Friday, June 23, 2017

Review: Oceanhorn


Even early on the Switch’s life there is an incredible contrast in content between AAA games that have been worked on by massive teams at an incredible expense and indie games created by smaller teams with tighter budgets. Oceanhorn is a game that is unmistakably inspired by classic Legend of Zelda titles, both in terms of gameplay and aesthetics, but that not surprisingly lacks the polish and refinement of those same titles. That said, there’s no mistaking the love and effort thrown into the game, and if you’re looking for a light “weekend game” of adventure and some puzzle solving it should serve you well.

Vibrant colors
Starting with the aesthetics and setting there’s no missing the that this game is a love letter to Wind Waker. You’ll explore a variety of islands, looking for quests, gear, and loot. You’ll get to sail out over the ocean, in this case shooting at enemies, crates, and mines as you go. While I’d say there are some visual quirks in places, with your character or other objects sinking into the ground or floating weirdly here and there, at no time does any of it complicate things. Not surprisingly, given its origins on mobile devices, the game looks spectacular and vibrant in handheld mode, with the scale hiding some of the aforementioned quirks as well. I’m actually pleasantly surprised with the look, again given the game’s more humble launching point. Having spent time aggravated with my nVidia Shield tablet, and how horrible games made for mobile would look on it, I pay my compliments to the team for not “phoning” it in when it came to making it look good on the Switch.

Taking to the seas
Gameplay, more than anything, is likely where your decision will need to be made on the title. Let’s be clear, this isn’t an intense experience in any way, if anything I’d say for me it is almost calming or soothing to play it. I’m able to just relax and work through the pretty simple combat, though there are a few bursts of challenge and excitement here and there as well. The puzzles are all basic and/or intuitive for the most part, something you should be able to solve in a few tries generally. There are some fun distractions to be had with things like fishing, which was a nice touch. At times it can feel like you need to backtrack a bit, but that also isn’t unusual in games of this kind. For a more intense classic Zelda-esque experience you should probably be looking more towards Kamiko, but if you want there to be more of a story and total experience the edge goes to Oceanhorn.


In terms of the remainder of production values overall the game is a mixed bag. The music is actually quite nice and soothing, mostly there for ambiance, and it very much reinforces the gameplay’s laid back nature. Voice acting, when used, ranges from decent to a little weak, but it was a good effort and works towards the goal they obviously had in raising the bar for the overall experience. One thing worth noting as an oddity is though it is overall very linear at the same time I’ll admit it wasn’t very clear what I was supposed to be doing. While there’s a mini map present on-screen constantly it isn’t used very much, perhaps there would be opportunities for cues to help people find their way in certain situations. Obviously I was able to find my way, but there were a few moments of bewilderment at times for me.

Critters to fight!
At the end of the day Oceanhorn stands a bit in the shadow of the classic Zelda games that inspired it but at the same time has more to offer than its age and lineage would imply. This isn’t a AAA game, but it appropriately also lacks the AAA price tag, so as long as you scale your expectations fresh off of playing the likes of Breath of the Wild it shouldn’t be quite so jarring. If you’re in search of a game that will satisfy you for a weekend or two, depending on how much attention you’re setting aside for its 10+ hours, it is an enjoyable experience if the pace and level of challenge are a good fit. I have high hopes for the upcoming sequel, to see what the team has learned and what they can produce when they’re targeting the console market as the base this time around.

Score: 7


Pros:

  • A satisfying length, doesn’t overstay its welcome
  • Looks vibrant and fabulous in handheld mode in particular
  • Overall a very relaxing game to play from the music, to the puzzles, to the action itself


Cons:

  • In some areas its age and its mobile roots are hard not to notice
  • Both generally linear and somehow too unguided at times
  • As much as it obviously aspires to recreate the classic Zelda experience it can’t quite meet that finish line overall

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