Nintendo may not want to bring its franchises to mobile platforms, but that doesn't mean other developers won't try to fill that niche. In fact, every inch of the recently released Oceanhorn is inspired by The Legend of Zelda. It features a similar structure, gives you many of the same items to use, and has you collecting pieces of heart and master keys. It even cribs the sailing from Wind Waker to let you traverse its world. Oceanhorn is basically a Zelda title crammed onto an iOS device. The problem is that it just isn't any fun.
While Oceanhorn takes much of its gameplay from Zelda, it features none of the design polish or ingenuity you'll find in Nintendo's games. The best example of this is the game's dungeons. Instead of forcing you to think creatively, and use your arsenal of items in clever ways, the puzzles found in Oceanhorn almost all amount to the same thing: pushing blocks and flipping switches. Sometimes you'll even push a box to flip a switch. The puzzles feel more like busywork than satisfying challenges; they don't test your intelligence so much as they test your patience.
It doesn't test your intelligence so much as your patience
The controls can be equally as frustrating. And it's not just because of the touchscreen — though movement can be annoyingly imprecise — but because the same action button is used for multiple tasks, whether it's swinging your sword or picking up a pot. If you get to close to an interactive object in the heat of battle, you'll often end up interacting with it instead of actually fighting, which can be particularly frustrating in boss battles where every heart matters. Combat can also be very uneven; sometimes an enemy will take four or five blows before dying, other times you only need a single strike. There are also visual glitches that cause enemies to get partially stuck in the ground, where they can kill you even though you can barely see them. Several times I tried to toss an object at an enemy only for it to get stuck in midair.
Oceanhorn's general lack of polish and personality is especially disappointing because it's one of the most beautiful games you can play on a mobile device. And not just from a technical perspective — the world is huge, and after several hours I was less than 20 percent of the way through the game — but also artistically. The character and world design are charming and inviting, making you want to venture out and explore. And the soundtrack is absolutely fantastic, instilling the world with a sense of swashbuckling adventure.
But there's much more to the Zelda formula than great production values, and Oceanhorn's lengthy adventure is missing some of the key features: most notably tight controls, satisfying combat, and well-designed dungeons that force you to think. It's like a pretty Zelda without the soul. And as A Link Between Worlds has shown us, even an ugly Zelda game can be one of the series's best.