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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (303)

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Oceanhorn: Monster of U... 2.5/5
The Bard's Tale ( 2004 ) 3/5
Middle-earth: Shadow of... 4/5
Spore 3/5
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdo... 4.5/5
Warhammer: End Times - ... 2/5
Super Mario Odyssey 5/5
Live A Live 3.5/5
Odysseus: Long Way Home 1.5/5
Windward 3/5
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt 3.5/5
Vertiginous Golf 4/5
Doki Doki Literature Cl... 3.5/5
Quest for Infamy 2/5
Neutopia 4.5/5
Divinity: Original Sin ... 5/5
Infested 4.5/5
Battleborn 3/5
Dungeon Master II: The ... 3.5/5
Pop'n TwinBee: Rainbow ... 4.5/5
Little Samson 3.5/5
Tales from the Borderla... 4/5
Beyond Shadowgate 3/5
RetroArch 5/5

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Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas   PC (Steam) 

Awesome + Awesome = Mediocre. What?    2.5/5 stars

In 2013, Finnish mobile (not a typo) developer, Cornfox & Bros. released an archetypal Action/Adventure game on smartphones. It was met with critical acclaim. A few years later, this game, “Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas” (the lack of a ‘the’ in there somewhere is also not a typo) (“Oceanhorn”), got ported around to PC and consoles, even receiving a coveted Limited Run physical distribution on PlayStation 4. However, in its more traditional incarnation, critics – including myself – have been colder. The reason behind the dichotomy of “Oceanhorn’s” life is simple: The mobile market has no standards, so anything that isn’t a blatant addiction/mactrotransaction engine seeking to stick its blood-sucking proboscis into any-and-everything it can seems really great in comparison. On the other hand, PC and console games haven’t been completely ruined yet, plus these platforms have long histories of quality titles for comparison/contrast.

And “Oceanhorn” undeniably wants to be compared to something: ‘Zelda.’ Specifically, it seems that Cornfox & Bros. desperately wanted to recapture the magic of the ‘Legend of Zelda’ franchise by invoking its two best games – “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past” from the SNES and “The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker” from the Gamecube – at EVERY opportunity. Yet for a game that follows such irreproachable role-models, the fact that it’s so incredibly bland and mediocre in every conceivable way just shows how deep the corruption of the mobile market runs.

“Oceanhorn” is an isometric, polygonal Action/Adventure game with a visual style highly reminiscent of “The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.” The player character wears a similar blue, tropical print shirt as Link wears during the tutorial of “Wind Waker,” the stylized islands and their residents hearken strongly back to that particular ‘Zelda’ title, the vast ocean and little dinghy only lack cell-shading and a lion head (respectively), and the game’s enemies are ripped straight from the ‘Zelda’ playbook, including knock-offs of Chus, Tektites, Stalfos, and Moblins, to name a few.

While the character models and environments do look fairly good and have a bit of charm – if not uniqueness – while standing still, when things get animated, the quality falls apart. “Oceanhorn” is a very stiff game. Character animations are very wooden (which spills over into gameplay to disastrous effect) and blandly lifeless during cutscenes. The result is a game that looks appealing in screen captures but doesn’t really look all that impressive in action.

The audio in “Oceanhorn” is a very mixed bag, mostly with yucky malted-milk balls at the bottom. While the soundtrack does have its moments of greatness – such as while traveling the ocean – it is unapologetically trying to sound like ‘Zelda’ as much as it looks like ‘Zelda.’ However, there are far too many locations where the developers apparently forgot to add background music, as the player is left to listen only to the incredibly loud, heavy, plodding footfalls of the player character. The voiceacting is also quite deplorable, with bored-sounding characters reading what feels like the first take of a script written by an English as a Second Language student. Seriously, I don’t know how the English-speaking actors managed to spit-out their tortured lines without calling for at least a revision if not an out-right re-write.

Technically, “Oceanhorn” is quite solid. Of course, as a port of a mobile game, it wouldn’t fly for it to crash or misbehave all the time, as the mobile userbase wouldn’t be able to handle it. It includes native Xinput support, which is nice, however, this controller support is a little bit iffy, as Alt-Tabbing out of the game forces the player to unplug, then replug their Xbox controller to make it work again.

“Oceanhorn” opens with a scene strongly evocative of the opening scene in “A Link to the Past,” where Link’s uncle takes-up sword and shield before heading out into the rainy night to confront a monstrous evil. Unfortunately, “Oceanhorn’s” writing is heavily weighed-down by the writer’s shaky grasp of the English language and willingness to skip-out on basic things.

Our hero in “Oceanhorn,” for example, has no name. Even his father just calls him ‘kid’ (with a small ‘k,’ so he’s obviously not named after the female lead in “Chrono Cross”). In fact, very few characters in “Oceanhorn” are properly introduced, even when they do have names.

After awakening the following morning, our un-named kid sets out to find his father, who set out into the Uncharted Seas to hunt down a sea monster, the titular Oceanhorn. As our kid travels from island to island across the vast waters, he does actually learn quite a bit about the history of the world, how it got to be in its current state, and what Oceanhorn actually is. These are rather interesting plot points that build-up the world’s lore into something entirely different from the ‘Zelda’ games it tries to copy. Yes, there’s an all-powerful force called the Triloth (not Triforce), and yes there’s an evil mastermind who cheated death, but he’s not a Gannondorf-style villain who is merely a force of nature, but much more patient and cerebral.

