October 15, 2016

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (2007)

Following the adventures played out in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Link and Tetra come across a ghost ship on the open ocean. Tetra boards the ship, which then vanishes. Link attempts to leap onto the ship at the last minute but fails; he wakes on an island and must begin the quest to track the ghost ship down and rescue Tetra.

The Phantom Hourglass is the fourteenth in Nintendo's long-running franchise of The Legend of Zelda videogames, and the first produced for their Nintendo DS handheld console. In broad terms it replicates the traditional story and gameplay of the Zelda franchise: Zelda (in this case a reincarnation named Tetra) has been kidnapped, and a young boy in green named Link must travel a fantasy kingdom and progress through a series of dungeons in order to rescue her.

There are two striking elements to The Phantom Hourglass that really separate it from the other Zelda games. The first is that it is a much more simple version of the game. The challenges are fewer, and the dungeons are not only shorter but much more forgiving. The release of both the DS and the Wii consoles led Nintendo into a period where the company's focus was much more on attracting new casual gamers than in entertaining the hardcore, and the decreased difficulty in The Phantom Hourglass reflects a certain amount of hand-holding for new players. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach, but it does leave the game as perhaps a little underwhelming to the more long-term fans.

The other attention-grabbing aspect is the extent to which the game forgoes traditional videogame controls in favour of using the touch screen and stylus. You do not control Link by pressing on the control pad but by touching in the relevant direction on the touch screen. Want to open a door? Touch the door. Want to hit a monster with your sword? Either swipe in a slashing motion or touch a monster to stab it. It all makes Link a little difficult to control - something that becomes incredibly frustrating when attempting precise movements in key parts of the game. I assume it's intended to showcase the potential of a touch screen, but it actually had the opposite effect. Other parts of the game involve breathing, talking and even shouting into the DS microphone. It is inventive, and often times rather cute, but it does make you look rather foolish on public transport.

The new ideas are very hit and miss in The Phantom Hourglass, and while the game still boasts much of the popular gameplay of earlier Zelda titles it actually feels a little rote and worn-out. It is definitely a good game, but when it comes to Zelda good often is not enough. We expect these games to be great.

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