Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas (Xbox One) Review

Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas is definitely not a game that shies away from its inspirations.  Its isometric view, sword combat and sea travel is clearly influenced from the old Legend of Zeldas and the divisive Wind Waker.  Art-wise, the game reminds me of Fable.  Even so, the game has its own identity, and like Shovel Knight, is much more 'inspired by' than a copy of its influences.

Oceanhorn's combat is pretty simplistic.  You get an attack string, and you can block attacks with your shield.  You'll want to get in the habit of doing so, since your health isn't high in the beginning, and it is easy to get hit.  It's easy to get hit since the hitbox is very generous.  This is both good and bad, since it works for both you and the enemies, making it easier to hit enemies than you would think, but also to get hit when you think you are at a safe distance.  Death doesn't carry a very big penalty though.  You are sent back to the last checkpoint (or room start) with a very minor experience cost (I only ever saw me lose 1 point each time).

Blocking can only save you for so long, though.  Whenever you block an enemy's attack, you will lose some stamina, represented by the green bar that appears above your character.  It will refill on its own, but it fills slower if it was fully drained.  That's pretty standard for stamina meters.  Your character also has a dash that takes stamina, but it doesn't seem very useful and drains the stamina really quickly.  I found its best use to get through traps.  The third use for stamina is when you swim.  It still drains really fast, and if you run out while swimming, you drown and die.  I guess that's one way to not need invisible walls to stop players from going out as far as they can.  It wasn't really a problem until a later island that involved swimming, where the short duration of your swim became a full-blown irritation.

True to its influences, you will gain several items and magic spells to help you on your journey.  There is the requisite bow and arrow to hit distant targets and switches, bombs to blow up decayed walls, and even special boots to leap over small gaps.  Each one is used several times during the game, and of course in the boss fights.  The spells are similar.  They can be used in combat, and sometimes they are the only way to damage enemies, but they are also used for puzzles.  There are ice blocks you can melt to make passageways, and switches to hit with your earth spell.  It might not be the most unique, but it definitely works for the game type, and isn't overdone.

After the first short bit of the game, you get a boat to travel to different islands.  You basically select them from a map instead of actively piloting there.  Once you reach adventure level 3, you get a gun that can be used only when on the boat.  There are crates and enemies to shoot, for some marginal increases to money and experience.  However, the real use for it is that it gives you something to do while sailing around, since otherwise it's not too interesting.  As you progress through the game, more islands will open up, even if you can't do anything there yet.  This does fit in with the exploration theme, since you will have to island hop a lot while going through the game.

That's one of the things I like in Oceanhorn: the exploration.  The game does not hold your hand after a brief tutorial at the beginning, and you are left to figure out the rest of the puzzles on your own.  There are vague hints, but it's more "here's some information, get to it" instead of directing your every move through the game.  I was surprised I didn't get stuck more than twice.  You will also jump around the islands a lot, since they tend to open before you have the item(s) necessary to fully explore them.  There's also a lot of backtracking in the game, but the areas aren't too large, so it isn't as big of a problem as it could have been.  Even so, it's about a 10 hour journey from start to finish, and even more if you intend to poke in every nook and cranny to find all of the collectibles and secrets the islands have in store.

Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas is a really fun game.  It reminds me of my favorite Zelda titles (the top-down ones), but is still unique enough to not be a copy.  It was really easy to just keep playing the game, as each new place made me wonder what I would uncover, and each new item had me wanting to go back and use it to find new secrets.  Legend of Zelda fans should definitely check out Oceanhorn, and I would also encourage old-school action/adventure fans play the game as well.  It's worth it!

The Good:
Lots of exploring new islands to keep the game fresh.  Really easy to just keep playing.

The Bad:
No in-game help if you are stuck, the amount of backtracking will be off-putting to some.

The SaHD:
Is it a requirement for all water temples to be irritating?

(Review code for Oceanhorn was provided by the publisher)

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