The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1
Words By:

Innovation is a brilliant thing. It improves things that have become tired and well worn and inspires others to try harder. But it often takes time, another try or even someone completely different to take those innovations and to implement them perfectly in a better game.

For me, the now ancient Zelda: Link to the Past is the greatest game I have played in the series, even more so than Ocarina of Time. It had the best tunes, the best atmosphere and was the most addictive to play but without sticking points or running out of ideas. And itís that kind of game, with that kind of depth and playability that should be being made in fresh form for the DS, but with the quirky abilities of stylus and microphone added seamlessly. So does The Phantom Hourglass achieve that?

From the off everything is familiar and I almost instinctively knew how the game was going to be played. I scribbled this down on a piece of paper before I even loaded the game - ĎIt will involve talking to quirky characters, finding a sword and then retrieving something from a dungeon to help further your quest. The main story will probably involve rescuing a princess from some evil tyrant too.í

Itís tried and tested stuff in every incarnation of Zelda and it was never going to change here, although I have asked myself constantly - why not, Nintendo? On the other hand this latest hand held incarnation takes the more naÔve cartoon graphical style of The Wind Waker, as well as the idea of sailing and island hopping and adds a significant dose of DS novelty to it. This novelty being that you almost totally control Link with your stylus. You lead him around the screen with it. You slash with your sword by cutting or circling the screen with it. You pick things up and even pull levers with it. For the first couple of hours of play itís a completely intuitive and brilliant thing that fits seamlessly as you are introduced to ever more novel abilities. Want to throw a boomerang? Well, just draw its flight path and off it goes, flicking switches for you or retrieving items that you cannot reach.

And those traditional Nintendo production values and design elements seduce you even further. The dungeons and landscapes look nice and sailing across the sea is fun with the use of a pen and a sea chart to plot your course. Writing notes on your map so you donít forget the location of treasure is simple genius for a muddled old fart like me, so much so that I continually wrote a memo in the top left hand corner saying - this is a brilliant game remember, give it a fabbo score. Indeed, it is one of the best adventure games on the DS and I can heartily recommend it. But itís not perfect, and for all its control innovation itís not quite brilliant. This is something that I came to realise after prolonged play and all the introductory delight had settled down.

For a start, moving link about solely with the stylus isnít actually all that intuitive when it really matters. And as the game gets tougher and requires more speed and response it becomes a messy chore that aches the wrist and fingers and causes mistakes. When this is combined with some strange game design decisions such as adding time limits, level restarts and invincible guards who you have to avoid constantly the game becomes a downright pain, leaving you no other choice but to shut the DS up and attack it later when your blood pressure has settled down.

This would be less of a problem if the general game world was one of wonder and brilliance so that it sucked you in and motivated you to overcome challenges in your gaming sessions. Initially it seems that way and often returns with some great moments but there is too much repetition here. Often you have to return to the temple of the Ocean King and must trawl through the same dungeons and against time limits. Indeed the whole game world seems somewhat sparse and lacking. Islands and settlements are small and unpopulated with little to differentiate them for atmospheric and exploration purposes. I was disappointed at the sense of wonder and lack of roaming exploration that a sailing game should be able to provide.

With all of this said, Zelda fans wonít be too disappointed as the core mechanics are here in the dungeon crawling and countless clever things like blowing out torches via the microphone will always add an element of fun and delight to new players. But this game could and should have been much more. One feels that Nintendo took the guise of an over enthusiastic interior designer and slapped all manner of budget, flair and ideas on the lounge whilst forgetting about the important needs of the whole house.

Best Bits

- Innovative use of the stylus and DS hardware
- Some of the nicest 3D graphics on the system
- The usual Zelda characters, mechanics and style that you know and love
- The boomerang is brilliant fun
- Useful map marking function
Worst Bits

- Constant use of the stylus does become irritating during long play
- Repetetive locations and dungeons
- Small scale islands and game world
- A strange lack of atmosphere and exploring freedom

by: 4thy

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