The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass Review
OK, I gave Twilight Princess a chance. I didn't like the control scheme much, sure, but the game was still pretty fun. I figured that some of the fans upset with Nintendo for forcing in motion controls would be enough to convince them that using a system's gimmick for a Zelda game wasn't a good idea. I hoped and I prayed when I heard the news of Phantom Hourglass that it would at least have a D-pad control option with the neat little touches like the boomerang path drawing. Well, I did get half of that wish.
I'll start this off with my biggest, and to be honest, only real beef with the game – the controls. Now, I had picked up the DS on release and expected some games to come out with horribly forced stylus-based controls. Whenever a new gimmick hits for any system, a few games just have to overuse that gimmick. While there are often one or two memorable games, most are just, well, piles of crap that you toss aside at the first possible chance. However, I didn't expect a game released nearly 3 years into the system's lifespan to be so heavily focused on the stylus gimmick.
Now, don't get me wrong – the controls here aren't as bad, in my mind, as they were when I played Twilight Princess on the Wii. They are pretty responsive and, for what they are, work decently. The spin slash is pretty easy to perform, for example. However, using the stylus to move is, more often than not, an exercise in frustration. Even with practice, it is hard to be precise in where you want to move, be it for running around the map or trying to fight. Sure, some of the things that the touchscreen brings like boomerang tossing and ship path charting are nice additions, forcing movement to also be stylus controlled was a bad idea. The biggest reason? You also have attacks mapped to the stylus control. There'll be times when you want to attack but move instead or the other way around. Not to mention, you're probably going to have to pull the stylus off the screen to attack enemies – you wouldn't take your hands off movement controls in any other game, would you? Sure, you can try to slash on the screen without moving the stylus off of it, but thats going to be pretty hard to pull off with precision. While Link did stop in other Zelda games to swing, you still had one thumb on the movement controls – you could react faster and didn't have to worry about the stylus being in the wrong place after an attack. I've played numerous games on the DS that allowed you to control some things with the D-pad and others with the stylus. With how light the system is, it is not hard at all to accomplish this.
But enough on the bad – there is a lot of good to be had here too. First of all, Phantom Hourglass returns to the graphical style of Wind Waker. Sure, that game polarized fans of the series because of the style, but it ended up being appreciated more and more as time went on. Well, seeing the style appear on the DS is interesting, to say the least. While Wind Waker was a GameCube game, the DS does a solid job of emulating the style with lesser hardware. The game runs smoothly, is just as colorful, and the characters have just as much, well, character as they did in Wind Waker.
Even more so of a nod to Wind Waker are the ship sequences. These too were a sticking point for Zelda fans when they appeared in Wind Waker – most of the fans really didn't like them. Well, enter one of the biggest pluses for the stylus control system. Instead of piloting your ship around by controlling the wind and all that jazz, now you plot your course on the map. Then your ship just goes. You can even add on to the ship with a ton of different components you'll find throughout the game. Sailing is definitely more fun this time around.
All in all, the single player quest is fun, but short compared to Zelda standards. You're definitely going to beat this one faster than you have almost any other Zelda game. That really isn't as bad as it may seem, though – there are multiple side quests to do that can keep you occupied, if you so desire. However, there's one addition that is much bigger than these side quests and, once you get used to it, a really entertaining one. Phantom Hourglass has multiplayer.
This isn't a multiplayer game in the Four Swords sense, mind you. You can play it single cart or online, the latter of which has a record tracking method. It plays pretty easily – one player controls Link while the other controls three baddies. The Link player has to run around the map while avoiding baddies and collecting Triforce pieces. The bad guy player, on the other hand, draws paths for each of the phantoms to run in. You can change the path as they run if you like. Your goal is simply to touch Link to end the round. If he collects bigger Triforce pieces, he'll be easier to catch. Strategy can go a long way in this mode and, oddly enough, I thought it was as fun as, if not more so, than the main campaign. It was unique and made pretty good use of the stylus.
Overall, Phantom Hourglass is a pretty good game. While the controls do prove to be an issue, it succeeds in other areas, and does so with flair. The graphics are some of the best I've seen on the DS to date, some of the stylus specific stuff is nice (ship sailing and boomerang tossing, primarily) and the multiplayer is a blast. While it would have been nice to have some D-Pad control in Phantom Hourglass, the controls weren't such a train wreck that I couldn't enjoy the whole package. If you're a fan of the series, you should definitely pick this up. Heck, if you're one of the types that got a DS for Brain Age or some such, you might even enjoy this more than I did – you don't have years upon years of d-pad style controls ingrained into your gaming skull.