Ocean’s Heart is a 2D Action-RPG developed by the solo developer Max Mraz. Working in game development myself, I’ve always got massive respect for solo devs, especially when they manage to pull off a minor masterpiece (see Axiom Verge by Thomas Happ). Ocean’s Heart is clearly inspired by the earlier 2D entries in the Legend of Zelda series and isn’t timid about that fact. Call it a tribute, an homage, a love letter; call it what you like but I often find the key with these games is to offer something original rather than merely being a straight-copy of the game that has inspired it. Let's see if Ocean’s Heart achieves that!
In Ocean’s Heart, you play as Tilia who’s father and friend, Hazel, has gone missing amid some pirate shenanigans. Tilia is left with no choice but to embark on a mythical exploration quest across the vast archipelago on which the game is set. In my book, the gameplay that the Legend of Zelda series popularised in the late 80s and early 90s is always a winner; open-ended exploration and puzzle solving, combined with challenging dungeon set pieces and epic bosses. Ocean’s Heart certainly does a great job with the overall game world and the exploration within it. I love the slightly overwhelming feeling of not knowing exactly where to go next and almost needing to guess which path to take, and you really get that feeling in Ocean’s Heart but certainly in a rewarding (rather than frustrating) sense.
The soundtrack is limited in terms of scope (there’s only a handful of different tracks throughout) but the tracks that do exist are beautiful. The general overworld traversal music is a lovely José González-esque ditty that is both whimsical and compelling. I’m not sure if Max Mraz did the music themselves but if so, then bravo, my friend!
Adding to the sense of adventure and exploration, there is a whole heap of side quests as you would expect in a Zelda-like title. Personally, I love side quests that prove as distracting and interesting as the main quest and what is done really well in Ocean’s Heart is the NPC interaction that pushes all of the quests along. Almost every NPC in every village or town has something worthwhile to say that provides you with clues as to where to find secrets and the like; I found that really enjoyable as it gave the game an engaging point and click element of investigation and detective work.
- Fun and immersive exploration
- Superb (if limited) soundtrack
- Huge network of side quests driven by fun NPC interaction
Remember where I said that all good Zelda-like games have “open ended exploration and puzzle solving, combined with challenging dungeon set pieces and epic bosses”? Yeah, well the latter two points (dungeons and bosses) unfortunately fall short of what I had grown to love from the genre in Ocean’s Heart. The dungeon aspect is OK but each one you come across is pretty unambitious in scale and involves some simple puzzles to find your way through. Even worse is that the bosses are even more non-existent. The ‘bosses’ that you do come across are mainly mini-bosses that can be killed with your sword in less than a minute. This sounds like a humble brag on my part but trust me, I’m not a particularly skilled gamer. Coupled with the ease at which you can farm crowns (which is the in-game currency) and health items, it means that if you do find yourself in any peril with the ‘bosses’, you could easily heal yourself with no stress. It just didn’t feel right in a game like this.
Also, and I feel like I’m forever criticising maps, but in Ocean’s Heart, the map was too simplistic for a game that relies on exploration. I found it hard to work out where I had been and where certain key locations that I had already walked past were; a simple way of being able to drop markers on the map as reminders would have gone a long way to enhancing the experience.
- Simplistic and easy bosses
- Basic dungeon gameplay
- Limited map system
Final Score: 8/10
While playing Ocean’s Heart I did at many times think I was playing a classic Legend of Zelda game, which filled me with a warm fuzzy energy and made me smile. But, sadly, Ocean’s Heart is really not for the purists due to its limited dungeons and bosses and this will deter many in a world where Souls-like games dominate the market.
I don’t want to end on a sour note though because Ocean’s Heart is beautiful and ambitious in many aspects. Zelda fans, I’m speaking to you; if, like me, you miss the good old days, then Ocean’s Heart will certainly whet your appetite!
Thank you for checking out our Ocean's Heart Switch review, thank you to Nordcurrent for providing the review code and thank you to our $5 and up Patreon Backers for their ongoing support:
- Andrew Caluzzi (Inca Studios / Camped Out)
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