Now, following in the wake of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Oceanhorn is sailing onto the Nintendo Switch, but how can it possibly still be relevant in the face of such opposition? Can a return to a handheld format rekindle the love of existing fans, or even entice new ones? Let's find out.
Oceanhorn is driven forwards thanks to a largely pleasant and cheerful story that imitates many others, but delivers its content quickly and concisely. Like the very best 16-bit RPG's that it channels, Oceanhorn manages to create a sense of charm despite using very little text to do so. The game begins with our hero awakening to find a note from his missing father who, it transpires, has wandered off to find and defeat the titular Oceanhorn monster.
Within moments, our hero is exploring his home island where a kindly old hermit advises him to seek out his fathers sword and shield. So far, so Zelda: a Link to the Past. Everything you can achieve at this point on the first island is concluded within about ten minutes, and we soon find ourselves in a boat, on the open ocean and heading for a second island.
From there, Oceanhorn whips along at a cracking pace, and the story drives it every step of the way. Go here and collect a doodad, go somewhere else and meet an interesting chap for a discussion about dad before he sends you off to slay a monster. Overall, it's a story that suits the breezy and colourful visual and musical style, because no seen ever outstays its welcome.
Oceanhorn has a fairly open structure, allowing players to explore any of the islands that have been charted on their map. This is achieved mostly through interaction with other characters or by reading documents found in the world. Whilst still on the first island, Hero learns that he must recover three emblems from three distinct locations within the game world, but first he must discover them.
Travelling from island to island is a breeze, and ship control is mostly taken care of by the game. The Switch version includes a light touchscreen mechanic that enables you to tap where you want to go, and the ship sails there. From Hero level Two, players access a ship-mounted weapon that enables Hero to fire at enemies, but it felt to me more like an on-rails shooter than anything else.
When on land, Oceanhorn has the feel of a traditional action RPG. Button mapping is simple and Hero can easily use his sword, shield and other weapons, items or magical abilities through the face buttons and D-Pad. Enemies are nicely varied, although you'll have seen them all before in at least one other game, and the combat is fun but nothing new. There are a large number of puzzles that involve pushing and pulling blocks, or placing items or statues on pressure pads, but again these are all kind of tired mechanics that really don't challenge the player to any great extent.
There are some cool boss encounters in Oceanhorn, which include a couple with Oceanhorn himself, and I found that these bigger set pieces were much more fun to battle through than the run of the mill bad guys. My only real complaint is that whilst most enemies take a lot of damage, they have little by way of offensive variety. This, as a result, does little to prepare the player for what bosses throw at them.
Graphics and Audio
Frankly, aside from the fact that it is now a few years old, Oceanhorn looks fantastic. The art style is distinct and pleasant, even though it is clearly designed to replicate that of three dimensional, isometric Zelda. It works as a standalone title because the visuals occupy a space in gaming history somewhere between the cute, top down style of A Link to the Past and the breathtaking, cartoon graphics of The Wind Waker. As a result it is both instantly familiar and completely new.
The music in Oceanhorn is also worthy of note, with the game having been scored by Kalle Ylitalo, Kenji Ito and Nobuo Uematsu, each of whom is well respected within the industry due to previous compositions. The score is often light and breezy, just like the cute visuals, and the two work together to create a warm and fuzzy atmosphere. When called upon though, such as in the midst of a key battle, or when Hero is exploring a dark cave, the score changes to suitably rousing or creepy, as befits the situation.
The collaboration between sound and music is an important factor in what makes Oceanhorn enjoyable, and on the Nintendo Switch, the game performs at a full 720p and 60 frames per second when in handheld mode, and the same frame rate but at 1080p when docked. Earphones enhance the sound, so as a result, returning to a handheld format is probably a good thing for Oceanhorn.
Reviewed as a standalone product, Oceanhorn is quite good, and there is certainly nothing glaringly wrong with it, but on Nintendo Switch, there is a problem, and it's a big one. Oceanhorn has always positioned itself as a Zelda clone, but until now, it has never had to go toe-to-toe with a proper Zelda title on the same console. On Switch, unfortunately, we happen to have Breath of the Wild, and it really is just so much better than Oceanhorn.
If there is a saving grace that means Oceanhorn still has a place on Nintendo Switch, it is only because Nintendo's latest Zelda title has progressed so far beyond that of the top down, classic action-RPG that it began as that it feels as if it has transcended comparison. As a result, Oceanhorn does actually occupy a place that nothing else on the Nintendo Switch does right now, and on a dedicated mobile device, it does actually work well.
The look may be a little dated, but on a smaller screen it is hard to discern, whilst the sounds is just as good as it ever has been. The lightweight story sections fit mobile gaming perfectly, and you never have to worry about talking to someone for fear of having to stop midway through a cut scene because your train is pulling in. The combat, weapons and magic are all accessible and easy to use on the Switch no matter how bumpy the ride might be, and there is little in the game that requires deadly accuracy or that might cause frustration.
All in all, I enjoyed Oceanhorn on the Switch, but I do still have mixed feelings about it being launched again after so many years. It irks me that it has no additional content and no meaningful Switch related content, and whilst it is different to Breath of the Wild, it is – simply put – not as good. Some people will have the luxury of being able to afford both and if so, then great, but if you have the choice of buying Oceanhorn or saving up for Zelda, then you should hold out.
|+ Looks and sounds good||+ No new content|
|+ Simple, classic gameplay||+ Switch features are minimal/non-existent|
|+ Decent boss fights||+ Breath of the Wild is so much better|
|+ Good game length|