Oceanhorn made a decent splash when it was originally released for iOS in 2013. Since then, it’s come to just about every platform, from Xbox One to PS4 and PS Vita, most recently adding itself to the growing catalog for the Nintendo Switch. Unfortunately not much has changed since it’s original release, and Oceanhorn stands as a reminder of the limitations of mobile gaming in a console dominated landscape.
An action game with light RPG elements, Oceanhorn is, at its core, an homage to the Legend of Zelda series. You play the role of a young boy, abandoned by the worst father ever (who leaves his child to go on a life long journey with the goal of slaying the titular monster), and you must follow your father’s legacy and slay the monster of uncharted seas. You have a sword which you use to slash ogres and cut bushes, and you eventually fill your repertoire with bombs and bows, as well as elemental spells that help you solve puzzles and fight beasts.
Gameplay wise, Oceanhorn is very straight forward. You explore islands, crawl through dungeons, find treasures and fight beasts. The combat consists of sword slashes and charge attacks, blocking with a shield, and throwing pots or bombs at enemies. Most enemies lazily saunter towards you as you smash them, with the occasional projectile foe taking shots. The controls are simple but feel good, working much better on a controller than a touchscreen.
The world of Oceanhorn is comprised of a series of islands you must journey to as you uncover the secrets of the world around you. Each island is more or less the same with a different coat of paint, taking you to wastelands, underwater caverns, ice areas, and fire areas. Travel between islands is done via boat where you shoot objects in the water with a pumpkin seed gun to clear a path. The boat sequences are simple and repetitive, feeling more like a loading screen than anything else, especially as the only control you have over the boat or any exploration itself is clicking an island on the map and waiting a minute to travel there.
Overall, it’s standard genre-fare and more or less what you would expect from a Zelda clone. Which is the main problem: Oceanhorn feels like an imitation of something else. The mechanics work well enough, there’s some semblance of a story, even if it’s impossible to care about, and it’s full of hacking and slashing. But none of the elements have the charm and level of enjoyment as the series they’re hoping to emulate. Combat is repetitive and far from a challenge, the world and story are bland and forgettable, and the puzzles are some of the most basic puzzles we’ve come across in video games, often involving pushing a box to a space directly in front of it or placing an obvious object on an obvious switch. Even the typical rewards, like coins and other various items that you gain from killing goons and ruining the shrubbery, are underwhelming and pointless. Many of the objectives become vague and confusing halfway through the story as well, leaving you to travel from island to island, hoping you’re on the right path.
The years since its original release have not treated Oceanhorn well. As a mobile game, it’s a decent experience, and with a play time of around 10 hours, probably one of the closest experiences you’ll find to a console-like adventure game. On an actual console though, Oceanhorn is substandard and lacking in any real substance that would make it worth the time. While limited, the Switch already has numerous experiences that are a much better use of money in its library with more on the way each week. Try as it may, Oceanhorn is not quite the nostalgic Zelda clone it hopes to be, turning out as a tedious adventure walking in the shadow of its inspiration.