The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass DS Review
Zelda games always have to be prefect, and if they are not the fans will tear them apart. Interestingly, in the mind of these fans it seems no Zelda game has been perfect since The Ocarina of Time. People complain that Wind Waker has those graphics, and that sailing, and rumour has it Twilight Princess was too much like the one that was supposed to be perfect in the first place. So, in the midst of this confusion it is hard to figure out what exactly makes a Zelda game perfect. Maybe it is the change people like, as OOT’s 3D approach has that in spades, or maybe it is a feeling a familiarity, as all the good Zelda’s have that too. Whatever that special ingredient is, it seems Phantom Hourglass makes a great effort at trying to tick all of the box’s it can to appeal to everyone.
In places it’s the same, as you start out with Link sans his sword, shield, bombs, boomerang, bow and hookshot, before been slowly introduced to the game’s story. At this point you will no doubt want to roll into a tree, just for the hell of it, and when you finally get your sword the first thing you will want to do is chop some grass. Also, you still get the trademark leitmotif that plays when you solve a puzzle. All of this is stuff fans of the series have seen for years, and something that feels very familiar, along with been a whole bunch of fun. If you alter any of it you effectively change the basis of what makes the Legend of Zelda series the stunning success it has grown to be. So, thankfully Nintendo don’t try to fix something that was not broken, although they were never likely to anyway. In fact, most of the core features that constitute a Zelda game remain intact, meaning that the only big change for this rendition, and what sets Phantom Hourglass apart from the other releases in the long running series, is the way you use all the familiar items.
Almost all the controls have been mapped to the touch screen, with the buttons and d-pad not having to be used in the game at all, unless you’d rather use them for item switching. Even moving Link around uses the touch-screen, letting you trace out the path you want him to go, and then watching him follow. He will even move fast or slow depending on how far you have the stylus placed in front of him. Interestingly, this method of control is surprisingly easy to adapt to, and is no where near being the jarring change some would expect it to be. Sword attacks are instinctive as well, with different jab and slash attacks mapped to touching an enemy directly, slighting in front, or drawing a circle around Link to do the spin attack. Most of Link’s other trademark weapons transfer well too, with the bombs in particular now much easier to place than in any other iteration. Furthermore, maps play a much bigger part in the game than ever before, as you are allowed to draw on them, and make notes from info given by people people you talk to, thus helping you to remember to look for hidden extras and treasure further down the line.
Of course, aside from all of this battling, the real draw of a Zelda game is the exciting, engaging puzzles that give you a real feeling of accomplishments upon completion, and for the most part Phantom Hourglass delivers in this area. When you first get your hands on the boomerang it servers as a great introduction to how the touch screen can alter old familiar puzzles, letting you draw a line to a hidden switch waiting to be boomeranged to open up a new path. It’s not all just touch screen though, as the mic is also used to in places, such as calling out to a trapped person in a room, or blowing out fire. All in all most of the puzzles are well though out, and most importantly exciting to solve. One little niggle would have to be that the game at times tries to offer you too much help, not letting you find the solutions to puzzles yourself, but it should be noted it never seems overdone, well not for me at least.
There are a few more problems on show though. Firstly the sailing. Even though it is a step up from Wind Waker it still has sections that feel far too long. Also, just like Wind Waker, the sailing is once again bordering on being overused to artificially extend the life of the game, which is a bit disappointing. However, it is still a huge step up from what was on show in the games predecessor, letting you upgrade your ship parts, add a cannon, a crane, and using the touch screen to plan and chart directions, all of which are nice inclusions. Thankfully the dungeons, of which they are six, are all relatively well thought out with all the main ones offering different challenges from the last to keep things exciting. Unfortunately, the game’s other dungeon, a recurring one, the Temple of the Ocean King, is less impressive. The main point of contention here is because you have to revisit it on several occasions throughout the game, returning multiple times as you get access to more items. Each time you have to work through the previous section you passed the last time before taking on a new section under a strict time frame as the Phantom Hourglass timer counts down. Interestingly, these timed section are probably the biggest change the Zelda series has seen in years, and are also the most unwelcome additions to the game. So, maybe it seems Nintendo are right to always try and keep things familiar.
With the likes of Pokemon and New Super Mario Bros relying on d-pad and button controls, some could argue that Nintendo are seemingly afraid to introduces too many of the DS’ abilities into its long running franchises. Nevertheless, it is great to see one of Nintendo’s big names finally embrace all of the features of the DS. All in all, while Phantom Hourglass may not be the best effort the series has spawned it is still a quality effort. Sure, it has its problems, but there is enough to love in the things it does right to make it a worthwhile addition to you DS collection, albeit not the top of the pile like some expected it to be.
A step above most other adventure games available.