Ocean’s Heart (Nintendo Switch) Review

A sword is a girl’s best friend.

Imagine you’re just chilling at home, doing some chores for your dad, and you’ve just popped round to the local hidden storage cave to pick up a bottle of wine when, suddenly, an uppity group of pirates decides to bomb your island… and kidnap your friend. Oh, and your dad rushes off after them.

You know that’s a perfect start to the day, but things, as the old adage goes, can only get worse before they get better. Before you know it, six months have passed with nary a word from your dad. So what’s a girl to do?

oceans-heart-village

Well, if you’re Tilia, you plop on your best armour, grab a sword, and put your training to the test. Your goal? To find your father, your friend, and whip some pirate butt.

Ocean’s Heart, developed by Max Mraz, is an isometric 2D action-RPG, heavily inspired by the Legend of Zelda series and similar ARPG’s. The game is, in fact, both a homage and a love letter to these games, and a game that gets most of the strengths of the genre right.

As Tilia, it’s your job to explore a wondrous archipelago of islands to find your father and friend, and to make those pirates regret messing with your hometown. Of course, that initially simple quest quickly becomes more complicated the further you progress. Ancient myths, mystical artifacts, and the growing pirate presence that threatens the seas will eventually become part of your burden as well.

All of this takes place across a colourful pixel-art world that rewards your time spent leisurely exploring and soaking in the atmosphere and charm of the game. The world is home to pretty towns and cities, rain-soaked islands, grass-clogged marshes and forests, and dingy, dangerous dungeons. Oh, and an assortment of monsters looking to put you into an early grave. Ocean’s Heart, while not featuring any voice acting, does have a great soundtrack of cheery tunes that add to the ambience. The sound effects are good and calling down a bolt of lightning from the sky sounds fantastically meaty on impact.

writing

The game is rounded out with a colourful cast of quirky characters and self-aware writing that doesn’t quite break the fourth wall, but manages to let you know it’s aware of its tropes. Your main quest will take you all over the archipelago and the game doesn’t hold your hand when it comes to exploring and figuring out how to get where you need to go. Exploration will reveal many hidden caves, dungeons, and other areas you’ll need to come back to later when you’re either stronger or have the right equipment. That said, you’ll typically need to explore everywhere you go just to get you to where you need to be. The world design and sense of exploration are so relaxing that doing so is never an issue. You’ll constantly want to find out what’s lurking beyond that screen transition or forbidding cavern entrance.

Exploration does reward you, usually with unmarked sidequests, money, or extra life hearts. The game’s sidequests, however, can be a mixed bag. While the writing is well done, most of them are of the “go here and kill something” variety. Luckily, most of the sidequests take place in the same location (or adjacent location) making them easy to complete and turn in as you go. There are some gems that add much-needed variety, such as catching a tic-tac-toe thief, interfering in a dog’s birthday party, or finding a commerce vigilante. The world sidequests, on the other hand, require you to travel all over the land to complete them. Some can be completed as you explore, while others require you to retrace your steps.

NPCs

Combat is rather simple. You have a basic sword attack with a large area of effect that is incredibly useful. You can dodge roll, which serves the dual purpose of helping you avoid damage and traverse the world faster and, finally, as with any good ARPG, plenty of extra gear to pick up as go along. Magic and projectile attacks bolster your arsenal, though it feels some of the best gear shows up a little late in the campaign. The boomerang you pick up early is probably the best weapon in the game as it has the ability to hits multiple opponents on its return throw, along with the chance to stun enemies, giving you enough time to get in close and wail on them. There’s a bit of a knockback effect when you attack with your sword, which also pushes you back. Initially, it feels weird, but it does allow you to avoid enemy follow-up attacks or AOE damage.

As in the Zelda games, the important gear you pick up can usually be found in the game’s dungeons. Sadly though, while they are used to traverse some dungeons, these new abilities aren’t used as extensively as they could have been. As a result, the dungeons are rather simple to navigate with only basic puzzle solving required.

oceans-heart-dungeons

Initially, the game can feel challenging with several areas you’ll need to return to later. However, once you’ve started racking up more hearts and offense or defense upgrades, Ocean’s Heart becomes easy. That’s not to say you can’t die, but the risk of death becomes far less frequent as you progress and get used to the combat flow. And, should you fall, the game lets you save and continue from the beginning of the area with most of your life restored. What’s great about this system, in addition to the lack of loading screens, is that you never risk losing hours of progress.

Upgrades and the crafting system are kept nice and simple. Whatever armour you pick up or enhance at an armourer simply adds towards your overall defense, meaning there isn’t a ton of pieces or stats to sift through. Your sword damage is enhanced at blacksmiths, though you won’t pick any new ones up. It’s a streamlined system that meant I could just enjoy playing the game, instead of deliberately scouring every nook, cranny, and merchant inventory hoping for new weapons drops.

Enemies can drop various creature parts, while destroying plants and trees provides wood, berries, and other natural ingredients. These are used to create various potions and, again, it’s simple and effective.

oceans-heart-world-map

There are, however, two areas that I felt Ocean’s Heart could have used some more work in.

The first is the game’s lack of an area-specific mini-map. The world map is great for checking which island you’re currently on and what possible paths there are between regions, but there’s nothing on-screen or even within the pause menu for the area you’re currently exploring.

Secondly, the game’s enemies and bosses could have been more unique. There’s nothing wrong with them, but they aren’t memorable either. The bosses can be defeated using the same tactics as basic enemies, once you memorise their attack patterns. It would have been great had the gear you acquire in dungeons been used in a more meaningful way during the boss encounters – adding a puzzle-based element. More often than not, the boomerang took care of most things easily.

oceans-heart-visuals

Now, despite these issues, Ocean’s Heart is still a fantastically charming ARPG, featuring a strong, no-nonsense lead, a great story, and relaxing, addictive exploration that’ll leave you with a smile on your face and a warm feeling like seeing an old friend again.

A Review code for Ocean’s Heart was provided to Gameblur by the Publisher

8/10
Total Score
  • Story
    8/10 Very Good
  • Gameplay
    8/10 Very Good
  • Audio
    8/10 Very Good
  • Length
    8/10 Very Good

The Good

  • Great story and humour
  • Fun exploration
  • Plenty of secrets to find

The Bad

  • No area mini-map
  • Bosses aren’t memorable enough
Total
14
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