Oceanhorn, action RPG for iOS and Steam

Sailing in Oceanhorn
Nope, it’s not Windwaker

Today I finished up Oceanhorn a Zelda-style adventure came available on iOS and Steam. I’ve been eyeing it since it arrived on the iOS app store a while back, and when a sale hit, I jumped on the opportunity to download and play it.

To say the game is “Zelda-like” is an understatement, Oceanhorn feels like a direct homage to Windwaker. Your character has a mysterious past, you live in a world which used to be a huge continent but sunk mostly below the waves, and you sail from island to island in order to complete your quest. There are heart pieces to find, items to collect, and side-quests aplenty. If Zelda were on iOS or Android, which it should be, this is what it would feel like.

Yet, this is not a clone of Zelda. The way, say, Micromon is a clone of Pokemon 1. The developer, Cornfox & Bros 2, did a splendid job of creating a unique world where magic and steampunk technology collide. One of the side quests, in particular, actually explores the unique ethics which governed the civilization depicted in it’s story – the violation of which eventually led to it’s downfall. Oceanhorn also incorporates a leveling system which expands your abilities as your level raises – carrying more bombs or arrows and increasing spell power are two notable benefits. This leveling system is well-balanced, and it wasn’t until I went for “Master” level that I felt like I had to grind out XP. Rather, your level grows along with both the story and your extent of exploration. The story itself will see you naturally level up to a point where the game is able to be completed, and avid explorers will grow to some more advanced levels. I thought it was well done.

Sadly, the game suffers some from the platform on which I played it. The default controls are usable, foregoing the virtual d-pad for a more natural feeling touch interface. Once the bow is obtained, however, the default controls are so frustrating to be almost useless. I simply could not get the bow to fire when I wanted. Once I enabled the d-pad, however, using the bow became much easier to use. The game could have also used a default “action” button, in addition to attack. I was frustrated several times, especially during boss fights, to find my character suddenly pushing on an object or picking up a pot when I wanted to attack. It led to a few deaths. Magic is also tied to the “item” screen, which led to accidental activation of spells a few times when trying my change secondary tool. The healing spell was also a pain to use during boss fights, as the game requires users to “target” the object for healing 3.

Aside from the interface, there were some aspects of Oceanhorn which left me a bit disappointed. The main island, where the primary shop in the game is located, feels under-developed. There’s just not enough interaction with the characters to make it interesting. As the game progresses certain NPC’s will give out hints which lead to other islands, but if I wasn’t obsessive about checking characters over and over and over I would have finished the game without bothering. This a shame, because the island has an Adventurers guild and a tavern, which are natural locations for information gathering, but neither was utilized in this way. It often felt like the world of ocean horn was well-developed, and even the characters of both it’s recent and distant past had some depth, but the people living in it’s present were two dimensional.

None of this is to suggest Oceanhorn is a bad game, because it’s quite good. It took me several hours to complete 86% of the game, and that would be worth even it’s normal $9.99 price. The game-play is good, the story is compelling 4, and the puzzles are well-designed. Additionally, the graphics and music are magnificent. It is short, just three main dungeons and a final boss fight, but there’s a lot to discover nonetheless. Pick this up if you like action RPG’s and would like something to kill a few hours over the Summer months.

  1. That’s not a bad thing, by the way, Micromon is amazing, and I want a sequel. 
  2. Nope, I am not making that name up. 
  3. Oh yes, boss fight deaths. 
  4. And creating a compelling story with a number of “blah” characters is quite an accomplishment.