The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass – Review

Don’t I spoil you, dear Zelda fans? Don’t worry, I have only one more Zelda review lurking in my archives after this one, and I might not post it. It’s a piece I wrote about the GBA port of A Link to the Past and is concerned much more with the port than the game itself. I know I’ve been swamping you with Zelda reviews over the last few days, but I’m really trying to get my old dooyoo reviews here where they belong. This is a review for one of my all time favourite Zelda, Phantom Hourglass on the DS. A divisive title, to be sure, and overshadowed by recent successes like Nintendo’s 3DS ports, and A Link Between Worlds. Still, I liked it then, and I like it now. Read on, dear Zelda fan, and let me know what you think. 

Zelda Phantom HourglassThe Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is the first game in the Zelda series to see a release on the Nintendo DS. As such it has a lot to prove, not only in proving that the DS is capable of adapting to the series’ varied gameplay but also demonstrating that the massive and lengthy stories that the series is famous for can be squeezed into one of those tiny little cartridges. It rises to both these challenges superbly.

Firstly, Phantom Hourglass is a little unusual in the series in that it follows on directly from a previous game. Most entries in the series take regular components, the hero Link, the Princess Zelda and the villain Ganon and then place them in a totally self-contained story. This time around we pick up not long after the conclusion of the last home console entry in the series, The Wind Waker. Fortunately the game does not depend on too much back story but for players of The Wind Waker it’s nice to find yourself in a familiar world.

The game begins upon a pirate ship populated by some of the most cheerful pirates I’ve ever seen. You play Link, a young boy this time around, a member of the ship’s crew under Princess Zelda who has taken to playing captain. While the whole set up will probably make more sense to players of the previous game it doesn’t matter too much as thirty seconds in the jolly pirate ship runs afoul of the ghost ship. A fog clouds the entire vessel and Zelda is abducted. Link being the hero that he is, dives overboard in pursuit only to get caught in the current and wash up on a strange beach. And so it is that all is washed away and we embark upon a new adventure.

Link soon becomes acquainted with a fairy, a wise old man, a sea captain and a fortune teller. Between them all they piece together enough clues about the ghost ship and set sail. Players of The Wind Waker will remember sailing from island to island in their personal yacht. This time around Link has access to a small paddle steamer and so things move a fair bit faster.

The first thing you’ll probably notice about this game is that it has some of the most beautiful graphics ever seen on a DS game. When The Wind Waker was released on the gamecube, a surprising uproar erupted from Zelda fandom about the graphics. The Wind Waker demonstrated a very well designed example of cell shading at a time when games didn’t dare to be different. The visuals were very stylised, bright and colourful with a hint of ancient chinese art about them. Character designs were very exaggerated, water was a mix of pure blue and pure white, great explosions blew out in a flurry on inky spirals.

It remains one of the most beautiful games I have ever played. Apparently some of these “fans” however, had been operating under the delusion that Zelda was and ever should be an ultra realistic, gritty fantasy series with polygon perfect characters. While that doesn’t match any Zelda game I’ve ever seen, this corner of fandom was particularly vocal and objected strongly to the direction The Wind Waker had taken. Shigeru Miyamoto, the game’s designer was a little hurt, I believe and when the next major Zelda title arrived we were presented with a dark and gothic tale set in an ultra realistic, fantasy world. It was a great game but really only a fraction as innovative and as fun as The Wind Waker.

All is not lost however and The Wind Waker’s visual style has been kept for Zelda’s handheld titles, where gamers don’t seem to take themselves too seriously. Phantom Hourglass benefits so much from the heritage of The Wind Waker, it’s hard to imagine the game being possible without it. The diminutive child version of link makes a perfect little hero to guide around the world and while the power of the DS pales in comparison to the Gamecube, a more stylised more is far better suited to its hardware. Textures here are the biggest weakness with most being blocky and rough, however the whole game is assembled beautiful and I was overjoyed to see that explosions still blow out into inky spirals. I think Phantom Hourglass is probably the best looking DS title that I own, while it doesn’t push the hardware as much as some it always presents a consistent image that suits the game. In the end it is games such as these that we remember.

The game also makes use of the entire DS capabilities, often in very clever ways. Controlling Link is done via the touch screen however, unlike Super Mario 64 which expected you to use the touch screen like an analogue stick, here you merely touch the stylus to the screen and Link will run to that point. The stylus must be held down allowing Link to follow but unlike other titles you aren’t require to push forward; it’s much handier. Links typical range of sword attacks are all here and made highly intuitive. Simple quick attacks are done by tapping the screen while more complicated attacks are done through a series of swipes. The spin attack is probably easiest and just asks you to draw a quick circle around Link. It’s quick and easy to do, most players will probably get to grips with it in minutes. Phantom Hourglass also makes use of the microphone, though only for a few specific events. As they’re part of some very entertaining puzzles, I won’t spoil them here, I’ll just say it’s nice to see developers using this feature.

While the gameplay is strong, I was a little disappointed int the storytelling which seems to have taken a step backwards this time around. Ostensibly the game places its emphasis on exploration but this is far too easy to be truly diverting. The game doesn’t feature a wide range of other characters and those that are around often aren’t that interesting. he game also doesn’t last as long as I’ve come to expect from a Zelda title. The story can be worked through in a good few days and the ocean has somehow shrunk since The Wind Waker. However, it is playing the role of an epilogue more than a completely new adventure so perhaps that’s intentional.

