Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS) Review

This is the final week until the 100th review, so let's go out with a bang! First up is the latest edition in The Legend of Zelda franchise-- The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. However, I'm confused. So it's a rehash if a game uses the same characters but a totally different gameplay device, yet it's fresh and new when a game uses different characters but the same old bloody shooter mechanics from Ultra Mature Game #389 for Adolescent Males, right? Go figure.


The Wind Waker Revisited

If I had to choose my favorite video game franchise of all time, you can surely bet that The Legend of Zelda would rank as one of-- if not-- THE highest. When I read that the DS version of Zelda, Phantom Hourglass, would be controlled solely via the stylus I was quite skeptical. Could the series work by only using the touch screen? Surprisingly, the answer is yes, but how well does it function? Is The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass a "touching" and intuitive adventure, or are Link's new tricks better suited for traditional controls?

The graphics were the first thing to amaze me.

The newest Zelda adventure, Phantom Hourglass, takes place after the events of the 2003 Gamecube smash hit, The Wind Waker. Link had vanquished the evil that was Ganondorf and joined the pirate Tetra and her crew on the high seas for adventure. When Tetra's crew comes across a dense fog and a rickety old ghost ship, Tetra hops aboard to investigate. However, the ship begins sailing away, Link tries to jump ship to rescue Tetra, falls into the ocean blue, and winds up on an unknown island awakened by a spunky fairy by Ciela. What follows is standard Zelda form-- a formula that many fans have grown to know and love which may put off some wanting more.

That isn't to say the formula remains the exact same. Sure, you venture into dungeons, find the item needing to solve that dungeon's puzzles, battle the boss, acquire the gem needed to advance the plot, and so forth, but there's some differences. For one, there is one main dungeon that Link and Ciela return to after completing a dungeon. Received by Link from Oshus, the main village's elder, the Phantom Hourglass acts as a shield from the poisonous smoke polluting the numerous floors of the Temple of the Ocean King. The catch is that the protective shield will only last as long as the sands still fill the hourglass. By completing dungeons and defeating the bosses that perpetuate inside of them, Link gains more sand to journey deeper into the temple. The items that Link earns will also allow Link access into further areas of the Temple of the Ocean King in order to find treasure maps showing Link him where he needs to head to next.

Arrrr!!! A pirate's life for me!

Another difference is the overworld itself. Gone are the days of changing the wind to explore the oftentimes tedious ocean of The Wind Waker. This time around, a wise-cracking cowardly captain by the name of Linebeck accompanies you on your journey. You pilot his ship around the ocean overworld by charting a path by drawing a line on the bottom screen. Your ship then follows that path while you go seafaring occasionally needing to defeat enemies via a cannon you acquire later on in your adventure or leaping over hazards. Seafaring is fun and all, but thankfully you can later earn the ability to be transported around the ocean by magical toads. By finding new maps in the Temple of the Ocean King, the areas on the overworld that you can explore expands gradually to the point where you can freely sail on all four map quadrants-- northwest, northeast, southwest, and southeast. A salvage arm earned later in the game can allow you to sail over to red X's on the map (revealed by finding red treasure maps) to salvage sunken treasure. This is done by playing a mini-game where you drag the stylus to move the arm away from sea mines as you try to bring the submerged treasure to the surface.

Circle the stylus around quickly to perform Link's patented spin attack.

The main innovation here is that the entire game is in fact controlled almost completely by the touch screen. That's right. This isn't a bad thing either. By moving the stylus to various points on the bottom screen you direct Link around the various areas Phantom Hourglass has to offer. Attacking is quite simplistic as well. Simply swipe the stylus in a swift line to slash your trusty blade, draw a quick circle to perform a spin attack, or tap a foe for Link to pounce on top of it and strike. You also tap various townspeople to speak with them and grab onto pots and other grab-ables via tapping. Rub along the edge of the screen to initiate a roll. Be careful though. Roll too fast, too quickly, and you'll make Link dizzy! Various other functions are served with the touch screen such as pushing and pulling levers and rocks.

You'll be thankful that Phantom Hourglass uses this control setup, too, as most items would only work by utilizing the touch screen. Any item in the game is selected on the menu on the bottom right corner. The earliest weapon in the game, the boomerang, for instance, is used by drawing a path for the weapon to follow. Drawing a line and throwing it around a series of blocks to hit a concealed switch, hitting a series of enemies in succession, or grabbing a number of faraway rupees are all methods of using the boomerang that would be near impossible without the touch screen's help. Additionally, the bombchu-- a motorized bomb- is used by charting a path for it to follow. Once it reaches its destination it explodes. This is great for sending it through enclosed spaces to turn on an otherwise unreachable switch.

Link uses the grappling hook to cross this chasm.

