Ocean's Heart is a 2D, top-down adventure game that draws heavy inspiration from across The Legend of Zelda franchise. It's got great combat, a really engaging story, and a unique charm.
Title: Ocean's Heart
Release Date: February 10, 2022
Suggested Audience Age: Everyone 10+ for Fantasy Violence, Alcohol Reference
Time to Play: 9 hours, according to How Long to Beat
Availability: Switch, Steam
Recommended for fans of: 2D Zelda and Zelda-likes like UNSIGHTED, Death's Door, etc.
Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of this title.
The Nintendo Switch is an excellent platform for Zelda fans. Outside of the franchise’s releases from Nintendo, there are a plethora of wonderful Zelda-like games to play, including Blossom Tales, Oceanhorn, and Rogue Heroes: Ruins of Tasos. Each of those games has done a great job of borrowing from The Legend of Zelda to create something both nostalgic and new. Ocean’s Heart is a brand new release that sits right alongside those as a fantastic, fresh experience for fans of top-down Zelda.
A Heartfelt Story in a Silly World
Right off the bat, the story of Ocean’s Heart sets a charming tone that carries through the whole game. You play as a young girl whose family runs a bar. When pirates attack your hometown, your father, a member of the Volunteer Navy that protects the archipelago the game takes place in, sets off to track them down. He leaves you in charge of the bar and promises to be back soon… and then the game jumps forward six months.
Tired of waiting around, and ready to follow in his heroic footsteps, you set sail on a ship that takes you to a nearby town and start following every lead that you can find to track down your dad.
Quests and Sidequests
The NPCs that fill the world of Ocean’s Heart play a pivotal role in the progression of the game. Rather than some godly spirit or pestering fairy giving you guidance on where to go next, you talk to vendors, barkeepers, guards, and all sorts of folk as you progress through the story to get hints about where your father might have gone.
The main story is extremely linear. Each main quest NPC gives pretty clear instructions on where to go to find the next step on the journey. If you branch out just a little bit, though, there are a ton of great side quests to engage with as well.
Each town you stop in has lots of people to chat with, and while most of them just have one or two cute quotes of dialog, there are at least a few in each town who will set you off on some sort of extra journey. Sometimes they want you to find a specific hidden item, or slay a specific monster, or they might want you to help them a capitalistic regime to free up trade with other towns. These hooks have just enough story to make them interesting. On top of that, they usually come with a nice stack of cash as a reward.
Dungeons Are Part of the World
Up until Breath of the Wild, the Zelda franchise was recognizable by the inclusion of bespoke dungeons. You visit a town, explore the overworld, then pop into the mouth of a demonic statue or wander into a cave or jump through a waterfall to be greeted by a title block announcing that you have entered a dungeon.
Ocean’s Heart follows a very similar rhythm but does a wonderful job of making the dungeons feel like a more connected part of the world. Instead of feeling like a completely distinct environment, the dungeons in this game are just another area. In fact, I didn’t actually realize when I found the first dungeon until I was a few rooms in. I was just exploring some cool ruins, but then I started to find locked doors and switches and went “oh, hey, this is a dungeon!”
Unlocks and Upgrades
There are monsters and other enemies everywhere in Ocean's Heart. Your main weapon is, as you’d expect, a sword. You get a sword with a basic attack stat at the beginning of the game, then can upgrade it throughout your adventure. You’ll also find a lot of other weapons and gears throughout the story… but mostly they applied to specific puzzles rather than as a useful item in battle.
As you explore the world you’ll find a lot of hidden nooks and crannies. The two main pickups you’re looking for in these areas are health upgrades and a special coral that is used to power up your attacks. The health upgrades all give you a full additional heart, rather than needing to find multiple heart pieces in the Zelda series. Similarly, each piece of coral (along with some cash) maps to one point towards your offensive or defensive stats.
I like this a lot. Each found item mapping straight to an upgrade makes each one a super satisfying reward!
Other Items are Sparse
One of the few places where Ocean’s Heart deviates from the Zelda form in a way that didn’t work for me at all was in its loot drops. In the various worlds of Hyrule, enemies, bushes, and pottery almost always drop something when they are destroyed. It could be rupees, hearts, or ammunition for consumable weapons, but nearly every time you break something you get a little dopamine hit of a shiny reward.
In Ocean’s Heart, enemies almost never drop anything behind them, and there aren’t nearly as many rewarding bushes or pots as there are in Zelda games. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of plants you can hack down, but only ones with berries on them give you anything, and even then those berries are an item that goes into your inventory for you to eat later, rather than healing you on the spot.
The bigger issue is the lack of ammunition. Bombs, arrows, and candles are all weapons that operate on ammunition and are often required for puzzle solving in dungeons. Because those drops are harder to find with a quick grind, I found myself leaving dungeons to traipse all the way back to a shop in town just to buy a few more bombs several times during my adventure.
Outside of those few times I got stuck in a dungeon because I was out of ammunition, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Ocean’s Heart. The combat in this game was satisfying, the storytelling was great, and the puzzle-solving in the dungeons was just interesting enough to keep me engaged without ever getting frustrating.
Ocean’s Heart doesn’t quite reach the highs of UNSIGHTED, my favorite Zelda-like game in years, but it sits comfortably alongside Death’s Door as an engaging 2D action game with a polished sense of identity.