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The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS) artwork

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS) review


"Things starts how they always start in the Zelda multiverse, with the kidnapping of that dappy bint of a princess whose only point of existence is to be spirited away by dark forces at the start of every new adventure. In a new development twist for the series, Phantom Hourglass is a direct sequel from Wind Waker on the Gamecube, meaning that it inherits the THE BIG TWO flaws that chapter suffered from"

Itís hard to keep a straight face when the latest Nintendo die-hard is playing Mario Party 106 while lecturing you on how their preferred brand is the biggest innovators in the business. Itís especially hard not to sneak out a stray snigger when the list of titles they look forward to Ė the brave new titles that will change the world Ė are Mario this, Metriod that. Itís all well and good having systems that allow you to do brand new things, but whatís the point when, at the core, youíre still doing the exact same thing you were effectively doing three decades ago?

Phantom Hourglass suffers from this problem more than most. There are no complaints to be had to how itís been converted to Nintendoís brave new handheld. Guiding Link with the stylus is as easy as prodding the screen in the direction you want to travel and some of the sword strokes work pretty well, like drawing a circle around your stumpy hero to execute the obligatory 360* spin attack. Using tools takes on a new dimension, too, when you have to draw their paths of directory or tap the screen the ready your bowstring. And while it does start to feel gimmicky when you start solving puzzles by blowing on the mic to snuff out candles or closing the DSís screens together to make an impromptu press, being able to write notes and draw routes on the map is such a simplistic but great idea you can expect it to be copied for the rest of the systemís lifespan.

It also has you yelling at a dwarven ship-maker to half his prices; the best way to look like a lunatic is to yell "Drop the damn price, you diseased little gimp!" into a little black box on a train or bus, the very thing the DS was designed for. But the biggest problem faced is that itís the same game youíve played a dozen times before but with a new control method. Thatís it.

Things starts how they always start in the Zelda multiverse, with the kidnapping of that dappy bint of a princess whose only point of existence is to be spirited away by dark forces at the start of every new adventure. In a new development twist for the series, Phantom Hourglass is a direct sequel from Wind Waker on the Gamecube, meaning that it inherits the THE BIG TWO flaws that chapter suffered from. A lazy reviewer would use this as a chance to build a small checklist, so that's exactly what I'm going to do.

  • Cell-shading: Wind Waker caught a lot of flak for the new look it adopted as soon as Nintendo hopped aboard the Cell-Shade bandwagon and made their latest Zelda game look like Link and cast all suffered from some huge brain tumour, enlarging their heads to a freakish prospective. Despite a lot of whining fanboys, that look returns here, only on a much smaller screen ensuring that it looks fuzzy and squished.


  • Sailing: The monotonous treks across vast expanses of water with some retarded sentient boat spewing lines of unwelcome gibberish are the least enjoyable aspect of Wind Waker bar none. So, instead of doing away with the concept everyone and their toothless grandma's complained about, itís instead kept and carefully redesigned to make it even duller. Now you draw lines on the DS touch-pad and your ship follows them leaving you to, well, watch. For minutes on end. But don't think you can leave the DS unattended and go do something fun! You need to keep a constant eye on your surroundings in case you're attacked by angry fish or an aquatic hurdle pops out of the water which you must make your ship jump over. At least it doesn't talk now though. No, now all the annoying dialogue is now spat out by the clichťd 'cowardly' captain of the craft.


  • But at least Wind Waker made the effort to try and mask the fact that it (all every other game in the series) is simply one big fetch quest; Phantom Hourglass assumes that, by this point, you're so in love with Linkís pallet-swapped adventures that you'll either not notice or you won't care if they dump the faÁade completely. You'll start off in a dungeon that saps away at your health via magical ANTI-ELF tiles which can only be nullified by activating the titular hourglass. This keeps you safe as long as the ancient timer still contains sand, which you recover from other dungeons as the game goes on. Thusly, the entire adventure revolves around doing a level of this special dungeon, leaving it for a different stage and then returning when you have more sand and a new, obligatory tool like a boomerang or a shovel. You know, the really epic trinkets you can buy from any car boot sale.

    Even though you've already collected all these items in Wind Waker. Turns out Link lost them or something.

    New sand means you can spend more time in the special dungeon, which you'll need because every time you enter the bloody thing, you need to delve a little deeper than your last visit, yet start all over again from the start. Meaning that you'll do nothing but tread the same floors over and over again before exploring a few new floors. If that wasn't bad enough, the dungeon is filled with unkillable beasties that you need to sneak past looking like Solid Snake in unconvincing drag.

