When someone talks about spiritual successors in the video game industry, a few names immediately come to mind. Stardew Valley, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, and Yooka-Laylee all aimed to bring back genres synonymous with long dormant franchises. If a spiritual successor exists to bring back something players haven’t seen in a long time, it's fair to ask what’s the point in creating a homage to The Legend of Zelda, which is an annual franchise? There's no shortage of them, that's for sure, and Ocean’s Heart is the latest to adopt the top-down Zelda formula, the likes of which Nintendo hasn't produced since A Link Between Worlds in 2013 (discounting Grezzo's Link's Awakening remake, of course). Even though this game pulls heavily from Nintendo's template and stumbles in places, developer Max Mraz delivers an enjoyable take on top-down 2D adventuring.
If you took a quick glance at Ocean’s Heart, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a long lost sequel to the Minish Cap. Everything about the atmosphere, from the sprite work to the music, seems to be pulled directly from the GBA Zelda game. Even the protagonist, Tilia, looks to just be a modified version of Link’s sprite. And while some might find it shamelessly derivative, where Ocean’s Heart stands out a bit more is in the locales you visit. From large sunflower fields to a town heavily inspired by Greek architecture, the unique environments give the game a much needed sense of identity it otherwise lacks. And while few and far between, even familiar environmental tropes stand out with slight variations on their traditional design, like an autumn grassland.
The storytelling in Ocean’s Heart also feels familiar. It follows Tilia after her village is pillaged by pirates and her best friend Hazel is kidnapped by Blackbeard’s crew. Tilia’s father sets out to rescue Hazel, but after months go by without a word from him, Tilia decides to take matters into her own hands and set out to find them both, while hoping to stop Blackbeard and the pirates once and for all.
Although there is a much heavier emphasis on storytelling and dialogue in Ocean’s Heart, nothing in the story is more than a predictable means to an end, which is disappointing. This is ultimately where it falters most, as the writing doesn't match up to the quality of the rest of the game. Some lines feel out of place or as if they were poorly translated, while others, like Tilia’s dialogue, come off as generic and uninteresting. It is disappointing that the one area where the game tries to develop its own identity is the part worth skipping over.
In terms of gameplay mechanics, Ocean’s Heart plays exactly how you’d expect it to. Equipped with her sword and a boatload of unlockable items, Tilia explores a top-down world, filled with large dungeons, bustling towns, and plenty of secrets to uncover. As is tradition, plot progression boils down to traveling from dungeon to dungeon to find an item that helps you progress in the overworld. While the variety of items Tilia obtains is much smaller than one might expect, there are still plenty of unique tools at your disposal, such as a great fire spear. The highlight is undoubtedly Devana’s Barrier, which creates a Sonic 3-esque insta-shield that reflects all projectiles and negates all damage for a split second. This came in handy in dungeons as they are noticeably more combat oriented than one might expect.
While there are puzzles, they aren't prioritised and have clearly taken a back seat to combat and simple dungeon exploration. Boss fights, similarly, are also less puzzle-focused, with most bosses just glorified damage sponges needing to be hit over and over with your sword. With all the great tools at Tilia’s disposal, it would have been much more engaging to incorporate them into their respective dungeon’s boss fight.
As you explore the world, you’ll also encounter several NPCs who will offer you side quests. These range from finding certain items in the overworld to an entire shipwreck area where you lose all your gear and need to reclaim it. The variety in side quests not only adds more in play time, but also allows for plenty of optional ways to improve your character. The rewards ranged from weapon upgrades, to money for use in shops to upgrade your equipment. Money is rarely found outside of side quests and chests, so having a fun way to earn currency outside of grinding enemies was really refreshing. Even with these side quests, Ocean’s Heart is still a relatively short game that might disappoint someone looking for a meatier adventure, although equally a blessedly short runtime might be appealing. Our playthrough took around 6-7 hours, side quests included.
For the most part, the Switch version also runs great. There were no noticeable frame rate dips, graphical errors, or crashes, making it an overall smooth journey. The only major issue comes from what can only be described as a control error, where inputs carry over from one button press to another when performed too rapidly. For instance, if you are rapidly using your spear on the 'Y' button and decide to instead use your sword on the 'B' button, you have to wait half a second or else the game will register your 'B' button as a 'Y' button press. This caused more than a few lost arrows and bombs, which grew only more frustrating as the game progressed. Something that could be sorted in a patch, perhaps.
