Oceanhorn is the peculiar case of a development team who had dreams of a great Zelda game on a smartphone and actually set out to accomplish their goal, with pretty satisfying results. Not surprisingly, people who wanted to enjoy a multi-hour adventure RPG were hopeful to do it on something besides a five-inch screen, and so Cornfox & Bros. set out to make things right, remastering the game to Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas, and pushing it onto every platform that would have it. Thankfully, the mobile adventure game has finally come to the Nintendo Switch.
The plot is simple: your dad has gone hunting one of the last great leviathans left in the world and gone missing. The monster, Oceanhorn, is probably responsible for the disappearance for both of your parents and you, a young lad, want vengeance. A hermit informs you that you need three talismans before you can take on the beast, and so you set off to accomplish this very task, smashing pots and cutting grass along the way, because you can. Also there are a good number of monsters and bosses between you and the aforementioned talismans, so, good news, this isn’t going to be too straightforward.
Let’s get something out-of-the-way: if you don’t have a Nintendo Switch, Oceanhorn isn’t going to be the indie straw that breaks your wallet’s back. While it looks great on the Switch and plays very well (significantly better than any smartphone I’ve tried it on), there isn’t any specific allure that makes it best set on the Switch. There’s no HD rumble, no Amiibo support, and no proprietary set of achievements that you can only find with Nintendo. I’m certainly not complaining, as Oceanhorn is crazy enjoyable, but there isn’t exclusivity, which I think a lot of Nintendo fans are looking for. If you don’t mind treading where others have walked before you, by all means read on and enjoy the full experience.
The graphics do look quite snazzy, and it’s hard to believe it originated back when the iPhone still had a headphone jack. Everything has a nice pop to it that gives a proper animated adventure feel, but doesn’t quite harken all the way back to the Super Nintendo days. This would be right down the middle for 3DS graphics, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Oceanhorn isn’t going to make your Switch freak out trying to support everything that’s going on, and you can safely keep it on your system for some extra time if you’re taking a break between adventures (read: it doesn’t take up a ton of space). I had no problems discerning between the enemies and the ground, treasure and traps, and my only complaint came from where the sidewalk ended and the holes began, though I’m positive that was intentional for most of the islands.
Transport between islands takes a serious nod to Wind Waker by sticking you at the helm of a ship and letting you feel the length of time as you sail from here to there. It’s certainly pretty, but it doesn’t serve much of a purpose, outside of some random items and questing that occur about midway through the game. In fact, I would have rather they removed this bit when they brought it to consoles: Oceanhorn didn’t have anything to prove, and, especially early on, it just feels pointless to watch yourself go across the ocean with little-to-no interaction with the sea around you. Still, it’s gorgeous, and you must remember it was a feat to accomplish when the game first came out a couple of years back.
The controls, for the most part, are tight, though they aren’t without some hiccups. You will feel INCREDIBLY sluggish when you first take off, and it takes a while for you to adjust to the natural walking speed of the protagonist. You can dash, but it takes up stamina that is needed for blocking with your shield. Targeting enemies with your sword is a tricky bit of perspective at first, as the 3D sculpting of Oceanhorn can leave a player trying to rely on shadows for larger-than-life or flying monsters, and you really don’t want to miss either. However, picking up and throwing objects is another subject entirely, as it seems the hero has pinpoint precision with no indicator or crosshairs whatsoever. If you’ve being swarmed by enemies, hacking and slashing wildly is the only way to survive, but, if you have the time to single out an enemy, don’t bother even hitting them. Pick up whatever’s around – rock, log, skull – and just hurl it, saving yourself any chance of being hit. It really can be that simple.
Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas is also a game for completionists. It’s absolutely possible to reach the end of the game without finding all the secrets and smaller islands peppered throughout, and even more possible to accidentally discover them and promptly ignore them. Avoiding all side searches, you’re probably looking at ten hours of total gameplay, but you can easily add another 5 just in exploration and leveling. It’s nice, in that facet, that the game essentially is for everyone, be it the casual adventurer or the Gamecube-era fetch quest fanatic who needs to find every secret and nook before they can put a game down. I personally recommend leaning towards the second approach, as it makes the final fights even easier and more satisfying.
Lastly, the soundtrack cannot be taken for granted. The combined work of three composers (including Final Fantasy legend Nobuo Uematsu) lend Oceanhorn the perfect soundstage for the tale it tells. Every moment feels crafted to best suit the players atmospheric experience, and it’s especially impressive given that this was meant, again, to be played on a phone where people might be more focused on outside aural exposure. The long journeys across the sea are worthwhile just for these moments.
Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas doesn’t have new ground to break on the Nintendo Switch, but it exists and is welcome to people who haven’t had a chance to play this modern classic. Nintendo has committed to making indies feel welcome and this is an absolute cornerstone in that grand plan. If you have never journeyed across the ocean with Cornfox & Bros, or you simply want to show support for the upcoming Oceanhorn 2, then I absolutely invite you to try the best mobile version of Oceanhorn that you can ever play. If you’ve already hung up your seafaring boots, or just grow weary of finding all those bloodstones again, then you won’t miss much on passing another trip across the vast divide.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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