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Oceanhorn: Monsters of Uncharted Seas Review – The Quest for Boots
There is a fine line between spiritual successors and blatant rip-offs. As I’ve likely harped before, platforms like Steam Greenlight have given small developers their soapbox to stand upon and spew Minecraft clone after Minecraft clone and even AAA developers were, for a while, turning to the “re-masters” rather than new content. Oceanhorn: Monsters of Uncharted Seas, a title recently ported to PC from iOS by indie dev Cornfox & Bros, straddles this fine line as it (in my opinion) pays homage to the Legend of Zelda series, taking bits and pieces from the epic titles of our childhoods.
Oceanhorn tells the story of “kid,” (No, seriously, I don’t remember once being referred to as anything beyond “kid”) whose father disappears at the hands of a giant mechanical creature called Oceanhorn and his natural response is to hunt down the beast and find out why daddy didn’t love him enough to stick around. The narrative is a bit thin, but I found myself excusing it because the game itself played like a retro title and that was kind of par for the course in many games around the time of A Link to the Past.
The kid must sail Wind Waker-style all around the Uncharted Seas collecting pieces of an ancient medallion, magical spells, and, most importantly, “Trencher Boots”, in order to find your father and save the citizens of Arcadia (the in-game world) from the evils of Oceanhorn. To explain further, “Trencher Boots” are literally the key to everything in the game and if you don’t have them then you can just bugger off. The Trencher Boots teach “kid” the mystical power of jumping across three-foot gaps and that is somehow the answer to about 80 per cent of the game’s puzzles.
Along the way in Oceanhorn: Quest for Trencher Boots, you meet a colorful cast of characters that are surprisingly well voiced (although they only talk out loud in cutscenes) and are treated to a wide range of cool environments that keep the game from getting stale. As you progress through the game, you discover a handful of islands that reward exploration with collectibles and the “heart pieces” that were lifted right from Legend of Zelda.
The actual gameplay is easily described as a clash of the aforementioned Legend of Zelda titles: A Link to the Past crossed with The Wind Waker. Additionally, Cornfox & Bros added a leveling system that adds some extra incentive for players to cut down everything that crosses their path, and to complete the little side-objectives that are presented at the entrance of each island.
The art style can be attributed to a similar combination of elements as the gameplay, but with a more – clay-ey? – feel too it. It gets me excited that smaller titles like Oceanhorn and Darkest Dungeon pull off these incredibly appealing art styles that have me constantly wanting more. For lack of better terms, the game pulls off a visually friendly and appealing art style without getting me lost in the colours. At no point did I find the work put in to making this game look the way it does (aside from the slightly dodgy skeletal animations) lacking.
In regards to difficulty, the game is a bit patronizingly easy early on, but scales to a comfortable difficulty in the latter half of the game. Regardless of difficulty, the game breaks up any semblance of monotony with interesting boss fights that utilize both in-house mechanics and the powers that you acquire over time. There were many times, in and out of boss arenas, that I felt true panic as I was running and rolling frantically to avoid a death that would only set me back a few seconds. Credit given where credit is due, Cornfox & Bros made me feel tense in settings often absent of tension altogether.
An aspect that makes up a bulk of this game’s screen time is puzzles, which progressively become more difficult. Early on they had me often saying (out loud I might add) “really?” As the game spiked in difficulty, so too did the complexity of the puzzles and I was impressed with a lot of the ideas that left me smiling at the moment of solution.
The most frustrating piece that Oceanhorn took from Legend of Zelda games has to be the feature where it made my poor, “filthy casual” self have to look up walkthroughs because I could not figure out where to go. I have to attribute this to two things, really: 1. I’ve often struggled with games that have the solution to the current puzzle a good 5 minute (real time) trip away, and 2. Oceanhorn has difficulty with the shift from easy to challenging puzzles, so you become accustomed to “shoot arrow at target” in situations where puzzles are much more convoluted than that. Not that all of this is necessarily a bad thing, I’ve always been bad with direction in games like this for some reason, so in a twisted way this was a selling point.
In terms of sound design and music, this game fit the bill it aims to. It didn’t have me as excited as Wolfenstein: The New Order or Darkest Dungeon, but it didn’t disappoint me, and that justifies merit. To its credit as well, there were a few boss fights where I looked up the music immediately after because it was notable, but I wouldn’t go out of my way further to get my hands on it.
I adhere to my claim that this game straddles the line of spiritual successor and blatant rip-off, but I’d like to say that it tips more in favor of the former. The developers clearly put a lot of effort into making a solid game here, and although everything from the bombs to the heart pieces are lifted from long-time favorites, the effort applied behind all other aspects of this game is what had me excited to see the whole thing through.
It has been quite a while since I was able to sit down, beat a game in about 9 hours and be truly content with what I had played. Whether you’re a fan of Zelda titles, or are just looking for a decent game for under $20, I strongly encourage you check this game out. Just make sure you are prepared to search for boots for about 3 hours before the game really begins.