By Daniel Lein
Oceanhorn was originally released on iOS in 2013 and has now made the jump to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. This colorful action adventure RPG finds its roots in genre classics like The Legend of Zelda and Legend of Mana. Though I personally enjoyed my time with it on iOS, finding the scale of the game to be bigger and better than most other games on that platform, I was more than curious if it could accomplish a similar feat on the big screen.
From a story perspective, Oceanhorn fails to deliver the emotional punch many of us have come to expect from modern games. Most characters are mere copies of fantasy and adventure stereotypes, and though this revisit to a simpler time of videogame storytelling is endearing at first, it quickly loses its charm. The plot and delivery of said plot isn’t particularly special either. With twists and turns visible from a mile away, Oceanhorn doesn’t really keep you invested in the events that transpire. And though the occasional voice acting is fantastic, the dialogue that is given is often expository, giving off a “tour at the museum” feel rather than an actual story. That being said, Oceanhorn does manage to impress with the world in which it takes place. Gaia, the world you travel in during the game, is full of history and lore that is a treat to explore and read up on throughout the campaign. Between unique concepts like the mechanical demon known as Oceanhorn, to the Zorra like homage that is the Gillfolk race, the lore feels complete and well thought out. There’s a history to the world of Oceanhorn that can easily act as a foundation for future titles, and even though the building of that foundation doesn’t make for an interesting story, it is nonetheless a blast to uncover!
Visually, Oceanhorn somehow manages to impress and disappoint all at the same time. Though the colors are vibrant and cartoony style is endearing, the character models are subpar at best, especially for the Xbox 1. Though all of this got a pass on iOS, it simply doesn’t cut it on console. This graphical deficiency is made most prevalent in facial animations, or rather the utter lack of facial animations. Though this may seem nit picky, I can assure you that it rips you out of the immersion. No matter the situation, the characters maintain an expression of vague interest. No smiles. No surprised expressions. Not even an eyebrow raise! Because of this, every conversation and cutscene feels empty and utterly void of severity. Despite this blow, Oceanhorn still pops off the screen with its sometimes stunning textures and all around bright style.
The audio design, however, is fantastic. Every footstep, wave on the water, and swing of a sword helps bring the player deeper into the world. The music is even more impressive. Composed by the legendary Nobuo Uematsu, Oceanhorn’s soundtrack delivers both songs that never really get old and tracks that offer an emotional sound. It may not be Uematsu’s best work, but it does add some much needed personality and emotion to the indie adventure game.
Between combat, exploration, and puzzle solving, gameplay is where Oceanhorn really shines. After a dull and chore filled first twenty minutes, Oceanhorn becomes a more than competent action adventure game with all the trappings of the games that inspired Oceanhorn. Most islands, especially those involved in the main story, allow the player to stretch their legs and explore their way toward progress. Though these islands are essentially linear, there’s no hand holding and as such the player is free to explore at their own pace and find collectibles such as heart pieces and blood stones. On their travels, players will no doubt come across a myriad of puzzles, some of which can be solved in a matter of seconds while others take both brains and brawn to succeed. Most impressively, these puzzles scale from easy to hard throughout the game. This may seem like a given for a good adventure game, but a smooth difficulty curve is one of those things that can put a good indie game head and shoulders above its peers. This difficulty curve goes the same for combat, which is deceptively simple. Enemies vary from speedy to strong, and cunning to straight up hard to kill. This is especially the case for weapon wielding enemies where success is determined by the players ability to read their opponent, shield bash on time, and attack when an opening presents itself. Boss fights, however, are spotty. Some are engaging puzzles that require a great deal of dexterity and planning to pull off, while others are little more than a button mash marathon. All in all Oceanhorn is exciting to explore, challenging in its puzzles, and down right fun in its combat. The only real downside comes in the form of its sailing. To travel from island to island the player must select their desired location and travel on a predetermined path with no control over the direction of the boat. This takes away any spontaneity or off-island-exploration. A small blemish in an otherwise enjoyable array of activities.
With emotionless characters and an utterly uninteresting story, Oceanhorn fails to reach the dizzying heights of the games that inspire it. Nonetheless it is a colorful and fun adventure set to the tune of an emotional soundtrack. Not to mention a world with enough backstory and history to satiate even the most voracious of lore addicts.
Oceanhorn earns a 7.5/10