The Legend of Zelda: Phantom HourglassESRB:
Platform: Nintendo DS , DSI
Developer - Nintendo
Publisher - Nintendo
Wireless DS Single-Card Download Play
Wireless DS Multi-Card Play
Having had the DS since its introduction about three years or so ago I have been given the opportunity to play a lot of great games on it. But what I did not realize was that a true Zelda sequel had never been released for the dual screened system. Well, Nintendo has finally put that concern to bed with their latest Zelda release, aptly titled The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, a spiritual successor to Wind Waker on the GameCube. For fans of the Zelda series there are some changes to the gameplay as Phantom Hourglass forces one to use the unique abilities of the DS and nothing less, and it really changes the way one will think, and play, this next adventure in this long running series.
When I first started to play Phantom Hourglass and saw the graphics that this game displayed I was very impressed and rather surprised that they were able to take the world of Wind Waker from the GameCube and shrink it to fit into the DS. But alas, they did it and it looks great. Now you have to remember you are dealing with a less powerful console then the GameCube, so there are some sacrifices to the overall look, but that being said you cannot help but be amazed. Although the game is not nearly as sharp as that of the original GameCube's graphics, they are good looking nonetheless. Colors still manage to jump off the screen and there is a lot of detail for what is there. This was evident in such things as the characters faces and their expressions, their animations and the environments that you explore. In terms of the technical side of the in-game graphics engine, everything runs in 3D and does so in very good fashion. The game runs very smooth and without any notable issues. Special effects are plenty and there is very good use of subtle shadowing and lighting effects. Overall I would have to say that Phantom Hourglass is in the top tier for visuals on the DS platform.
The audio in Phantom Hourglass also adds to an already great package. Right of the hop I have to tell you that there is no voice acting in this game. However that being said it really doesn't affect the game a negative way as the text you are provided is quite humorous and pleasurable to read. The actual expressions that are on the faces of the characters tell more of the story then does the tone of a voice. That being said, the dialog is good enough using text that you won't miss the any voice acting at all. As for the soundtrack, I was quite taken by surprise with how well the music sounded coming from the DS's speakers. For an even stronger impact one should listen to it through a good pair of headphones. Regardless how you listen to it the music had an impact on the game as it suited each and every situation or level I found myself in. It really did manage to keep the lineage of past Zelda music and fans of the series won't be disappointed. Finally, the rest of the sound effects manage to do a good job too, from the various enemies you face to the sound of your sword taking out any one of these baddies. Overall the sound package offered in Phantom Hourglass adds the experience of playing this game.
Phantom Hourglass picks up exactly where Wind Waker on the GameCube left off. Our hero Link is sailing the high seas along with Tetra, who happens to be said owner of the ship they are sailing on. They are on a search for the infamous Ghost Ship that is said to have untold treasures, but also has a reputation for making people who come across its path disappear. Upon coming across the path of the Ghost Ship Tetra leaps after it only to become a damsel in distress for Link to save. And after a pretty great introduction do we finally see Link wash up on shore of a strange and populated island. From here the adventure begins and the story starts to take shape.
The first thing you are introduced to is the how to control Link during his newest outing. And what you discover is that Phantom Hourglass is strictly a touch screen affair. For purists out there, you will find that there is no option for an 'old school' (e.g. d-pad) control scheme as Nintendo has made sure that the first Zelda game on the DS uses the unique abilities of their dual screened machine. The play mechanics are simplified to rely on such simple things as taps and specific movements on the touch screen. To move Link, all you have to do is dimply drag the stylus in the direction you want him to go. Battling enemies is just as simple, as you tap on an enemy to lunge at it with a slash, do a quick swiping movement to perform a broader slash, and draw circles around Link to perform a spin attack. Defense is done using the stylus as you only need to draw small circles at the opposite side of the screen in order to allow Link to roll out of the way of an attack. I was somewhat worried that relying on an all touch screen control wouldn't translate very well, but I was quite surprised how well it turned out. There were a few times that the control was not as responsive as I would have liked, or that the wrong move was translated from my touch screen actions, but this did not occur that often and overall the control was pretty good. There is no doubt that veterans of the series will have to adjust to the new scheme, but I think Nintendo was smart to do this as touts the abilities and special features that the DS is all about, and it allows for more casual gamers or newbies to the series to have as much fun as those who have been playing the game since the 8-bit era.