Not only is the touch screen beneficial for the usage of items, but it's also great and sometimes necessary for jotting down notes on the map, showcased on the top screen. Remember when you had to jot down on a piece of paper the order to pull a series of switches? Those days are over as you can now write notes on the map to assist you. This ranges from the order of buttons to press to drawing two connecting lines revealing the location of a buried item. The ideas the developers concocted by choosing to go with the touch screen are just amazing and very impressive. There will be moments where to quote Nintendo of Japan's president, Satoru Iwata, "You will say wow".

Need to remember something? Jot down a note.

That isn't to say the game will always perplex you. There's a wide assortment of gossip stones-- small rocks that will divulge information-- to be found. Most are sitting right next to a puzzle basically spelling out the solution to a puzzle, making the reward of figuring out the solution less fulfilling. To further harp on the ease of difficulty, the game is quite easy. You won't die a lot, and even if you do, there's a number of checkpoints to return to.

Going back to the Temple of the Ocean King time and time again after each dungeon is quite annoying and tedious as well. You'll have to venture through the same floors as you head deeper into the temple each go. The temple itself has some very cool ideas like the seemingly invincible Phantoms which lurk on many of the floors. Let them see you, and they will chase after you until you enter one of the many "safe" zones in the temple. If they hit you with their sword, not only will you lose some health, but you'll also lose precious time off your hourglass (remember that you only have so much time to work with until your life meter starts going down).

The boss battles are outrageously enjoyable and inventive.

Other dungeons are sprinkled throughout your adventures in the Temple of the Ocean King. Each one has its own aesthetics, set of challenges, enemies, and puzzles to get the better of-- a series' staple. The item you receive in a given dungeon is usually the item needed to conquer the boss of that said dungeon and to complete the area's final puzzles. The boss battles are fun, engaging, and are some of the coolest ever seen in a handheld Zelda title. If you haven't figured it out by now, they definitely do not disappoint even by being on the easy side for the most part.

If beating down baddies and advancing the story isn't your cup of tea on a given day, there's various side-quests to partake in. There's ship parts to uncover allowing you to customize the look of your vessel, and long gone is the hunt for pieces of heart. Now you'll be on the lookout for full heart containers giving the player one extra heart of health to work with. The most involved quest which takes the search for pieces of heart is the gem of three different varieties-- courage, wisdom, and power. By collecting ten of each you'll be rewarded with new moves, abilities, and powers. Collect twenty of each to earn even stronger powers.

These gems replace Pieces of Heart as the main side-quest of Zelda.

To round out the package, there's even a Wi-Fi enabled multiplayer mode where players switch between the roles of Link and the Phantoms. Link's goal is to gather as many force gems are possible into the score zone as possible while the Phantom's goal is to intercept him by drawing paths on the touch screen. It's nothing too in-depth, but it's a nice diversion for a little while.

There's online play in Battle Mode, but it's nothing to write home about.

Let's now turn away from all that to the game's aesthetics. From the beautiful cel-shaded characters to the detailed areas, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is the most beautiful 3-D title for the Nintendo DS currently available. The game's colorful, and the visual effects are astounding. Sailing the high seas is truly a remarkable experience. If only the audio side of things were as interesting. While the music does pick up near the end of the game, overall the compositions are pretty uninteresting with the dungeon music being the worse offender. I would go as far to say that this soundtrack is the worst in Zelda's long-running history, and that's saying something.

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass may have had many fans worried with its news of being stylus-controlled only, but the controls actually function rather well. Many times you'll be thankful that you aren't limited to analog controls as many of the items vouch for. While the game is on the easy side and repeated visits to the Temple of the Ocean King can range from annoying to invoking feelings of ennui, Phantom Hourglass retains the same utmost quality you'd expect out of a Zelda adventure. From the charming art style and humor to the clever puzzles to the inventive bosses and dungeons, this title is a must-own for any Zelda fan-- a highly recommended handheld adventure.

[SuperPhillip Says]

Story: Tetra has been taken prisoner aboard a ghost ship, Link's been beached on an unfamiliar island, and some form of evil is slowly controlling the land.

Graphics: Some of the DS' best 3-D work. The cel-shaded art from Wind Waker is well-presented.

Gameplay: All stylus? No problem! Solve puzzles, battle baddies, and discover the secret of Tetra's disappearance.

Sound: The weakest Zelda in a while. Link's signature yelling accompanies the less than stellar soundtrack.

Replay Value: The main quest takes about 15-20 hours to complete, but there's still all the heart containers, ship parts, and gems to acquire!

Overall: 9.0/10 - Incredible. Not my favorite handheld title, but Phantom Hourglass is still a Zelda game that should not be missed.

1 comment:

SpinachPuffs said...

Phantom Hourglass stands as my 2nd favourite DS game (nothing can beat my love for Animal Crossing, I'm afraid...), and by that rule, I suppose its my 2nd favourite handheld title too!

Maybe a teensy bit on the short side compared to other Zelda's, but epic nonetheless!