Release Date: 19 October 2007
Platform: Nintendo DS
While I know that those of you in the North are starting to gear up for a rather bleak and miserable winter, those of us down here in the Southern Hemisphere are just starting to get re-acquainted with the sun. As Mother Nature awakens from her beauty rest I felt that I needed to bring some of that Springtime glory to my gaming, and nothing says ‘Spring’ quite like an inundated world awash with monsters.
I was so excited to play this game, primarily because it took so much bloody effort to get my hands on a copy. I remember a few years back when you could pick this up at any electronics shop for about R100 (about $7.34 or £4.80 at the moment). Now that I’m in the swing of the Legend of Zelda series I thought that there had to be a copy of it lying around somewhere in South Africa, but apparently not. On the upside the experience taught me how easy it is to buy things off eBay, and here at A World of Weird we really are all about educating people and learning through experience.
Phantom Hourglass picks up right after the events of The Wind Waker, with Link and Tetra having left the Great Sea and the flooded Hyrule in search of a new land to call their own. As they’re peacefully sailing along they come across the Ghost Ship, which Tetra goes into and has her life force completely drained. Link tries to save her but falls into the ocean instead, waking up a bit later up on a little island with no idea of where he is or what happened to Tetra.
On the island Link meets Ciela, a fairy, and Oshus, Ciela’s adoptive grandfather, who explains that the Ghost Ship is essentially a proxy for another greater evil that lurks across the sea. Ciela and Oshus offer to help Link find the Ghost Ship, defeat the evil that powers it, and reunite him with Tetra. To do this Link will need the help of Captain Linebeck, a sniveling little man with a penchant for easily gained treasure.
In order to defeat the evil that lurks behind the Ghost Ship Link will need to find the Spirits of Wisdom, Courage and Power and forge a sword powerful enough to vanquish the evil that stalks the inhabitants of the various islands. He will also need to make various trips into the Temple of the Ocean King, a once vibrant place now overcome by evil that saps the very life force of anyone who dares to enter it without the protection of the Sands of Hours and the Phantom Hourglass. In the very bowels of the Temple lurks the evil that has drained the power from the Ocean King, and it is only by vanquishing this evil and returning the Ocean King to his Temple that the seas will ever know peace.
Prepare to set out on Link’s most pointy adventure yet!
I’m not a whore for graphics, but in this instance I feel that they warrant a bit of a warning. When the DS came out in 2004 it wasn’t the strongest little machine out there. Flash forward 11 years and play the game on a New Nintendo 3DS XL and you certainly aren’t helping matters. The textures are blurry and Link’s so pointy he could cut someone by simply touching them. For the most part you play the game from a top-down perspective, which is perfectly serviceable, but Phantom Hourglass truly does begin to show its age when it occasionally switches to a 3D perspective or when it plays cinematics using the in-game engine.
When I heard that the game is played using the touch screen, my first thought was “surely not everything?”. My thought was wrong. Barring a few item and menu shortcuts that are mapped to the face buttons, literally everything else is done on the touch screen. Moving, attacking, steering a boat, shooting cannons, boomeranging birds – all touch screen.
All of this makes it sound like I didn’t have any fun with the game, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. The touch controls, for the most part, actually work remarkably well. Difficulty has been toned down to make allowance for the fact that the control input is now a lot simpler, but this gives way to a far more analytical type of puzzle solving. This is particularly true of the Temple of the Ocean King, which needs to be revisited several times in order to advance through the game. The Phantom Hourglass only has so much sand, giving you limited time to make it from level to level and forcing you to plan your route very carefully. Throw in the Phantoms, virtually indestructible enemies that stalk the corridors of the Temple and who not only deal enormous damage but who can also steal some of your already limited time, and you’re gonna spend a fair bit of your game time standing in a safe spot trying to map out the way forward. This might not be to everyone’s taste, but for me it’s actually the type of thing that my mind reacts best to and that I can really chew over. The ability to make notes on the different maps (be it of the ocean, the island, or the dungeon you currently find yourself in) was also incredibly useful, and something that I would love to see carried over into future games in the series.
Even the graphics in all their blurry, pointy glory are charming in their own way and help to carry The Wind Waker‘s appeal over into this handheld outing.
Given the limitations of the hardware and its non-conforming control method, it’s remarkable that this game manages to capture that sense of adventure and wonder that I so enjoyed in its predecessor. It feels like a quest, and the characters that you meet along the way are all oddly endearing so you want to help them out.
Phantom Hourglass is a game designed specifically to take advantage of everything the DS brought to the table when it launched. As some of that novelty has worn off, so too has some of Phantom Hourglass‘ appeal. It isn’t a game for the ages, but for what it set out to do it’s a remarkable little title and a worthy sequel to The Wind Waker.
My Final Rating: 7 / 10
Buy The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass at Amazon.com