Review: The Legend of Zelda : Phantom Hourglass
Posted 25 Oct 2007 at 12:48 by Sam
|"Nintendo have put a lot of love into their first truly portable 3D Zelda game and it shows in spades"|
That familiar "ding" sound, a single tap followed by the sound of a rolling ocean, caws of seagulls and then that oh so familiar but effortlessly epic main theme accompanied by a remarkably well rendered fully 3D introduction sequence that you can't help but silently smile to yourself over. Yes switching on the DS and loading the latest portable incarnation in the long running Zelda franchise for the first time is nothing short of a truly magical moment.
Actually getting into the main game itself and seeing that it actually manages to maintain that exact same level of careful craftsmanship and amazing attention to detail displayed in the opening is a joy to behold. Everything from the character models, ships, enemies, land masses, dwellings and dungeons all look and feel like they belong in Links previous oceanic outing on the Gamecube; it really is that good.
Following on just after the events that came to pass in the Wind Waker this story is beautifully told through storybook form before the main cut-scene ensues. At this point we see the fearless sea-faring Captain Tetra and her motley crew of which Link is part of sailing the ocean in search of a mysterious ghost ship once thought to be that of legend; they soon find it and of course the headstrong Tetra jumps aboard it and get captured, guess who's gonna go off on a cel-shaded adventure to save her?
On the subject of cel shading it really is something that the DS does well, it excels in this department and it really is a joy to behold to see it being used to bring everything from cloud movement, high rolling seas, and even sun flare! Basically all the elements that you would expect to see in a home console Zelda title are here but in portable form; even the main orchestrated theme and accompanying audio pumps out through the units twin stereo speakers in glorious pseudo surround.
But what of the groundbreaking gameplay which the incorporation of stylus control would apparently bring to the series? Well fear not as it is here and it's much more than just present and correct too as everything from running, jumping, rolling, pulling, pushing and all other associated actions are controlled merely with the sweep of your stylus; particularly satisfying is the combat which comes into play when you obtain the sword from Oshus who effectively acts as a mentor for Link at certain parts of the adventure.
After winding up on an unknown Island this kindly yet stern old man who is the grandfather to Celia the fairy who accompanies you (don't ask, only Nintendo knows the answer to that one) will teach you the basics of swordplay. This plays out exactly as it did in previous Zelda games except this time it feels much more easier in it's execution; to slash a target just quickly move your stylus in front of you, in order to leap-slash you tap the enemy directly and to perform the all important classic spin slash you simply deftly draw your stylus in a swift circle around Link, simple and satisfying just as it should be.
Innovative and imaginative use of the stylus isn't merely limited to just those actions though, as aforementioned is is used for "everything" this includes acquirable adventurers assets such as the boomerang which you only need draw a path for it to follow along with other such items which I will refrain from spoiling. Drawing on maps is another admirable addition which you will find many uses for as well as maybe drawing the odd doodle just for simple amusement.
Many of the games puzzles rely entirely on the touch screen interface, some will have you drawing numbers or letters, marking locations whereas others get increasingly intricate as you progress. Clever use of the microphone breathes even more life into this quirky and imaginative adventure, even opening and closing the DS unit itself will aid you at certain parts; again no spoilers will be provided here but when you see them for yourself these are moments that are likely to make you smile at the sheer creativity thats been incorporated and it's testament to Nintendo's excellent use of it's own hardware that no feature has gone unused.
A new item which influences the general flow of the game is the titular "Phantom Hourglass" which is found early on in the game inside the Temple of the Ocean King which it is linked to and also provides an explorable hub area of sorts which you will return to repeatedly. While inside this temple you will not take physical damage from enemies providing you have sand which translates to time remaining in your hourglass; as you progress more you will gain more power, items and more time in your hourglass which will eventually enable you to travel deeper inside the temple; when time runs out however it's back off to sea to replenish the sand and explore more locations.
Sea exploration comes into it's own even more than before, the boat which you control is owned by a character named Linebeck a cowardly captain who teams up with you for the sea sections. Navigation is simple, you plot where you want to go on the map from one port to another and then your off; from here on in your ship travels along the path which you have plotted and it's up to you to overcome obstacles along the way by way of jumping which plays out more like a mini-game and is most enjoyable.
There is so much more depth to this game to be exploited such as the ability to upgrade your ship with cannons, winches, anchors and other such paraphernalia which allows for much more thorough exploration. While you are advised on where to go by the games storyline which is brilliantly gradually told by numerous characters you can still go off on side-quests, partake in mini-games and indulge in many activities which will be familiar to fans; also noteworthy is the inclusion of many throwbacks which are sure to surprise and delight.
Nintendo have put a lot of love into their first truly portable 3D Zelda game and it shows in spades as everything from the intuitive controls, fluid gameplay, eccentric characters and inventive level design across many varied locales demonstrate admirable aplomb in their execution. The only partially negative elements are a tacked on multiplayer which while fun in small doses isn't required and some veteran Zelda fans may feel slightly unchallenged by the difficulty level but apart from that it is everything that anyone could have hoped for in a portable Zelda title thats completely three-dimensional in every sense.
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is a testament to game developing, taking on many challenges and beating them all with grace. It's the first Zelda to go 3D on a handheld, but by God, it's a fantastic first time. The beautiful cel shaded graphics fit the DS perfectly with gorgeous animations, characters and expressions that just scream fun.
Mixing new 3D elements with classic 2D Zelda Gameplay is very refreshing and at the same time, it feels nostalgic with the good old spinning flames and red and blue blocks, but this time in the third dimension. The only flaw I can point out is that most islands and dungeons look very similar and don't have a lot of character, but fortunately the characters themselves make up for it with charming designs and colours, not to mention spectacular dialogues.
Controlling Link with the stylus just feels so right that going back to the D-Pad would be mind boggling. Simply tapping where you want to throw the bombs, writing notes on your map or trace the course for your boat is a very welcome breath of fresh air. The stylus, the dual screens and the mic are used so ingeniously and integrated so seamlessly that you instantly know: this is a true Zelda that could only be done on the DS.
No gimmicks and no unnecessary features. Just great adventuring and fun: everything you can expect from a Zelda game. It might not be very long or very hard, but this is one of the best games money can buy. Score: 9/10
Verdict: A true Zelda game, fantastic as usual. A must have.
N-Europe Final Verdict
It's a home console Zelda on a portable system, a true technical marvel and a decent game in it's own right.
3D Zelda on a DS
A joy to behold and play
Some may find relatively easy
Multiplayer feels tacked on
Repetitive hub dungeon