Developed by Cornfox & Bros, Oceanhorn: Monster of Unchartered Seas was shown in early trailers to be a unique and original adventure game, reminiscent to that of the Zelda series, but filling those kinds of shoes was always going to be a tall order… Thankfully for them, it does!
From very early on, Oceanhorn had captured my attention, with it’s bright colours and unique art style. The relaxing theme of seafaring across the peaceful blue seas to islands undiscovered was an adventure all too exciting to pass up on. The RPG elements were all obvious from the trailers and as soon as I could, I got my hands on it.
You play as a young boy, who’s father has recently departed on an adventure to defend the islands from an age old threat, leaving you to fend for yourself. You explore the relatively cramped island and find the only other apparent inhabitant, an elder called “Hermit”. Hermit gives a brief overview of the lands, the wars and all other backstory elements you need to begin any fantasy RPG. Once this exchange of dialogue is completed, Hermit sends you on your travels. First to find your father’s old sword and shield and then on to a neighbouring island. This pretty much sets the pace of the game from then on. At times you’ll need to retrace your steps, but otherwise it’s a case of visiting a recently unlocked island, spending all of 20 minutes or so exploring each house, alleyway, cave and bush in search of an NPCs to talk to, the odd brainteaser or an enemy or two to dispose of. Once you’ve whacked a few enemies, pushed a few concrete blocks into the correct position or chatted up a village elder, they’ll give you the name of the next island, unlocking it on your world map and readying it for you to visit. You travel the ocean visiting each island and progress the storyline.
The game chugs along at a steady pace, but at times grinds to a jarring halt as the game realises you’ve missed speaking to one of the NPCs three islands ago, leaving you to retrace your steps, visit said island and search each unturned rock for an NPC just dying to give you the name of the next island. With the limited amount of “hand-holding” this game offers, sadly, in the early hours of my play through, this happened a few too many times. Before long, I was running around each island twice to avoid the annoyance of having to return only hours later, when the game informs me I had missed talking to “John Blacksmith”.
Combat wise, it’s fairly limited. Swing your sword, block with a shield and if you’re feeling particularly exotic you can spice things up with a spell or two. Most enemies died after a few whacks around the cranium with your sword but more damage was dealt by lobbing the odd bomb, crate, clay pot or barrel at them, as well as occasionally dropping the odd health orb or set of arrows. Progressing through the game and onto more islands grants access to more weapons and spells, however they’re not just for disposing of enemies. For example, the bow and arrow is used to hit inaccessible trigger switches from a range and the fire spell is used to thaw melted pathways granting you access to areas previously restricted. As well as obtaining more gear, like any adventure RPG, by collecting 4 “Heart Pieces” scattered around the islands, you increase your Max Health.
Oceanhorn, is a textbook example of the perfect adventure game. Each element of the adventure; the puzzles, the combat, the dialogue, the monsters, the questing, whatever – it’s all done to perfection! The puzzles are all challenging but fair and with the right amount of thought, are all eventually overcome. The combat begins as a fairly primitive swing and block mechanic, but as you progress, so do your abilities. The dialogue, for what I imagine is a relatively low-budget production, was well scripted and recorded with some decent voice actors. The monsters and beasts you call your enemies are all different and have some variation in mechanics. How you’d tackle one dangerous creepy-crawly would be completely different to how you’d dispose of the large hammer-wielding ogre. And finally the questing and movement throughout the game, unlocking an island at a time, ready for you to explore and investigate what secrets it holds, is brilliant. Whether you’re jumping in for 20 minutes or several hours, with every sit down the story moves forward and it’s what kept me coming back, time and time again.
Overall, Oceanhorn gets near full marks from me for taking me by surprise. A game that I thought would take a couple of hours to quickly blast through, ended up capturing me for days on end, pulling me back in for more after every time I turned my console off. This game kept me up at night whilst I tried figuring out puzzles in my head whilst falling asleep. It’s charming, quaint visuals were a joy to encapsulate myself in and I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent with Oceanhorn. I would 100% recommend this game to almost anyone. My only concern is that it can feel quite the grind, doing laps of an island in search of a single NPC or missing treasure chest. Overcome that and you’re in for a real treat!