From start to finish, Ocean’s Heart is an enjoyable, albeit short, adventure following the familiar 2D Zelda formula. Having a brand new world to explore, filled with various side quests, should be enough to get any fan of that classic top-down template excited. While the writing and dialogue feels subpar at times, the familiar, yet still-solid gameplay makes up for it. Ocean’s Heart is undeniably a 2D Zelda game in all but name, but Tilia’s adventure shows that a game doesn’t always need to be groundbreaking to be a good time.
I just wonder why did some developers really stuck on Zelda games idea to make their own games ? 🤔
I have seen so many Zelda clones and I thought it was a lazy idea to depend on same things over and over again.
Looks nice but I'll stick to the original thanks. There have been many attempts at copying Zelda but the reality is you can't beat the feeling of playing a real Zelda game.
@Anti-Matter Success always creates imitators. And the 2D Zelda template is pretty simple to replicate with modern software.
Thanks for the review, I’d pretty much decided to get it based on what I’ve seen so far. I wonder how it compares to similar Zelda clones like Blossom’s Tale and Oceanhorn?
The Zelda gameplay template obviously still works great, but without a more unique artistic style and engaging story I find myself completely uninterested. This will be a pass for me.
Looking at this just makes me want to play Minish Cap again. Gonna have to dust off the Wii U and get it bought before they shut it down.
The fact that the entire Virtual Console catalogue wasn’t ported across from Wii U/3DS to Switch (should’ve been a day one thing honestly) is the worst thing Nintendo have done this generation from the software side of things.
This makes me want to hear news on Hazlenut Bastille. Does anyone know what's happening with that game?
Looks like a fun little title. With Nintendo no longer interest in making 2D Zelda games in the future, there's a market for these retro Zelda inspirational games.
I'm okay with using a common formula with your own aesthetic or spin on it. Unsighted feels like a Zelda game while still looking and playing in unique ways. This just looks too derivative for my tastes.
I love a well made clone. It is great for when you wish you had a new Oracle game, or Minish cap because you've already replayed the originals 10 times each and want something familiar but not identical
@noobish_hat You don't think the Minish Cap is charming?
@Specter_of-the_OLED Wait what?? No more 2D Zelda? They haven't made one for a while, but are they really giving up on it? Link's Awakening sold really well.
@Medic_Alert Same for me. Combat has always been the weakest part of the top-down Zelda formula. A game that mostly abandons puzzles, and instead leans heavily on combat and a poorly written narrative sounds like a complete drag
About what I'd expect for a score I suppose. I'll grab this down the road when I have some free time. Then again, it's only a 6 hour experience. Maybe I can squeeze it in soon.
@Anti-Matter probably because zelda is widely loved around the world. I'm certainly not complaining about more zelda likes.
I've tried a few of these on Switch over the past 5 years and whilst they do throw up some short lived entertainment, they all ultimately leave you feeling a bit down and wishing you hadn't bothered.
This is definitely a problem I am encountering with the Switch eShop of late. Whereas in previous years I was spending a small fortune trying different games, and discovering some genuinely amazing gems along the way, ultimately I've lost that appetite and I'm just not prepared to be stung again and again with games that are either half baked or flawed.
We should be treated to a brand new 2D Zelda in the not-too-distant future. That will be worth waiting for... although I'm not going to lie and say it isn't more than a little disappointing on Nintendo's part that we are indeed still waiting. I'm looking forward to BotW2 obviously, and I enjoyed revisting LA and SS - but where is this dual-development of console and handheld for Switch we were all expecting? It seems to me we are missing a fair few titles... not least a brand new 2D Zelda and a brand new 2D Mario.
I'll probably give this a try. It looks like it may be fun.
@BongoBongo123 Supposed to be the end of this year I think. Playable demo is on Steam.
I've had this on my wishlist for a long time and I was pretty hyped because I just love 2D zelda games. The review has tempered my expectations slightly and control-issues in particular are something I dislike in games, but this is also a fairly cheap game and still looks fun so I'll be picking it up.
I don't suspect the writing will bother me. I grew up on strange writing in games. And hopefully they patch out that button input problem. Then again, I grew up on that stuff too lol.
I love 2D Zeldas and I don't subscribe to the cult of originality.
The best 2D-Top-Down Zelda-likes or homages are still 3D Dot Game Heroes & Blossom Tales by far imo. For a more recent entries that I've played, I'd say also include Rogue Heroes: Ruins of Tasos & Death's Door to a lesser extent.
