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Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas

For: iPhone   Also on: iPad, Steam

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Product: Oceanhorn | Developer: Cornfox & Bros. | Publisher: FDG Entertainment | Format: iPhone | Genre: Adventure | Players: 1 | Version: Europe | App version: 1.2
Oceanhorn iPhone, thumbnail 1
Over the last few weeks, I've been playing 3DS adventure The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds for review. These past few days, playing Oceanhorn on my iPhone was like getting a serious case of déjà vu.

The similarities are everywhere and endless. From the obvious tropes - like a mute hero on a quest to uncover a handful of elemental gems - to the shamelessly specific - like finding four heart quarters to extend your life, or a race of fish-like ocean people.

But it's not just spinning sword attacks and mirror-clad shields. Oceanhorn's entire structure is cribbed from the Nintendo bible. You'll wander about lush, sun-drenched islands, before descending into dark, cavernous dungeons.

Drop in the ocean

These underground mazes have enemies to beat up, riddles to solve, keys to find, and a boss monster to defeat. As you play you'll find more items - like bombs and bows - that let you solve puzzles that you couldn't previously.

Those puzzles are often quite shallow and unsatisfying. There are a few that will test your wits, but most have you shunting boxes, finding pressure plates, or hitting obvious switches. Plus, some of the best brain-teasers are lifted wholesale from Link's adventures.

The combat is fun, though. Especially when you figure out how to use the shield to stun enemies and when you come across foes that require special tactics to defeat. The bosses, as few as they are, are great multi-step puzzles to solve (and survive).

But it's often teetering on the edge of being frustrating, finicky, and unwieldy. Sometimes you can blame the controls - which are generally excellent, but suffer the usual problems of touch-based input - and other times it's just unfair attack patterns.

Locking horns

Oceanhorn is at its best when you're on the surface. The overworld is absurdly good looking, and the soaring soundtrack - scored by famed Japanese composers Nobuo Uematsu and Kenji Ito - makes it feel like you're on a truly epic adventure.

It helps that Oceanhorn refuses to hold your hand, and rarely points you in the right direction. It's liberating to be left to explore and discover on your own. You have to talk to people, follow clues, and just go sailing to uncharted islands to advance the plot.

There's lots to do and loads of islands to explore, and you'll probably sink a good ten-or-so hours into the game, between chasing the three elemental powers and finishing sidequests.

Green-eyed monster

And, hey, it's not all borrowed from Zelda. The game's got an RPG-style experience system, whereby you level-up to earn new powers, and magical spells like the ability to spawn blocks, set things on fire, and freeze enemies in blocks of ice.

And the storyline - while cliched and largely unoriginal - does deviate from Nintendo's lore. Oceanhorn has giant mechanical monsters, a race of Owl people (close to Wind Waker's bird-esque Rito clan, but we'll give them this one), and no princesses in sight.

With its gorgeous world, clever boss battles, and grand sense of discovery, this long-awaited iOS adventure makes a valiant effort to mimic the Zelda formula. It's also one of the most polished and high quality productions on the App Store, and is worth nearly every penny of its price tag.

But its overly simplistic puzzles, clumsy combat, and uninspired storyline just go to show that nothing quite beats the real deal.
Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas
Reviewer photo
Mark Brown | 14 November 2013
The beautiful, adventurous, and lengthy Oceanhorn is a strong stand-in for The Legend of Zelda on iOS, but don't expect it to top the real deal in any respect
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