Unfortunately, all of the good ideas contained in “Oceanhorn’s” script suffer at the hands of the poor English text as well as the game’s very short length. I finished the entire game in just over 15 hours, and I feel like I was really slow and inefficient. Even with the free DLC included in the v2.0 release of the game, which was supposed to last 4 hours but really only lasted 1, “Oceanhorn” is just too short and disjointed to tell an epic tale, while it incongruously feels too long.

I think the main reason why a short game like “Oceanhorn” can feel too long is when the gameplay just isn’t up to par. Everything about “Oceanhorn’s” ‘Zelda’-inspired gameplay feels unpolished and derivative.

As mentioned earlier, “Oceanhorn” is an isometric 3D game. While it is possible to nudge the camera ever-so-slightly with the right analog stick, the game is entirely locked to an old-school isometric view which originally became popular as an alternative to the bird’s-eye camera angle for 2D, sprite-based games with a fixed viewpoint. This isometric camera feels a bit claustrophobic at times and makes revisiting previous areas in search of secrets tiresome, especially when combined with the game’s limited map, which appears only as a mini-map during normal gameplay, but doesn’t exist as an expanded view on the menu screen… the way ‘Zelda’ games have done since the FIRST ONE. Thus searching for missed chests and secrets means tediously retreading every path once taken, since it’s impossible just to open the map and say, ‘yep, I got everything here’ at a glance. Making exploration even more tedious is the painful oversight of not putting a visual cue on destructible walls. In the original “Legend of Zelda,” one of the biggest flaws was that the player had to bomb every wall and burn every bush in search of secrets, while in “A Link to the Past,” destroyable environmental objects were visually distinct, with cracks denoting weak points where a bomb might do something. “Oceanhorn” takes a step backwards by making bombable walls look identical to non-bombable walls. Not only does this make secret-hunting tiresome, it actually gave me grief in completing one of the game’s puzzles the first time around.

It would be incorrect to say that “Oceanhorn” features ‘Zelda’-style dungeons. There are underground environments and a handful of bosses, but for the most part, these ‘dungeons’ are just small cave systems containing a handful of sliding block puzzles, switches, and locked doors (naturally including Master Key doors and chests, since every ‘Zelda’ since “Link to the Past” has those). “Oceanhorn” is also lacking in interesting items for the kid to collect. The bread and butter of the ‘Zelda’ series has always been finding a new tool, like a boomerang, hammer, magic wand, or whatnot and using that tool to expand the player’s ability to explore the game world and solve puzzles in dungeons. “Oceanhorn” offers a whopping 3 tools: Bombs, Arrows, and Trencher Boots – which allow the kid to hop across small gaps, a skill Link typically has by default in real ‘Zelda’ games. Sure, there are 5 magic spells to fill-out the item list, but every single one (except maybe the healing spell) is situational to the point of useless.

The only unique thing about “Oceanhorn’s” take on exploring environments is the fact that it is built in layers. Every object in the game can be thought of as X Kid Heights, where X is a number. The kid can jump down from 1 Kid Height, but can’t jump up at all, which leads to a large number of environmental puzzles revolving around getting the kid above where he wants to be, but not so high above that he can’t jump down. While some of these environmental puzzles are well done, I never felt a sense of amazement or joy while solving them.

Finally, we come to combat. Much like ‘Zelda’ games, “Oceanhorn” provides its player character with hearts to denote their life, a magic meter used to cast spells, and a stamina meter that’s really just an annoying bit of pandering to Souls Trolls. In addition to these pure Action/Adventure mechanics, “Oceanhorn” also shoehorns in some RPG elements, providing the kid with a character level that goes up by gaining experience and generally provides perks and bonuses that would be found in set locations in a typical Action/Adventure game, such as expanded bomb/arrow capacity, the ability to shoot sword beams at full health, etc. The kid gains experience from defeating foes, as well as by completing the game’s Achievements. Yes, for once, Cheevos are tied to an integral gameplay mechanic, providing the kid with huge amounts of experience relative to standing around grinding enemies for hours.

Unfortunately, even backed-up by tried-and-true Action/Adventure and RPG design paradigms, “Oceanhorn’s” combat just isn’t very fun. There’s no knock-back or hitstun for enemies, so they’ll just keep coming and sneak in some lucky shots. The whirlwind attack (charged by holding the attack button) feels really slow and useless, even moreso than the general sluggish pace of combat and the fact that even trash enemies require far too many blows to kill. Plus the kid’s annoying ‘Souls’-inspired stamina meter gets in the way when trying to dash/dodge out of the way or block enemy attacks with the shield. None of these plodding gameplay mechanics make “Oceanhorn” challenging in any way (I didn’t die until the final boss because I forgot about the gimmick), they just make it tiresome and not particularly enjoyable.

“Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas” tries to invoke everything great about the pinnacles of 2D ‘Zelda’ and 3D ‘Zelda,’ yet only manages to come off as a bland, wholly mediocre knock-off. Slow, boring combat; lacking dungeons and tools; and an English as a Second Language script were all overlooked when this game was exclusively on smartphones. For Core Gamers with higher standards, though, the flaws are too overwhelming to ignore. There are plenty of better ‘Zelda’ clones available to PC gamers.

Presentation: 3.5/5
Story: 2.5/5
Gameplay: 2.5/5
Overall (not an average): 2.5/5



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