There’s a lot of really solid gameplay to be found here and peeks of a really solid game hiding beneath the surface. The dungeon segments have the added twist of a time element that makes them somewhat more interesting than usual and I often felt like this could have been a classic with perhaps a better story. There’s a lot to love including a fantastic visual style and a control scheme that’s a dream on the DS but I was left wishing the visuals were all they’d taken from The Wind Waker. The game feels more tied down by the ocean setting than liberated and as much of the vast world has been cut out it seems somewhat pointless. I keep finding myself drifting off to a world where I was playing with exactly the same engine but a whole new story. Perhaps next time, eh?

If you’re considering buying Phantom Hourglass, don’t let this review put you off. It’s a first rate game that not only looks stunning but is fun and compelling. However, if you’re coming over from other entries in the series then I would advise you to think of it more as a short trip than a whole new world to fall into.

This is available at most game stores and online for around £20, it will run in any Nintendo DS console.

The Legend of Zelda – The Wind Waker – Review

Hey guys, this is another review carried across from my old DooYoo account. I believe this is the last of my Zelda reviews, but I like to save the best ’til last. This was written before Wind Waker HD hit WiiU.

Zelda WWNintendo’s Legend of Zelda series is easily one of the most well designed and superbly executed series of games around. They are, to me, the definitive adventure, puzzle and RPG titles; offering superb gameplay and excellent characterisation that has something for everyone. While the gameplay style is fairly consistent from game to game, we rarely see more than one or two titles a generation and so it doesn’t get old as you’d think. Often, playing a new Zelda title is more like slipping into an familiar old jumper. I suppose what I’m saying is that if you’ve played a Zelda game before, you know what to expect. Usually, excellence. While the series has branched out a bit in recent years with sequels and side stories on the DS, Nintendo’s home console is always the place for the main adventure, the significant chapters that contribute most to the overall story. This is definitely one of those chapters.

The Wind Waker was the first Zelda title released for the Gamecube and presented a major change in direction from its predecessors, Ocarina of Time and its direct sequel Majora’s Mask. From the start Nintendo seem intent to push the series into new ground, the influence of Ocarina of Time is never far off however. As the game opens, we are informed that many centuries have passed since the Hero of Time defeated the evil Ganon and sealed him away in a magical prison; referencing the events of Ocarina. Since then, the world has changed a great deal and thanks to a great catastrophe, much of it is underwater. Here we find Link on his tenth birthday, he and his family live on a small island surrounded by a vast ocean. To mark the special day, he is given an outfit resembling Link’s usual green gear, complete with his famous pointed hat. Young Link isn’t too impressed with this dorky getup but his grandmother politely reminds him that all boys are dressed like the famous hero on their tenth birthday, it’s tradition. Trouble soon erupts on the island as Link’s sister is abducted by a giant bird, rumours that other young girls have been snatched leads Link out into the wide ocean to save the day. Along the way, he strikes up a friendship with a talking boat, visits the flooded land below and even faces off against an ancient enemy. It’s a vast world to explore and the story is great; a good foundation for any Zelda game.

The Wind Waker distinguishes itself from other entries in the series somewhat with its distinct style. The most obvious element of this is the unique artistic direction taken with the visuals. Unlike the more realistic Ocarina of Time, Nintendo developed Wind Waker to resemble a living cartoon. Using early but excellent cel-shading techniques they have created a game in which the very environments seem to have been formed up out of acrylic paint. It’s very effectively done and is probably one of the most beautiful games ever made. Stylised art also dates far more favourably than realism in the video game world and so Wind Waker is still easily one of the best looking games around.

Wind Waker SailingThis visual approach suits the games back to basic approach very well. We are following a Link that is very young, similarly to earlier titles such as A Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening. While the game inherits the stronger puzzle elements of Ocarina of Time, it really strives to play on different sides of the series’ heritage. It’s an approach that works very well, creating a Zelda story that is more accessible for younger players while still being deep and challenging.

Unfortunately, Zelda is a long running and very successful series which leaves it contending with its own fans. The Wind Waker suffered from a great deal f criticism from these fans before it even saw release. Despite a history of varying styles, Wind Waker’s more stylised graphics and colourful story were attacked as selling out. Nothing could be further from the truth, this game is absolutely excellent throughout and produced with a real caring hand. Still, it performs the biggest crime in the eyes of fandom, it attempts to be different.

While Zelda titles released on the Gamecube and Wii since have reverted back to the style of the Nintendo 64 games, it’s nice to see that Wind Waker’s influence is carried on in a series of titles for the Nintendo DS. These offer a lot of new gameplay ideas but maintain the cel shaded style that suits the system very well.

If you’re a newcomer to the Zelda series or just missed this one the first time around, The Wind Waker is an easy one to recommend. It’s as long lasting and intelligent as other entries in the series but has a nice feel to it that sets it apart. It’s easily one of the best home console versions and much better than Twilight Princess a few years ago.

This title will also play on a Nintendo Wii, however it will require a Gamecube controller to play. It is, unfortunately, a little hard to get a hold of and will set you back around £15. It’s as good as any new title though and well worth the investment.