Oceanhorn: Monster of the Uncharted Seas Review.
Birds fly above. You look out across a perfect blue ocean that stretches to the horizon. The waves gently rolling against the rocks. At the top of the highest cliff you stand above everything else. The music swells around you as your called to adventure, it's time you finally fulfill your destiny.
With this gorgeous and evocative scene, Oceanhorn opens up to you. Endless seas await. Unexplored islands beckon you, and this fun, bright, and colorful game comes alive.
Oecanhorn is in theory simply a Zelda clone on mobile devices that finally managed to find it's way to consoles last year. Openly inspired and openly taking some major elements from the Zelda games, Oceanhorn seemed destined to simply come out and then just as quickly fade away as a mediocre knock-off game.
Yet, there is some hidden magic, some spark within Oceanhorn that refuses to allow this game to settle into mediocrity. The sounds and sights you encounter as you discover the history of these uncharted sea's is something you won't forget. It's Wind Waker, but not really. Oceanhorn pulls and takes from Zelda so openly and so freely that it frees itself from trying to pretend otherwise.
Only joy, only fun, only brightly brilliant colors are allowed in the world of Oceanhorn. This is a game that refuses to take itself seriously, that is unabashed in it's mission to provide a joyful gameplay experience above all else. The story doesn't really matter. The characters don't really matter. The history of the world doesn't really matter. All that matters is that you enjoy yourself and leave this game smiling as wide as when you were a kid, in this Oceanhorn succeeds wonderfully.
I never played a Zelda game before. I have no attachment in the slightest to the series, and indeed for large stretches of my time playing games have found myself baffled by just what people enjoyed about Link and the world he inhabits. There are things that might bother long time Zelda fans that I never noticed, similarly there may be loving nods and homages to those games that I never thought about for a second. Yet, in the end the great strength of Oceanhorn is the simple fact that it pulled in someone like me.
I loved Oceanhorn, I enjoyed spending time in that world, and with those goofy, absurd, and cartoony characters. Oceanhorn doesn't pretend like it's telling some revolutionary, groundbreaking story, something that is going to transform the industry. Instead, it simple weaves a tale that is mysterious, surprisingly deep, and oddly tragic when compared to the games bright colorful look.
Importantly, Oceanhorn makes it's world feel lived in, feel as ancient as the game tells us it is. Piecing together the millennia old history of just what happened is a deeply illuminating experience. Lives are lost, wasted, and left unfinished in this world, things have a certain jagged edge to them that left me endlessly intrigued given the games happy, carefree look. Oceanhorn can be an experience that carries you across the waves without much thought about the world around you or about what anything really means, but if you just dig even a tiny bit deeper a surprisingly moving, funny, sad, and epic tale lay beneath the surface.
All of which is to say Oceanhorn is great but not perfect. The game isn't the most clear about what exactly you should be doing in a given moment and twice I was left with no real idea what to do next and was thus forced to travel from island to island until I found the right place. Once you land on a given island things can yet again get complicated as most of the islands are large tracts of land, hills, mountains, and caves that make it easy to lose track of which direction to go. Fighting against the game's various bosses isn't the game's strong suit and more often then not left me banging my head against the wall.
Yet, none of that really mattered to me. I don't really remember any of that from my time playing the game. Instead, I am filled with dozens and dozens of images of the game's beauty, of its stellar usage of music. Oceanhorn radiates with vibrant and bright colors. Beautiful blues shine throughout the game, rage filled reds populate the world, gentle greens surround you. This is a game that feels and looks like a Dreamworks movie smashed together with Pixar and the result is a breathtaking present for all those play the game.
Oceanhorn is a treat for the eyes, a gift to the ears, and a tonic for the soul. It makes you feel like a kid again, like when you first fell in love with games. It reminds you of the simple joys, the simple pleasures of this medium. Unencumbered by complicated, soaring, groundbreaking storytelling, Oceanhorn frees itself to tell it's version of the same story we've been told since our youth, but it does it in such a carefree, happy, and relentless style that you can't help but smile as the game hits each and every familiar beat. Oceanhorn is not one of gaming's greatest titles, what it is though is a wondrous nod to the games of our past and a game that will leave a smile on your face long after you finish.