stay turtled up to all attacks. These are your main tools, but you'll also pick up a few others, like arrows for distance hits, bombs to blow up walls and foes, and boots for increased stomping ability and leaping. You also obtain a few spells along the way that give you the chance to drop rocks from the sky or call on fire, just to name a few.

Combat is only half of what makes these kinds of adventure games memorable. When you're not fighting, you're solving puzzles. Most of the puzzles are of the block-and-switch variety, where you have to hit switches to open passageways, manipulate blocks so you have a path to cross, or a combination of the two. There are also a number of puzzles that use switches in concert with magic spells or tools you've obtained.


Then there's the exploration portion, which is handled a little differently. When you first see the world, only three islands appear. As you talk to other villagers, open up story-related items, or come across artifacts like bottles with notes, you'll open up more islands to explore until it feels like there's a whole expanse. This becomes essential, since you'll be shuttling back and forth between the islands to complete quests.

Of course, travel between islands means you'll spend a good deal of time on your boat, though you can't take direct control of the craft. Once you enter the boat, you'll be taken to a map of all of the islands discovered thus far. You use your cursor to point at the island you want to go to, and once you confirm your destination, the boat automatically sails to that location. At first, you won't be able to do anything but take the ride and enjoy the scenery. After you obtain a gun, you'll be able to shoot things while traveling from one place to another, and you'll get extra coins, XP and the satisfaction of defeating a monster or two.

As you can already gather, Oceanhorn is tremendously inspired by various elements from Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda series. The items you obtain, from bombs to arrows, are staples of the series, as well as how they're used as weapons and puzzle-solving tools. Combat is a mix between the 2-D and 3-D entries, since you can't jump but can unleash a powered-up sword slash and a few sword combos. Your character's outfit looks like it could've come from either Skyward Sword or The Wind Waker, and the boat was definitely from the latter game. To be fair, these elements aren't exclusive to the Nintendo franchise, as they're used almost universally in adventure games. However, the feeling you get when you start the game undoubtedly conjures up a familiarity associated with the series, making the comparison more justified here than in other similar titles.


There are only two areas where the game doesn't take notes from the legendary Nintendo series. The first is the camera perspective, which is isometric instead of top-down or third-person. It's reminiscent of similar adventure games, like Bastion and Transistor for the more recent crowd or Landstalker for those who remember the Genesis game. The second is in the game's XP system. Though you gain XP from killing enemies, you can also obtain it from treasure chests and completing various tasks, all of which are tied to Steam Achievements. Instead of powering you up in things like the expected health and strength, level gains come with other benefits, like an increase in the number of secondary weapons you can carry and a big coin bonus.

When all of these components are combined, the experience is a solid imitation of the games that preceded it. Combat feels just right, with tactics trumping a pure attack rush, something you don't see too often in modern adventure games. Puzzles are simple but never to the point of annoyance, and there are still some head-scratchers that pop up every now and then that make you feel elation once you finally solve them. The pacing is steady so you're always getting a new tool or ability, and the game never feels like it's dragging. More importantly, that sense of exploration and discovery is alive and well because there isn't any handholding in your journey. There's still some linearity in the story progression, but you're free to find all of the roadblocks at your own pace, uncovering a few extras out of order to make your journey interesting without relying on randomization. That feeling of discovering something new is the real proponent behind a good adventure game, and seeing it utilized so well is affirmation that the developers know exactly what they're doing in this genre.

Oceanhorn's gameplay is solid, but there are a few areas that some players may dislike. There are a few places on the islands where you can fall and get stuck, requiring a reload of the previous save to continue playing. Shooting at enemies while on your boat is fun, and the automatic control of the boat from one destination to another is a godsend for some, but the amount of island-hopping you'll do makes one wish for an instant travel system that makes the boat travel optional. Combat also tends to lean toward being easy, especially for the bosses. Going for pure sword combat can make things challenging, but the encounters are less exciting if you go in with a full cache of bombs, since they inflict a great deal of damage and make short work of such battles.


Graphically, the game is quite gorgeous. The character models are styled quite well, and it looks like The Wind Waker with the slightly odd proportions (minus the cel shading). That compliment is more applicable toward the hero and villagers, since enemy designs aren't too distinct. The level design and texturing are nice and varied, punctuated well by good use of lighting and particle effects. The water looks nice, a requirement since it makes up a large portion of the environment, though the water that creeps along the island shoreline could use something like a foaming effect, since the cut between land and sea is so apparent. Overall, it looks impressive, especially when you take into account the title's mobile roots. One area where it falters is in the frame rate. For the most part, a good system can hold the game at a solid 60fps with all of the settings turned on. Go to the larger parts of the island with lots of particles, and it slows down a bit, but there was one instance where the game slowed to a nauseating stutter, and only a reboot could return things to normal.

As impressive as it looks, it sounds even better. The soundtrack consists of haunting melodies, epic travel music, and higher-tempo action pieces, and there are only a few instances of silence for effect. The pieces are wonderful and give the game a higher production feel. Fans of game soundtracks will want this one the minute they hear the opening riffs of the title screen. Elsewhere, the supporting cast is voiced in the cut scenes, and while a few sound slightly off (the girl on one of the first islands sounds older than she appears), the voices are generally fine. The effects are also good, though this is the one area where issues do arise. For some reason, the footstep sounds don't match the animation very well. You'll hear more footsteps being dropped that what you see, whether you're running or walking. Also, there aren't that many sound effects when on your boat. You'll hear gunshots, explosions from mines breaking, and boxes being shattered, but notably absent are the wind blowing at your sails and the rush of water being cleaved by your boat.

Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas is a pleasantly surprising homage to a classic adventure series. It may not bring anything new to the table, but its mimicking of old mechanics and ideas are done well enough that you can forgive it. The game length is good, the presentation is close to excellent, and the gameplay issues you'll encounter are minimal. For those who want an adventure reminiscent of the classics, Oceanhorn fits the bill nicely.

Score: 8.0/10



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