Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas was a thoroughly enjoyable, if somewhat derivative, Zelda-style action adventure game. It used its comparatively low budget and short form in its favour, capturing much of the Zelda magic in a game that never overstayed its welcome. By comparison, Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm is a much more ambitious game. It still wears its inspirations on its sleeve—Breath of the Wild in particular—but with a bigger scope, it finds more of its own unique identity within that.
Taking place a thousand years before the events of the first game, Oceanhorn 2 follows a young knight on his quest to stop the world-conquering schemes of an evil warlock. It’s a journey that takes Hero (that’s his name, apparently—nominative determinism much?) all across the land of Gaia, finding allies in all the different peoples who populate it, fighting deadly monsters, and exploring all manner of ancient technology.
This world of Gaia is an interesting one. For the most part, it’s your typical fantasy setup—knights and wizards, swords and sorcery, demons and giant, fire-breathing birds. But the world is also in the midst of a technological revolution, bringing with it an abundance of technology that looks more like something out of science fiction: robots, laser weapons, elaborate machines. It’s here that the Breath of the Wild influence is most apparent in Oceanhorn 2, given BOTW‘s very similar approach to anachronistic technology as a fundamental part of its world. But Oceanhorn 2 still puts a bit of its own spin on things, with a more steampunk-esque aesthetic.
The characters that Hero meets and teams up with along the way are an interesting enough bunch, if not especially memorable. There’s a cheerful, friendly robot, an adventurous young pilot, an old, mostly-retired knight, the princess of an underwater kingdom, and so on. Nobody really stands out, but they bring a lot of colour to an already colourful world. Hero himself is a silent protagonist and a complete blank slate, but the supporting cast, for the most part, brings enough personality to make up for that.
Where Oceanhorn 2 is at its strongest is in how it approaches the typical action-adventure framework. There’s still an emphasis on solving environmental puzzles using an assortment of different tools, on uncovering treasures and finding keys that let you make your way forward. Oceanhorn 2‘s twist on this setup comes in the form of the Caster Gun, a magic-imbued firearm that serves as both a weapon and your main puzzle-solving tool.
Initially, all you have is a simple non-elemental bullet—useful for hitting distant objects or attacking enemies from afar, but not much else. But as you progress through the game, you find new bullets with new powers: fire bullets that can set flammable objects alight and burn down rickety wooden walls; lightning bullets that can stun foes and activate electrical devices; and ice bullets that can freeze enemies in place and help you traverse bodies of water. Such elemental puzzle-solving tools aren’t uncommon in this genre, but Oceanhorn 2 tying them to a projectile leads to some opportunities for interesting, unique puzzles that emphasise space, distance, and verticality in the environment.
There’s an ammunition management element, too, that adds a bit of a tactical layer but never gets so stingy as to be frustrating. The reagents that serve as ammo for the Caster Gun are bounteous enough in the environment that you’re never going to find yourself left out in the cold, unable to solve a puzzle—you can always find the relevant ammo near any puzzle, and these regenerate before too long—but it’s enough to discourage just carelessly firing the weapon. If you take the time to think things through and plan your approach, you’ll be much better off than if you waste bullets trying to brute force your way through a puzzle.
Oceanhorn 2 also brings a “single-player co-op” design, with Hero joined by a group of companions you can issue instructions. With that comes the sort of puzzles that require two (or three, or four) players to be taking different, complementary actions at the same time—jointly activating different, distant switches, for instance. Oceanhorn 2 is far from the first game to do this, but it’s a nice touch all the same, especially combined with the Caster Gun.
Combat is Oceanhorn 2‘s weak point. It’s a fairly rudimentary “press this to swing your sword, press that to block” setup, which is fine, but frequently becomes a nuisance thanks to foes’ uncanny ability to shrug off your attacks. Aside from the last hit of your standard three-hit combo, your attacks don’t cause any sort of hitstun, leaving enemies open to freely (and painfully) counterattack, even when you get a direct hit. On the other hand, Hero is easily stunned by any attack that comes his way, and most attempts to land a combo usually just get interrupted and shut down. The result is a game that encourages a slow, tedious hit-and-run approach: take a swing, dodge roll away from the inevitable counterattack, and repeat ad nauseum until the enemy in question is dead.
But the puzzles and adventure are always the main focus, and are worth putting up with some fiddly combat for. Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm is a much more ambitious adventure than its predecessor, still drawing heavily on its Legend of Zelda inspiration but finding more of its own identity in how it approaches level and puzzle design. Anyone who likes Zelda-style action adventure games is sure to get a kick out of this one.
Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm is developed and published by Cornfox Bros. It’s available now for Nintendo Switch (reviewed) and Apple Arcade.
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.