Although there are some charming ideas and enjoyable moments in the story, the gameplay falls short of the Zelda style it so heavily mimics.
Genres: Adventure, RPG
Developer: Max Mraz
Release date: 21 Jan, 2021
When looking at the game Ocean’s Heart (OH), I thought it might make for a decent Zelda-like game. The main reason I thought this was because the trailer shows an inventory including items such as a bow and arrow, a boomerang, and bombs while the protagonist rolled about like Link. With the overworld map showing a large area to explore, and items to craft, I was rather interested in how it’d play out. Plus, who doesn’t want to go to a dog’s birthday party? Though I did wonder, would it be more than a knock-off or would there be no heart in the game?
I wasn’t exaggerating when I said that OH is a Zelda-like game, as it replicates many aspects out of the 2D Zelda games, sometimes a little too closely. There’s nothing wrong in making a dungeon-crawler game, where the protagonist completes quests for NPCs, gaining various items to open up previously blocked off areas so they can help even more people. Frankly, that’s a rough description of many adventure games. However, there are quite a few examples of things being carbon copies of something from a Zelda game. Blue and red switches that raise and lower barriers, the leever enemy from the first Zelda game, the boomerang stuns enemies, etc. I’m not widely proficient on all the Zelda games and tropes, but even these were quite obvious to me. Assuming I’m not missing the reference, there are features that look and feel different, but it loses distinction by borrowing so heavily from another series.
It’s possible to control the game with either a keyboard or controller, and I went for the controller myself. One issue I had with the controls was movement, as that can be controlled with either the ‘L joystick’ or the ‘D-pad,’ but it sometimes felt touchy or unresponsive. I found the ‘D-pad’ to be better, though I wasn’t sure if my issue stems from using the Xbox 360’s lousy ‘D-pad’ or if it’s the game that’s at fault. ‘A’ is a dodge-roll, ‘B’ swings the sword, and ‘L bumper’ brings up the menu. ‘X’ and ‘Y’ serve as shortcut keys, where you can assign items from your inventory, such as magic and alternative weapons.
You play as Tilia, who lives with her father and older sister in the local tavern. It’s a simple, peaceful life until a band of pirates raid the nearby temple, causing havoc with explosives, and kidnapping one of the locals. With her father being a volunteer navyman, he’s the only person in the area that’ll pursue this matter, so he sets out to get more information and rescue Hazel. Several months pass, and as Tilia sets out, she finds that her father helped people along the way and was fairly competent in his quest, which seems to be an exception rather than the rule in games like this. Another thing I appreciate about the story is that the pirates do research and are knowledgeable in their lawless endeavors, with many NPCs being pretty astute. There’s a few boneheads, but it’s balanced out with smarter individuals.
The game makes use of pixel graphics, and does a good job with them. Although the ground and walls are made up of repeating tiles, there’s enough detail and variance to them that they don’t look flat or like effortless copy/pasting took place. Some areas could have benefited from more background objects to change up the visuals, but that’s about the worst of it. Looking more on the positive side, many areas are quite bright and vivid, and many items have enough detail and polish to look smooth and clear.
I didn’t find a soundtrack for OH, and though different songs play depending on your location, none of them stood out as particularly noteworthy. So as I listened to some of the tracks, they tended to meld together for me. I’d say this is due in part to how the music is based around fairly standard tempos and instrumentation. It makes decent use of guitars and has some vibes that touch on the idea of a sea-faring adventure, but none had a lasting impact on me. Similarly, the sound effects are appropriate and fit the game well, with no irritating noises that got on my nerves.
- Combat isn’t that advanced, but enemies are legitimate threats in OH. I died quite a bit early on, and learned to look at enemies as something to treat with proper attention and effort. Personally, I enjoy that there’s some challenge from basic enemies.
- The quest log will update as you complete portions of it, giving you a general sense of what you need to do next. I wasn’t always sure where a location it referenced was though, but I’ve never excelled at navigation anyways.
- Treasure and secret items are sometimes unrewarding. There’s so many armor upgrades that they feel insignificant. Even after getting several of them, the weakest enemies still do minor damage instead of being completely neutralized, which doesn’t make much sense when they were doing the same damage early on. Several chests contain scant amounts of money, even later on, which comes across as stingy. I’d rather see less chests, with more meaningful rewards.
- Many dungeons and areas that seem like they’d have more to do wind up being small in scale, with only a couple of rooms and enemies to deal with. It’s fine to have a couple of short areas to clear, but I think OH would benefit from an increase in the size of dungeons. This otherwise makes the game itself seem smaller.
- Most boss fights don’t require a strategy to be defeated. With how many healing items you get, it’s quite easy to spam attacks, tanking a few hits that get through, and coming out on top while not even dodging out of the way.
- Plants scattered around areas won’t respawn simply from you leaving the area and walking right back. However, all of them eventually spawn again, though I’m not sure at what point. It could be as simple as moving enough screens away. Either way, it’ll always be possible to gather more healing items. With the weakest berries being the most plentiful, I’d use them the most frequently.
- OH reveals early on that you’ll get the bow by the blacksmith saying he’s able to upgrade either your sword or bow. However, you don’t acquire it for quite a while, so don’t hesitate to upgrade the sword several times, as it’ll make combat much easier.
- Be stingy with bombs. Throughout many parts of the game, I was pretty low on stock, and only able to buy more in the late game.
I find myself in a strange place with OH, because overall I enjoyed the gameplay in spite of occasional issues controlling the character. That’s usually going to spoil my mood completely, but it wasn’t too obnoxious here. If anything, it’s probably the writing that helps immerse me into the game. However, as I consider all the issues, particularly with how disappointed I was by the small dungeons, I don’t think I can recommend it. Although making a Zelda-like game as a first entry into game development is ambitious and it plays well, it was also unwise to borrow so much from that inspiration. The reason being it sets itself up to be compared directly against steep competition, and it simply doesn’t fill the shoes of one of Nintendo’s giants. It’s worth playing if you’re able to separate it from where the ideas came from, yet I find myself unable to do so and not feeling a bit let down. For that reason I lean towards the negative, but think others might enjoy it more than myself.