"As each Zelda game releases there seems to be a celebration among gamers. Iím not a person to miss a Zelda game and I went through a roundabout way of playing this game. I bought the game despite I didnít have a working DS. After asking some buddies from afar to send me their DSís I managed to acquire one. A Link to the Past is my all-time favorite game in the series while Wind Waker is probably my favorite 3D adventure. When I first saw the trailer to Phantom Hourglass with Wind Waker visua..."
As each Zelda game releases there seems to be a celebration among gamers. Iím not a person to miss a Zelda game and I went through a roundabout way of playing this game. I bought the game despite I didnít have a working DS. After asking some buddies from afar to send me their DSís I managed to acquire one. A Link to the Past is my all-time favorite game in the series while Wind Waker is probably my favorite 3D adventure. When I first saw the trailer to Phantom Hourglass with Wind Waker visuals I was ecstatic to return to Linkís cel-shaded world.
Phantom Hourglass starts off with our green-clad hero, Link, sailing with his friend, Tetra, whom we learned is actually Princess Zelda from Wind Waker and from the introduction segment of the game. They along with Tetraís pirate crew on their ship and everything seems to be going well until an ominous ship appears before them. This ship is none other than the Ghost Ship and Tetra is anxious to find the treasure aboard it. The ship begins to sail away and Link attempts to hop aboard but slips away and drifts far into the ocean. Link awakens on a strange island where a fairy named Ciela informs him about the Ocean King who protects the seas. Link now sets off to restore the power of the Ocean King and save Tetra.
While the storyline is virtually no different from the other games in the series, the gameplay is definitely what makes this entry shine. Sure, Twilight Princess for the Wii gave us some insight as to new ways to play Zelda by waving the Wiimote and aiming and shooting, the DS gives us even more ways to play. Virtually everything in Phantom Hourglass is done with the touch screen. Dragging the stylus in the direction you want moves Link, tap enemies to attack, quickly sliding the stylus over enemies creates a horizontal slash, and drawing a circle around Link causes him to use his spin attack. Familiar weapons from Zelda games make a reappearance but they have an updated method of use. You must draw a path for the boomerang and Bombchus, the latter being less cumbersome to control than they were in the past.
Drawing paths is also the method of travel on the ship Link travels on. After convincing the ship captain, Linebeck, to take him along, Link continues his island-hopping adventures from Wind Waker, except itís a steam-powered ship so wind is no longer a factor. Once your course is set you just have to avoid any obstacles and shoot down foes who may try to sink your ship. Aside from sailing and fighting, there are a couple of other things to do over the seas. When you see a fish icon on the map, you can fish and add your catches to your collection. Note that fishing will definitely scratch up your touch screen because of constant circling and stroking motions you make. Scavenging items from the sea floor also makes a return from Wind Waker, but now itís a mini-game on itself. You must use the stylus to guide the scavenge arm below and use it to avoid exploding mines and other obstacles that can otherwise damage and ultimately destroy your scavenge arm.
The treasures you pull up from the seafloor are all parts to Linebeckís ship and add to one of the gameís many collection sidequests. If you collect and equip ship parts that are of the same set, the stamina for your ship increases and you can exchange parts with other people using Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. Online play is also part of the battle mode included in the game. Basically itís a one-on-one capture the flag style game with the Triforce, and of course there is local wireless multiplayer for those with friends. In addition to ship parts and online multiplayer, you can also collect heart containers and spirit gems which each yield more life and special abilities respectively.
Probably the best thing about Phantom Hourglass is all the DS-based puzzles throughout the game. These puzzles literally use every single feature of the DS. You have to blow into the microphone to blow off some dust on a sea chart, or yell into the microphone in order to get a discount on an item. In addition, you can take notes on your map such as marking where treasure is, or if you need to remember the order to hit a group of switches in. Some puzzles also require you to draw a symbol in order to advance. What is possibly the best puzzle ever is when the game requires you to use the DSís sleep mode feature in order to press down a crest onto your sea chart.
However there are some puzzles that get annoying over time, or rather the fact that you have to do them over and over again. This is what brings us to the biggest flaw of Phantom Hourglass, which ironically, is also the title item. Each time you complete a dungeon you have to go back to the Temple of the Ocean King to find out where you need to go to next. What sucks about this place is not only do you have to redo all of the puzzles youíve done from previous adventures, but itís also covered in dangerous fog that depletes your life while youíre in it. Fortunately, there are safe zones to protect you from the fog but they wonít be enough and so youíre given an ancient relic known as the Phantom Hourglass. The Phantom Hourglass protects from the fog but the sand in it will deplete while youíre traveling through the temple and you get more for each boss you defeat. Patrolling the temple there are guards known as Phantoms who will deplete your sand by 30 seconds if they hit you, which is pretty big when you consider that you donít have much to work with anyway. The Phantoms are invulnerable to your attacks until the very end of the game so youíre pretty much forced into a stealth scenario while trying to finish your tasks in this hellish place quickly. Now normally I wouldnít mind this place, but the fact that I have to do everything all over again roughly seven or eight times is not my idea of fun. Sure, thereís a midway point to skip the first half of the temple, but it records how long it took you to get there. So if it took you like ten minutes to get there and you have like two minutes left youíre pretty much screwed.
Content issues aside, the visuals for the game are fantastic. As mentioned before, Phantom Hourglass utilizes the cel-shaded style of art that Wind Waker used which gives the characters a cartoony appearance. Iím personally a fan of this style and I actually prefer it over the more realistic look in other Zelda games. Link looks a little more deformed on the DS than he did on the GameCube and his hands are more or less circles without any fingers. The game also uses a top-down perspective that older Zelda games used and so the camera is above you rather than behind you. In general, this game offers some of the best of the DSís graphical capabilities.
Seeing as the graphics from Wind Waker transitioned to Phantom Hourglass, one would think that the epic score would too, which would be partially true. The ocean theme from Wind Waker gets somewhat of a bastardized treatment in this entry. You can kinda hear hints of it when you are sailing but it doesnít have that same effect that it did in Wind Waker. The battle theme and fairy theme from Wind Waker are there as well as the Goron City theme from Ocarina of Time are also included but thatís about it in terms of returning themes. The original tracks are somewhat memorable but theyíll never live up the Windfall Island and Dragon Roost Island themes from Wind Waker. As with other Zelda games, we get all the grunts and ďhiyaaa!Ē noises from Link as he attacks and Navi the fairyís voice from Ocarina of Time makes an unfortunate return in this entry as well.
If youíre willing to ignore/endure the burden of retracing your steps through the Temple of the Ocean King then the game is actually pretty good, itís just that major part in the game negatively impacts it as a whole. The game is around 15-20 hours long in length and while it may get lost in the wave of upcoming games for the holiday season, itís definitely one of the finest releases for the DS this year.
Community review by Ness (December 21, 2007)
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