reviewed on NDS
Mastering the Stylus
When looking for a great quality game on a Nintendo console, thoughts almost immediately turn to the Zelda franchise; and with good reason. For more than twenty years, you could always count on Zelda games to deliver an excellent adventuring experience with tight controls and some great head-scratching puzzles.
What really sets Phantom Hourglass apart from prior games in the series is the method of control. Phantom Hourglass is almost entirely controlled with the stylus. While there may be the odd puzzle that requires you to blow/shout into the mic, and some commands are mapped to the D-Pad for easy access, the game is a touch-only one. Fortunately, the touch-screen controls work phenomenally.
Let’s start with the basics: Link is controlled by holding the stylus down in the direction you want him to move. Rolls are performed by scribbling small circles on the edge of the screen. Once you obtain the sword, enemies can be attacked by simply tapping them and then moving your stylus up and down in a slashing motion. Combat in Phantom Hourglass may seem a bit shallower and easier because of this. And really, it is. But it is accepted, or at least overlooked, when compared to some of the game’s more promising controls, like the item usage. This absolutely rocks. Every item in the game has been given a really cool touch-screen function; for example, you can now draw the paths for the Boomerang and the Bomchus, which completely changes the way the game is played. Other items have less awe-inspiring uses, but they still feel loads better to use than if they were mapped to buttons, as per Zelda tradition.
But by far the coolest use of the touch screen is the ability to draw on your map; a feature other DS adventure games need to make note of (no pun intended). This leads to some excellent puzzles that require you to find a certain path, make note of it, and follow it so you don’t fall to your certain death. You may have to find the order to pull switches, or remember a symbol for a later point in the game. The map is also incredibly easy to use; one tap of the down button (or B button if you’re a lefty) will bring it up and let you doodle to your heart’s content.
The touch-only controls do take away a lot of the game’s difficulty, in return for a more casual, user friendly interface. This will be evident to all longtime fans; dungeons are shorter, combat is simpler, and the backtracking has been greatly lessened. While some people may shudder at this prospect, others will rejoice; it all depends on your personal tastes. I’ve never really been a fan of grinding so I can accept the simpler design of Phantom Hourglass.
Dungeons, Puzzles and Bosses
The best part of Phantom Hourglass, however, is the great dungeon design. There are eight dungeons total in the game (one which you must revisit constantly); each with their own theme, and all containing some of the best Zelda puzzles in recent memory. A favorite for mine is the Goron Temple, where you and a young Goron who was captured work in tandem to help each other’s progress. While it’s not the first time we’ve played as a Goron in a Zelda game (see Majora’s Mask), it definitely is the best; the co-op puzzles are simply phenomenal. Another brilliantly constructed temple takes place in the ruins of the Cobble Kingdom, where Link faces numerous Indiana Jones-esque traps and progresses by changing the water level.
The best dungeon of all though, is the Temple of the Ocean King, the soul-sucking temple on Mercay Island that holds numerous clues and maps to help you find the next dungeon. Early on in the game, Link gets a hold of the magical Phantom Hourglass, a device that will keep the temple’s curse at bay as long as there is sand in the top.
No Pros and Cons at this time