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Game Review: Zelda Phantom Hourglass (DS)

Platform: DS Published: Nintendo Developed: Nintendo Genre: Action/Adventure

SCORE: 8.5

The Good:

  • Challenges in the game are challenging and rewarding

  • Sailing the seas are more eventful than in previous games

  • Art style works well on the DS

  • The Phantom Hourglass timer present interesting puzzles to the player

The Bad:

  • Touch control scheme feel unnecessary at times

  • Some puzzles lack hints to lead the player in the right direction

The Interesting:

  • Same old Zelda greatness

Overall View:

As both a player and designer, I've always been skeptical of the use of touch screens. However as a developer I can seen the unique experiences it can grant the player we use effectively. Games like Elite Beat Agents or Trauma Center wouldn't be the same without the touch feature, however some other games force the touch controls on the player. Zelda feel like such a case. Most controls would have been better had they stuck to the original control scheme, with the exceptions of sailing. The bottom line is that if you want to use touch screen, have a good design reason to do so.

The Legend of Zelda is one of Nintendo's most famous franchises, known for its adventures and puzzle filled levels for which Phantom Hourglass is no exception. Phantom Hourglass is a direct sequel to the storyline of Wind Waker. After the events of Wind Waker Link joins his pirate friends to sail the seas when a mysterious fog separates Link from the rest of the pirates. When Link comes to, he finds himself stranded in a strange island where his new adventure begins. As the game progresses Link finds out that Terra, the reincarnation of Zelda, is missing and makes it his mission to save her, yet again.

Like Wind Waker, Phantom Hourglass is set in a world filled with water, and as such, the player must navigate the world from Island to island in a boat. However this time, they address the issue plaguing its predecessor which is the long uneventful journeys through the boat. They managed to do this by making the world much smaller, filled with more destinations. One more thing that helps this is its ability to fight monsters at sea. Lastly, they kept the shortcuts that were in the previous game, so when the player has explored new areas, he/she may be able to return there without having to go through the whole world again.

Phantom Hourglass' biggest change in game play is both its greatest innovation and its biggest weakness. The way most Zelda games have worked, with the exception of Twilight Princess, is to use the D-Pad or analog stick, as the case may be, to move Link and the rest of the buttons to use items, sword, etc. However, in Phantom Hourglass, they left everything to the use of the Touch Screen. The player must simply point to the direction in which the player wishes to move Link. To attack, swipe the stylus across the screen or make a circular motion to perform a spinning attack. To use items, the player must touch the bottom left of the screen to choose the item and once selected, the player must touch the top right of the screen to use any given item. Note that when selecting the item the game does not pause. This way of interface in DS games is a trend that has been adopted in a great number of games. Yet, this is what can separate a good game from a bad one.

Like all Zelda games, Phantom Hourglass has puzzle filled levels that are both diverse and interesting, and one of the hardest ones in a while. For the most part, many of the puzzles, while fun, are not heavily designed around the DS's features. The ones that are, are more annoying than fun.

The game makes use of the Phantom Hourglass which is an item that allows Link to navigate through the main dungeon. It acts as a way to pressure the player to reach the end of the dungeon as soon as possible. While doing this, unbeatable enemies are present to hinder the player's advancement. So instead of confronting the enemies directly, the player must find a way around these enemies.

The experience while riding the boat is much more eventful than in Wind Waker. The exploration is more rewarding by finding uncharted islands and navigating through seas filled with monsters. The only downside to this is the lack of variety in them. After a while it becomes too predictable and seems more of a chore than a challenge. The smaller seas in this game make it less frustrating than in the previous one it doesn't feel like an endless sea anymore.

For many Zelda players this game is a great addition to the series; however some veterans might be upset with the new interface. While the touch screen can be intuitive to most players, it actually feels like it slows the gameplay when trying to move fast this is especially true with veterans of the series. This can be easily seen when trying to fight while using items. For example, when fighting an enemy that requires the use of an item such as the bow and arrow, the player must tap the item button aim with the touch screen and shoot, and then tap the item button again to switch back to the sword and finish off the enemy. What can happen is that the player might neglect to tap the item button and wind up shooting more arrows in stead of swiping with the sword. Another problem is that the stylus can be somewhat imprecise when moving Link in the screen. This can lead to loosing hearts needlessly and frustrate the player.

For the most part, this game could have been done by using the regular D-Pad and button layout instead of the touch screen. It looks like Nintendo neglected to think of the player in their zeal to use the touch screen. The only features that make real use of the touch screen are some items, like the Bombchu and Boomerang, and the control of the boat in the outside map. I think they could have offered an option to allow the player to choose either the touch screen or button layout when playing the game.

Phantom Hourglass also offers a multiplayer mode with the ability to use the Nintendo WiFi. I did not bother trying this but if it is anything like Four Swords then it should be good.

Phantom Hourglass is a good game that could have been great if they had tested out the interface a little bit more. Other than this problem, Phantom Hourglass should be a fun game to have on the go. I simply hope than when making any new Zelda game on the DS, they take the interface a bit more seriously. Hopefully they'll add the option to use the regular button layout if they have more or less the same kind of game play.

[Originally posted Mar 11, 2011 ]

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