All great games in their own right that I hope get new sequels eventually! But for now, I think admittedly I've played enough of this current wave of Zelda-likes of late on Switch that I can wait for the next superb, standout one (or until I get the yearning for one again). Although I may try Tunic and also Sable that are on Xbox if they ever comes to Switch.
... Wun can only hope.
@nocdaes God I remember that line being trotted out on this site about how we’ll have double the games cause the handheld and home console devs are both working on Switch now 😂
@Ear_wiG I think the art actually looks pretty good.
If you've ever tried to make games or do any sprite work, it's much harder than it seems.
sure there is better and more original, but i've seen by far a lot more that are worse and more generic.
@wuntyme8 you just reminded me I didn't beat Blossom Tales! Time to redownload it and get to work.
@tyranny_life Yea same thing happened to me. Blossom Tales sat in my backlog for the longest time too until I randomly decided to boot it up again and that was a great happenstance decision! Fun & well executed homage to top-down Zelda games for sure.
@Mikmoomamimocki Well if they make one it'll probably be in the same style as the Link's Awakening remake but I believe they are trying not to go back to 2D Zelda as much. There may be some retro throwback added to future games but Aonuma the director on Zelda says the series is all about moving forward, not backwards. I'm sure if one day they remake A Link to the Past or A Link Between Worlds we may see a 2D Zelda but going forward it's all about evolving the series.
Minish Cap is my favorite Zelda game of all time - I'm not gonna bother with mediocre mimicry.
Cool, another Zelda clone with a female Link. Very original.
It's sad it's more of a Zelda game than BoTW.
Someone (ahem) should write a comparison guide to the 2D Zelda clones on Switch. Which is the best?
When I was a kid, I always wanted more games that were similar to Zelda, especially since there were so many Mario knockoffs while Zelda knockoffs were rare. Looks like that's no longer the case, so I have no complaints about any lack of originality.
The Minish Cap? The Minish Cap... now that is a name I have not heard in a long time..
but wait! Hurry up and buy The Minish Cap on the Wii U!
These indie Zelda ripoffs are never very good. There's too many games these days to focus on stuff like this. Just replay a classic Zelda instead.
OK, I've said this before and I'll say it again: not everything is a ripoff/homage/clone of Zelda. is Zelda the most popular of these overhead games? yeah, doesn't mean that any other is a clone or whatever other nonsense this long debate about 'clones' is about.
oh so Mario is a platformer? guess Banjo-Kazooie, Sonic and the rest are just all Mario clones right? no. I respect all the writers here at Nintendo Life but you guys should really cut it out with the Zelda comparisons.
@fighting_game_player True, but also this ones art literally has the main character wearing Link's BotW outfit
@HeeHo same outfit? no. same color scheme? definitely. not saying it doesn't invoke that 'Zelda' feeling but at the end of the day, it's just another blue tunic
I have been waiting for this one, and will pick it up first chance i get
I don't think the art in this game is anything to write home about if I'm honest, it's rather average quality as far as pixel art games go. I don't know, I saw Alex play it on YouTube and it didn't seem that interesting to me. I'll give it a pass.
@tyranny_life Totally, it doesn’t look bad at all. I just wish developers doing these Zelda tribute games took more risks with the art style and story. The game looks lovely, just feel like I’ve seen it 10 times before. Give me a sci-fi take on it, or something like Bloodborne. That new Yacht Party game is a great example, looks fresh but still has all the old-school ARPG bells and whistles.
>Good taste in videogames
Pick one and only one.
@fighting_game_player They could choose any other colour or shade of blue but go for the one from the biggest Zelda game on the console by coincidence?
There's invoking the feeling then there's ripping something off.
They could of tried to be more original.
Would be the same Reason why so many Doom Clones are around.
I mean, who needs Halo, Call of Dury or Half Life?
Cheap Copies of Doom
I agree with many here. Come up with something new and fresh, and stop stealing from Zelda lore. No thanks!
So Link was inspired by Peter Pan
I was thinking, wasn't this already the name of a Zeldalike? Is this a rerelease?
I was thinking of Oceanhorn.
@noobish_hat Clueless or tasteless? You be the judge, fellow reader.
I will give this a go. Should be able to storm through it quickly.
Its hard for Zelda-likes to be just as good as the real thing, mainly because Nintendo has it down to a science but 7/10 ain't bad for an attempt
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