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Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas Review – Breeze Botherer

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Picasso once said, “Great artists don’t borrow, they steal”. Without wanting to overstep any boundaries, it is safe to say that Cornfox & Bros., the makers of Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas are master thieves.

To the uninitiated, Oceanhorn may appear as little more than a Legend of Zelda clone, but such an approach to classification of the game would be remiss. Rather, it is a Frankensteinish  patchwork of systems lifted from Nintendo’s long running franchise and cobbled together in such a way that the fairy god mother of fair use and the inability to copyright rules have kept it safe from the legal hounds of Nintendo.

Oceanhorn borrows the look and structure of 2D Zelda games, but shifts the viewing angle slightly, utilising an odd isometric perspective, that while Zelda-esque, is not quite the same top-down viewpoint as Nintendo’s classic 2D adventures. The game also pinches the islands and sailing mechanics from The Wind Waker, along with the on-rails boating sections of that game’s handheld sequel, The Phantom Hourglass. Instead of a wide-eyed protagonist and cel-shaded artstyle, however, Oceanhorn adopts a style that sits somewhere between Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword (which is where are the developers also pinched the game’s stamina system from). Meanwhile, combat feels like a cross between those systems found in original Zelda and Ocarina of Time. It may not be particularly original, but Oceanhorn captures the spirit of The Legend of Zelda so well that it feels like the closest gamers will ever come to seeing the adventures of Link on a non-Nintendo console (though recent developments may see him on mobiles in the near future).

The story of Oceanhorn follows a young boy’s search for his father, who has gone missing while hunting a mysterious monster known as the Oceanhorn, an elusive sea beast left over from a dead civilisation. In order to find his Pa and defeat the Oceanhorn, the nameless, mute protagonist must travel across an archipelago of varied islands, fighting monsters, exploring dungeons full of puzzles, and finding new gear that helps him in his quest.

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Oceanhorn is a skilfully crafted homage to all things Zelda and as such, fans of the latter series will feel right at home in the game’s dungeons, which feature plenty of block puzzles, targets that need shooting with arrows, moving weights onto switches and culminate in an inevitable boss battle. Sadly, those boss battles are not based on properly utilising your latest gadget, so much as defeating them with whatever is to hand. Outside of dungeons, meanwhile, are numerous side quests and secret areas that reward players with life-extending heart pieces. Furthermore, cash, hearts, and ammunition can be found in breakable pots or by cutting clumps of grass.

Long-term fans of Zelda should feel right at home with Oceanhorn’s controls as they are basically identical. The left thumbstick moves the character, one button attacks, another defends with a shield, one dashes, and the remaining face buttons are tied to usable items and spells. One nice twist, though, is the ability to quickly cycle through your inventory using the D-pad to equip different items and spells easily.

Despite being an enjoyable romp, Oceanhorn sticks a little too rigidly to the Zelda blueprint. Although the narrative stands on its own two feet for the most part, the gameplay shackles itself a little too tightly to the traditional Zelda formula. As such, the game lacks any sense of surprise; players will typically know how to tackle a particular puzzle or enemy as most bear more than a passing resemblance to something previously introduced in Nintendo’s venerable series. In this way, Oceanhorn feels like a missed opportunity by Cornfox & Bros. to add to the genre and stamp their own identity upon it.

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One thing that does stand out is the game’s superb soundtrack, featuring a score composed by Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy, The Black Mages) and Kenji Ito (Secret of Mana) (possibly working together for the first time since SaGa on the Gameboy). Mixing bombastic, adventurous beats for overworld traversal, with more delicate and sombre tones while exploring the game’s dungeons and caves, the soundtrack frames the on-screen action perfectly, and is a beautiful orchestral score that can easily be listened to by itself.

Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas is the kind of loving homage that makes one wonder how it has not been the subject of a lawsuit. It may never feel original, but that hardly matters when the source material is of such a high standard. By pillaging the tombs of Zeldas past, Cornfox & Bros. have created a wonderful adventure that fans of the series are bound to enjoy, and those that always wondered what The Wind Waker would have been like had it dropped the cel-shading and been a bit more like A Link to the Past will certainly want to check out.

Oceanhorn: Monsters of Uncharted Seas  was reviewed on PS4 with a copy provided by the publisher.

Developer: Cornfox & Bros. | Publisher: FDG | Genre: Action/ Adventure | Platform: PC, PS4, PS Vita | PEGI/ESRB: 7+/E10 | Release Date: September 7, 2016

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Review

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Review — A Symphony for the Fans

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Bloodstained Ritual of the Night

For a long while, the industry had yet to see a return to a true-to-form Castlevania title, leading many fans to speculate if Konami had abandoned the formula all together. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is ArtPlay’s response to this absence, with the legendary Castlevania-veteran Koji Igarashi at its helm. Although Bloodstained may not have certainty that it will continue the legacy of Castlevania, the title delivers on its promise as a game for fans, by the fans, and exceeds most expectations. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a true Castlevania experience in every way except the title. 