The Zelda series has been synonymous with dungeon crawling and puzzle solving, and Phantom Hourglass is no different. There are a lot of interesting and somewhat challenging dungeons in this latest addition to the series. Of course many of these dungeons also have some tricky puzzles that will need you to use many of the trademark items that Link has used in the past. These include bombs, the bow and arrow, the boomerang and the hookshot. As with your rest of the control scheme you use the DS's unique abilities to control these times. For example, you now draw a path on the touch screen with the stylus that the boomerang will follow once you throw it. I found it somewhat neat to be able to control the items you have using the innovative touch screen of the DS. Overall the dungeons are fun to explore and there are some really mind bending puzzles now and then.
New to the Zelda series, and specifically due to the DS's unique features, is the ability to write notes and draw out pathways on your dungeon maps. Having the ability to note specific things (e.g. numbers that relate to order of pulling down levers) to actually being able to draw a path on the dungeon map itself (e.g. show an invisible platform for future use) make for a much more enjoyable experience because it is easier to manage the information at hand. It really does help for those periods of wandering around looking for a particular path of entry or a piece of a puzzle that you may have already come across.
Wind Waker on the GameCube involved a lot of sailing, and in my honest opinion was somewhat of a chore. As this game is a continuation of the Wind Waker story, sailing once again makes a return, but does so in a much more refined and enjoyable way. To get around the waters you only need to draw a route on your map and your ship sets sail to your final destination automatically. As you progress through the game your ship will acquire a cannon to fight pirates or sea creatures and a grappling arm to salvage treasure. The latter is actually a neat little mini-game where you have to guide the grapple arm down into the depths of the sea while avoiding mines that are scattered about. This game was a great distraction and really fit into the world of Zelda perfectly.
If there is any negative to be found in this game, I would have to comment on the fact at you are forced to come back to the very first dungeon you experience more then a few times. Now this would not be a problem is things were changed up, but they are not. As I made my way back to this dungeon several times over my gameplay experience I found that I had to get through the same levels I already beat and get through them the same way. It did get easier as I acquired newer items later on, but I still had to get though the levels again. About halfway through the game I did get a save point that let me bypass the fist half of the dungeon, but I still had to do the rest of the dungeon over and over again. I felt that if they were going to make me do this dungeon more then once then add something new to them, or change up things to make them feel new. But unfortunately they did not and it did take a little, and I do mean a little, away from the overall feel of the game.
The actual main quest in Phantom Hourglass will take anywhere from 12-16 hours depending on your gaming skill. And this length is increased a few more hours should you take on the various side quests that are available in the game. I would encourage you to get out as much as you can from this game as it is really an enjoyable experience.
Once you have completed the main quest, or just need a diversion from it, there is an included multiplayer mode. Here one player controls Link while the other player has control of several phantoms (enemies from the first level) that are guided by drawing paths with the stylus. Here the main objective for Link is to collect as many triforce shards as he can and bring them back to the base. While he is collecting these he slows down the more shards he collects. Should a phantom touch Link that players turn is up. Players take turns on each side for multiple rounds and the player with the most shards at the end of the game wins. You can play this online or play it thru a local network, including single card play. I found that the limited time I spent with this mode was fun, but nothing earth shattering. The online experience of such was pretty smooth, but then again there were not a lot of people online as this game was being released into the public's hands at the time of writing this review. I do plan to spend some extra time in this mode and if my opinion is changed for the worse I will let you know, however if I continue to have no issues I will not address this again.
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