    Just as annoying is the inclusion of a helper fairy that may as well be called Navi. Revisiting Ocarina of Time's most annoying character must have seemed like a good idea to someone, but I can't quite see it. In their defence, the sheer blood-from-the-ears annoyance of hearing Navi scream "HEY! LISTEN! HEY! LISTEN!" throughout has been cut right in half with new fairy, Ciela, this chapter. All she shouts is "HEY! HEY! HEY! HEY!" like an especially talentless rapper.

    Nintendo seem to have decided to take all the worst parts of the series and throw them into a game thatís only shining point is a genuinely tight control scheme, but what good is being able to move around cleverly when I don't want to go to the places it will take me? Obligatory FIRE dungeon? 1980 PC RPGs rang and wants its clichť back. What's that? Nintendo bought the copywrite to all the overplayed, elementally-aligned dungeons? I guess itís screwed then.

    This is the brave new innovation? That I move Link around with a plastic pen rather than a d-pad? Thanks, Nintendo, but you can keep it. Perhaps Iíll show more interest when you make good on your promises of Ďsaving gamingí rather than suffer your barely-concealed attempts to rehash it instead.


    EmP's avatar
    Staff review by Gary Hartley (December 01, 2007)

    Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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    board icon
    dagoss posted April 28, 2021:

    I'm playing through Phantom Hourglass for the first time (just before the final boss). I know this review is like 14 years old (oh god), but I'm curious if you stand by some of the things in here?

    I think Windwaker (and to a lesser extent, Phantom Hourglass's) style is really interesting. It got so much hate when it was released ("Cellda") but it's presentation has aged probably better than any other game in the series. While Ocarina and Twilight Princess are kind of ugly by today's standards, Windwaker still looks great. Unfortunately Phantom Hourglass looks like a poor imitation of cell shading.
    board icon
    EmP posted April 29, 2021:

    I think I'd be confident on walking back the anti-Nintendo intro, because who would have ever foreseen their complete attitude switch the, ahem, Switch regeneration period has granted them. I don't think my opinion on Hourglass will have changed much and that probably won't be tested unless I replay the game. Considering I (clearly) abhorred it the first time around, it's pretty unlikely it'll find its way back into my rotation. I appreciate I'm the minority voice in this but, then again, I doubt Hourglass will ever break into anyone's favourite Zelda game's list.

    I wish I had thought up the Cellda pun back when.
    board icon
    dagoss posted April 29, 2021:

    You're definitely not a minority in disliking this game. It seems decisive even today, with most complaints around doing the Temple of the Ocean King over and over.

    Did you play Spirit Tracks? I was really playing this game because I knew I'd never try it if I played Spirit Tracks first.

    I have mixed feelings on this game. I like the controls more than I thought I would. The different uses of the grappling hook were fun. Some stuff, like blowing into the mic, was just annoying though. Some parts of the Temple of the Ocean King were ok as you opened new paths, but there's one part where you have to put these stupid shapes into holes that that really could have used a shortcut to skip instead of doing it every single time.

    Going through that dungeon for the last time and genociding the phantoms was my favorite part.
    board icon
    overdrive posted April 29, 2021:

    All I can say about this game is that when I bought a 3DS, I quickly got Link Between Worlds and the remaster of Ocarina of Time, but after a bit of thought, I decided to not get this game or Spirit Tracks. Hard to put it into words, but something about those two just gave me a "minor league" vibe where I got the impression they were more into making games revolving around the stylus and touch pad than making legit good Zelda games.

    But the main reason I posted here was less about the game itself and more out of the shock that once upon a time, EmP actually did reviews for games in big-name series. A few years of reading reviews for graphic novels, indie games you've never heard of before and so on and it's easy to forget he has actually reviewed a few mainstream games!
    board icon
    EmP posted April 30, 2021:

    Dagoss: I've not played Spirit Tracks. I'm not a big Zelda fan, truth be told. I've played the majority of the main releases and the only one I've enjoyed enough to replay has been Link's Awakening. I think it was because LA was a kooky spin off project that I loved that I gave Hourglass a chance in the first place. It didn't end well for me.

    OD: I'll show you -- by reviewing a game that has no other reviews for it across the whole of the Internet! Though, to be fair, I did review DiRT 5 earlier this year. That's pretty mainstream!
    board icon
    honestgamer posted April 30, 2021:

    Emp with the dirt on mainstream game reviewing...

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