In Ritual of the Night, players take control of a Sharbinder named Miriam, an individual who can harness the power of magical shards crystallized by the souls of the enemies she kills. As the core mechanic, the ability to absorb shards and utilize their new skills is required for player progression and success. The fact that Miriam is a Shardbinder further reinforces the narrative of Bloodstained, since their existence often lead to negative events. The story contained within Ritual of the Night is similar to most Castlevania titles, except this time, Dracula is replaced in favor of Gebel, a more skilled Sharbinder and Miriam’s old friend and mentor. 

Bloodstained Castle

Most of the game takes place inside a castle, but long-time Castlevania veterans will expect that the castle is only an external facade, with caverns and caves hiding beneath. Remaining true to its Metroidvania roots, Bloodstained contains a sprawling map full of hidden rooms and secrets. Exploration is encouraged by the ever-present possibility of better items and power-ups in the following rooms. Bloodstained finds a perfect difficulty balance by spacing out save rooms to encourage caution. Every time death was close, the curiosity of what could be behind the next door drove the desire for further exploration.

The map present in Bloodstained is truly expansive and worthy of a Metroidvania title. Each new area provides an extension onto the already dense castle setting, never requiring players to travel to a new location to progress. All additional areas remain connected to the central castle, providing an experience that is continuous and believable. Similarly to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, players can unlock an “Inverse” ability that will flip the playable map upside down and allow for new experiences in an already explored area. Just as he did with Symphony of the Night, Igarashi-san crafted a beautiful setting that retains its appeal even when explored upside down.  

The desire to progress deeper into the castle is fueled in part by the Shard system and the potential of discovering new ones along the way. In Bloodstained: RotN, enemies have the potential to drop shards that provide enhanced abilities and passive stats. Players can equip multiple shards at once, each enhancing different areas of play. For instance, one shard can provide Miriam with an ability drawn from the creature that dropped it, while another can summon a familiar to accompany Miriam throughout her journey. 

Bloodstained Shard

As the game progresses, players are required to backtrack and utilize newly gathered shards to enter areas that were not accessible early on. In this regard, the title maintains its genuine Metroidvania, or Igavania, genre as some fans are hailing it. Killing a random sea creature might net Miriam the ability to create a directional aquatic blast, but use that ability near deep waters and players might be surprised by what they can do. 

Since every enemy in Ritual of the Night is capable of rewarding Miriam with a shard ability, players will quickly find themselves host to multiple of the same kind. To counter this, players are encouraged to sell unwanted shards for coins at the local merchant, where they can also purchase crafting items. The crafting system allows players to utilize recipes found throughout their journey and create food that provides a temporary boost to Miriam’s stats. Additionally, players can use materials gathered to enhance the shards they have amassed to alter its capabilities and damage output. 

Although Bloodstained deserves to be showered with praise, the game is not immune to technical issues that can hinder the experience. During the preparation of this review, the game was subject to continuous frame issues, where too much action would result in stuttering. Additionally, optimization issues plague the console port, with registration lag featured every time Miriam would absorb a shard or with the occasional room entry. ArtPlay has responded to these issues ensuring fans that optimization is a high priority for the company, and it will be addressing these problems within the next few patches.  

Despite a few technical setbacks, Bloodstained is truly an experience for first-timers and longtime Castlevania fans alike. Igarashi-san and ArtPlay built this game out of their love for the genre and that is evident in every aspect of the game. The preservation of a traditional Castlevania game along with the advancements made towards propelling the genre further help Bloodstained stand out amongst other Metroidvania titles of recent years. Although an argument could be made that the title leans too much on its Symphony of the Night influences, Ritual of the Night succeeds in providing fans of the genre with an experience that has been absent for years. 

Given that Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a crowdfunded game, the amount of love and attention evident in its production comes as no surprise. The level of quality that is present in this package is truly astounding, and the appreciation grows even more when considering the free content promised for the coming months. Perfection should not be expected from Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. However, the result is exactly what was promised by the developers, and fans could not ask for more. Throughout its development, Igarashi-san provided continual assurance that he desired to make the game a product of its fans. By listening to criticism and acting on it, he fulfilled his promise with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

OnlySP Review Score 5 High Distinction

Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro. Also available on Nintendo Switch, PC, and Xbox One.

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