I’m not going to mince words: "Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas" blatantly rips off the structure, concepts and mechanics of "The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker."
From the heart motif of the health bar to the main character’s sailboat voyage around his island world, the awkwardly named "Oceanhorn" is a "Zelda" clone through and through.
However, it’s not a cheap rendition. Despite being wholly unoriginal, "Oceanhorn" is rather polished in its execution.
The visuals are colorful and comprehensible without being either too utilitarian or too over-the-top. You’ll never mistake a switch on the floor for a part of the landscape, miss a treasure chest or puzzle over a monster’s weak points — and yet you’ll also never feel the developer is leading you by the hand.
The controls are accurate and responsive, so there’s an absence of frustration in swinging a sword, blocking an attack, throwing a bomb, shooting an arrow, aiming a spell or opening a door.
That said, let’s go back to the earlier point: "Zelda" rip-off. Your main weapons are a sword and shield, identical to what Link uses. You’ll eventually acquire bombs for harming enemies and blowing up obstructions, just like in "Zelda"; a bow and arrow, for shooting enemies and door-triggering targets, just like "Zelda"; a fishing rod for an optional fishing minigame, just like ... yeah, it goes on and on.
The level of design is intricate and enjoyable, with plenty of occasions to wander and explore, with plenty of monsters to fight and puzzles to solve. The monsters aren’t all that difficult to beat, and the puzzles are generally simple and straightforward. It’s a low-to-medium difficulty level for an experienced gamer. It’s also not overly long as a game. I beat it in just over 10 hours, and I was taking time to explore — though I certainly didn’t visit every location possible.
But probably a main selling point for many in the know is the game’s music. Here’s where they really, really didn’t cut costs. The main theme and a few other pieces were composed by Nobuo Uematsu, best known for scoring the majority of the "Final Fantasy" games. And other parts of the score are by Kenji Ito, of the "SaGa" and "Mana" series, among many other works. Their work is, in a word, amazing.
Unfortunately, having beaten the game, I find there’s no function to just sit back and listen to their compositions, which would be an awesome addition.
In a way, the game presents a conundrum. The storyline is your standard beat-the-monster-to-save-the-world trope, and all the gameplay is basically stolen from a better known series. But it’s solidly built and entertaining.
Make of that what you will.
Joel Leizer is The News-Gazette’s Playing Critic. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.