Don’t you just wish Nintendo would just release classics like Zelda for other platforms already? We all know that’s not likely to happen, so for now we have Oceanhorn ($8.99) instead.
Zelda-like RPG Oceanhorn tries its best to bring much of Nintendo’s hack and slash RPG charm to Apple’s mobile platform. Arguably one of the biggest releases in 2013, and possibly for the tablet so far, Oceanhorn delivers a 3D sword-wielding seafaring experience that has many gamers mumbling “Wind Waker” under their breaths.
But is it fair to compare this long-awaited iOS original to a longstanding Japanese icon? And is it actually any good? Answers coming up in the next thousand or so words!
I’ve Got The Oceanhorn
If there was a “worst app name of 2013” award going spare, I’d happily give it to Oceanhorn. The rather silly name refers directly to the magical sea-beast that’s somehow tied to the lead character’s (missing) father, a monster that you’re inevitably going to have to encounter at some point. It’s a bit of a testament to the paper-thin story the on offer here. While Oceanhorn closely matches Zelda in style, not all elements (like the script) are subject to the same layer of polish.
Oceanhorn is quite a big deal for iOS gamers. Two years in the making, this iOS exclusive is as close to a flagship title as the platform is likely to get. Developers have even stated that an Android port is “not planned” at present, though that could all change of course.
The game takes the form of an island-hopping RPG with levelling, real-time combat, bosses and great big treasure chests to unlock. Each new area takes the form of an island which you must travel to by boat. There are a selection of various caves – essentially dungeons – dotted across the islands, and these contain much of the loot and quest items you’ll be plundering in your newfound explorer role. As well as loot, each island offers a set of unique challenges to complete.
You’ll be doing plenty of plundering, as “looking for stuff” seems to be a prominent theme in just about every RPG. This time round it’s “sacred emblems” scattered across the map, which you must use to get to the aforementioned evil namesake and find out just where your father disappeared to. The usual, then.
Stunningly Good Looking
One thing Oceanhorn did manage to do with surprising success was suck me into the game. While the generic story isn’t particularly strong, but the visuals and music are rather special for a mobile title.
Oceanhorn has to be without a doubt one of the best looking games on iOS. The landscapes are lush, the rich blue ocean shimmers and ripples and player models don’t lack detail. Your character’s shiny sword, the swaying leaves on the trees and the Animal Crossing-style houses all look the business. All of this happens without a single drop in framerate (on an iPad Air, at least).
The sound design is another aspect that’s particularly strong. Role-playing games often lean on an emotive soundtrack to build ambience, and Oceanhorn’s quaint original score is very close to something you’d expect from a big-budget RPG on a major console. That has a lot to do with composers Nobuo Uematsu and Kenji Ito, who have impressive discographies under their belts including past Final Fantasy and Super Smash Bros. scores.
Oceanhorn uses a seafaring mechanic to differentiate areas. When you’re ready to leave whatever island you’ve found yourself on, simply head for your boat. New islands will be discovered periodically, either as part of the core story or by talking to inhabitants who recount their own tales of adventures. Sailing works by using waypoints. Set a waypoint, tap it again to set sail and your boat will automatically travel to the location of your choosing – be it an island destination or the middle of nowhere.
While you’re sailing the game turns into somewhat of an on-rails shooter. Aim the on-screen crosshair at angry spitting sea monsters, floating mines and other debris to ensure safe passage – there’s not much else to it really. It’s a nice addition, and a very nice way to split up levels rather than using a bunch of landlocked loading screens. It’s not quite Wind Waker though, sorry.
Oceanhorn is a fun game. After a couple of hours play I wasn’t even 10% of the way done, but that wasn’t necessarily all down to the game’s huge list of things to do (though that list is admittedly large). Like many RPGs, Oceanhorn has a habit of leaving you to figure out what to do next. If it’s in a cut-scene, and you perhaps didn’t quite hear or misunderstood then there’s little else you can do but exhaustively walk around the entire map.
Ok, you could always replay the instantly forgettable flashbacks from the pause menu, but that’ll only fill you in on the last big “story” occurrence. There’s nowhere to check off your current pending quests, how many bloodstones you need to trade in for a reward or even a world map. That’s right – there’s a minimap, which is your only method of finding secrets, but no world map to study in detail.
While I got on fairly well on an iPad, the controls do have a tendency to feel a little rubbery at times. The game uses an invisible directional pad that works by touching anywhere on screen, which behaves itself for the most part but can also be a little imprecise. This is compounded when in a combat situation, sometimes making the combat itself feel a little flimsy. Fingers crossed a future update tightens the whole package.
None of these things were problematic enough to stop me playing the game. I’m willing to forget about the story (honestly, it’s a miracle I’ve managed to remember this much), and let the sometimes-iffy controls slide in favour of enjoying a thoroughly impressive mobile gaming experience. Don’t compare it to full-fat Zelda, it’s never going to win. Instead enjoy Oceanhorn for at least attempting to bring something Zelda-like to the iOS platform, and getting much of the formula right the first time round.
Download: Oceanhorn ($8.99, universal)
Have you played this big name iOS game? Let us know what you think in the comments, below.