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Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas

Score: 60%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: FDG Entertainment
Developer: Cornfox & Bros.
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Classic/Retro/ RPG/ Adventure

Graphics & Sound:

Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas is a retro revival that will have you thinking back fondly to time with Link, Mario and other characters of classic games from bygone eras. Okay, to be fair, those games are only about 10 years old, so we're not talking Model-T vintage or anything. To that point, the graphics are very much like the next-gen of two generations ago, respectable 3D with lots of color, animation, and a sense of open world navigation. Levels are actually very contained and on rails, but the sights give an impression of a much larger world. Happily, you do get to explore the larger world, albeit one island at a time.

The sounds of Oceanhorn don't earn as much positive sentiment, but they're definitely powered by nostalgia. The star-powered soundtrack features Nobuo Uematsu and Kenji Ito as guest composers, alongside core team member Kalle Ylitalo. Just invoking Uematsu and Ito is enough to raise eyebrows among fans of classic RPG and JRPG games. The only disappointment is that each original tune is perpetually on loop, noticeable especially to those who take time to fully explore the world of Oceanhorn.


What started as a mobile title arrives on the console with perfect fidelity, and is surprisingly playable compared to most mobile adaptations. It's a testament to the ambitious vision developers Cornfox & Bros. had for Oceanhorn originally on iOS, seemingly to create a game that sidestepped lame freemium titles and finally did RPG "right" on mobile. Their success fueled a wider release of the game, and an ongoing series across all platforms. The basic premise of the game is exploration, as you play a boy investigating the mystery behind his father's disappearance. An evil force is arising and can only be opposed by the combined force of the world's historic kingdoms.

The scope of the game is indeed ambitious and Oceanhorn mostly delivers. A combination of local exploration and puzzles is fueled by item collection and weak enemies that eventually lead to treasure and at least a minor boss. New islands in the watery world are unlocked along the way that you can visit, which then repeat the pattern. How you view the gameplay will depend on your capacity for the nostalgia fueling Oceanhorn. From one angle, this feels like a very repetitive island-hopping exercise where you push blocks to solve simple puzzles and mash buttons to defeat weak monsters. Through the lens of nostalgia this all becomes "classic" gaming and fills a void for retro gamers. Where you fall on this spectrum will largely determine how you receive Oceanhorn, but there's no question that it's a faithful if very derivative nod to RPGs that soaked up hundreds of hours of our time in years past.


It's hard to say that Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas is a casual game, though it's a tempting label considering the game's mobile roots. There's also no way to escape the calm quality of the game, the focus on exploring and occasionally tapping one's way through a few weak monsters. Puzzles are slightly head-scratch inducing but not to any great extent. The answers are generally in the same room as you, or possibly a room away. The action never really rises to a fever pitch and even when facing off against larger boss monsters, you can usually step back and take the pace down a notch.

In other words, Oceanhorn is a mobile game at heart, and also reminiscent of a time when we played games like this for the sense of adventure and exploration of story, rather than some twitchy honors or sense of accomplishment. Your reward when the final credits roll is that you've experienced a good story and had fun along the way unlocking the game's secrets. Unlike the wave of deeper RPG titles that followed the classic games Oceanhorn is referencing, there's no requirement that you spend much time grinding for levels or customizing your character to any extent. Instead, it's all about leaning back and watching the story unfold.

Game Mechanics:

This is probably the area of greatest frustration for us with Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas, and where the game most betrayed its point of origin. Rather than fluid movement around the game's world, attempting to control your character always felt like a struggle. Reaction time felt sluggish, movement slow, and navigation clunky. A perfect example are the block-moving puzzles, with a convenient "reset" switch placed nearby. Some percentage of the time we ended up accidentally triggering the reset after completing the puzzle, partly because it was placed too close to the puzzle, but mostly because movement is imprecise. Button-mashing is somewhat symptomatic of any Action RPG, but that doesn't make us like it.

Answering the question of, "How much do I love retro RPGs?" is the ultimate test for how you'll receive Oceanhorn. It's a good starting point for what may become a franchise, and a marvel of compact gaming on mobile, but this translation to Xbox One leaves a bit to be desired. Mechanics are the weak spot, but trying to embrace the nostalgia, we found ourselves wondering if we love the memory of classic RPGs more than the reality of recreating them for modern platforms. It's symbolic of how much we've all matured as gamers, and yet there's a thriving market for retro titles that will eat up any chance to be reminded of the games of their youth. In that sense, we have to judge Oceanhorn as a success but while it deserves a spotlight and center stage on mobile, it's deservedly in the wings where console gaming is concerned.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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