It’s been a long time since I owned a Nintendo system that I actually used (that old Gamecube still works though), but I have really fond memories of some of the games I used to play. I get cravings for a few of them on iOS: namely, Mario Kart, Super Mario 64 (if Nintendo made that happen I’d die), and a Legend of Zelda game.
Well, with Oceanhorn, my request for the latter has been answered with a fantastic adventure RPG that pulls out all the stops in an effort to amaze me. And amaze me it has, to the point where Oceanhorn has absolutely become my game of the year. Read on to find out what makes Oceanhorn a must-play experience.
Remember Wind Waker?
I’m going to get nostalgic with you for a minute and say that my favourite Zelda game wasn’t Ocarina of Time or Majora’s Mask. Those were incredible, amazing games, but the first adventure with Link that got me truly hooked was Wind Waker (I was late to get a console). The game had stylized graphics that, in retrospect, were very cool, and set you on an adventure in the high seas.
In that aspect, Oceanhorn is remarkably similar. The game sets you on an adventure through the high seas that finds you moving from one island to the next, developing relationships with locals, and exploring dungeons as you try to stop a darkness from overwhelming the land (I’m being purposefully vague here). The story is actually fairly in-depth and involved, and for the record, it’s told very well.
The game has a similar mix of Zelda’s exploring, puzzle-solving, and combat, and pulls it off so well that calling it a Zelda clone is easy. And I don’t mean that in a bad way; rather, it feels like a joy to be playing one this good on my iOS devices, of all things.
As you play, your character will collect coins for purchases, level up, get new items, and defeat dungeon bosses. The formula is very familiar, but it works extremely well. The level design is great. A mini-map sits on the top right of the screen that often reveals nearby treasures, but also activates a touch-based Start menu that takes full advantage of the touch technology in iOS.
Controlling a Console-like Game
Speaking of that, I suppose it’s important I spend a little bit of time talking about the controls. Touch controls are really hard to master for a lot of games, and I’ve played some adventure games that simply can’t do it properly. Some games, like the popular Infinity Blade series, don’t bother with exploration at all and just throw gamers from battle to battle.
Oceanhorn gets it right. The game treats the entire screen like a movable trigger, so as you move around, your thumb (or finger) can drift around the screen to control the character. The Action button is prominently-placed and contextual. That sounds like it could often mess up and do the wrong thing, but I haven’t had any issues yet.
The worst thing I can say about the controls is that I sometimes get into the game and lose track of where my thumb, is spinning it around a few times on my iPad. That’s certainly not Oceanhorn’s fault.
To Oceanhorn’s credit, there is included support for the iOS 7’s controllers, but I haven’t seen many on the market — and from what I’ve heard, there aren’t any currently available for iPad. But it’s good to know the support is there; whenever a great controller is released there will be zero concerns from me.
The same care that has been put into the controls has been reflected in every part of this game: the experience is entirely bug-free, the visuals are amazing on both my iPhone 5 and my iPad Air, and the whole thing feels like a console experience from top to bottom thanks to things like the fantastic soundtrack from the composer behind the Final Fantasy series.
Oceanhorn means serious business, and I’m glad to see a game like this conquering most of iOS’s issues. Like I said, though, it’s only conquering most of the issues.
For me, the biggest irritant is a lack of sync between devices. I understand that syncing is incredibly hard to do, so I don’t mean to sound insensitive, but I think it’s an obvious must for a game like this. I was more than a little irritated to find out my iPhone was starting with a fresh game after playing on my iPad for more than an hour just before that.
Beyond that, most of the issues I’m encountering are device-small and almost moot. I think the game needs to be zoomed in just a touch on the iPhone screen, or the buttons need to be just a hair larger, but I understand that supporting all these different screen sizes makes that difficult. I much prefer to play the game on my iPad, which isn’t a ding against the developer because that’s simply a matter of luxury and taste.
The Bottom Line
Oceanhorn is incredible. To tell you a lot about it would be to spoil many of the surprises in store. As much as its a Zelda clone, it’s also a refreshing take on the gaming landscape on iOS. Everything about it feels supercharged compared to most games available on the platform. The story, controls, level design, atmosphere, and graphics are all top-notch and console-level quality.
For me — and I’m sure many others — Oceanhorn is one of the signs of a maturing platform. It feels like, in some ways, iOS is starting to arrive at console gaming’s doorstep and knock. I don’t want to see consoles go away, but I want to be able to play truly great games wherever I go. And Oceanhorn is truly a great game.