This Zelda game has been one I’ve avoided mostly due to what I read about it when it came out five years ago. Another reason is that I never owned a Nintendo DS. Now, with the possession of a 3DS (which can play DS games), it is time to try it out and see how it fares.
The Wind Waker’s heir
Like most Zelda games the main plot in the game is to find Zelda (called Tetra in this game and Wind Waker). Following Wind Waker’s type of game world, a substantial part of this game takes place on water, although (fortunately!) not as much as in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker which main problem was the large ocean and hence big part that required you to sail around, sometimes many minutes to get somewhere. In this game you don’t have to sail “manually”, you just draw your wanted route on the sea chart and then the boat will sail by itself to the wanted destination. This is the best use of the stylus from my perspective!
At sea there are some mini games you can play (some are required to play though most you can skip). The two main ones I have found is fishing and treasure hunting. Fishing includes throwing the line and the bait, then waiting for the fish to come and when you get it hooked, you have to reel it back. All this is done mainly with the stylus; it is quite hard and I have only managed to catch a very small fish. Treasure hunting is a bit easier, but involves more risk. Along your adventure you will find many treasure maps which point to (possible) treasures waiting at the bottom of the sea. When you reach a place above a treasure, a salvage arm is lowered. You have to steer it, trying to avoid static and moving mines. If you take more than a few hits you lose and have to get your equipment repaired.
What scared me of five years ago was the fact that the input was supposed to be almost entirely based on the stylus (the pen/stick that you point on the touch sensitive lower screen of the (3)DS). I am not against new controls or new styles of playing, but discarding all kinds of game styles that have worked so well before in favor of a new “fad” is not the way to go. Anyway, this is what Nintendo did in this game. Almost all movement or interaction is done with the stylus; for some parts it works very well but for others it does not work as fluently as you would like controls to do.
The main annoyance is that ALL walking has to be done with the stylus; this means you have to push the stylus against the touch screen all the time, if you want to keep moving. I don’t understand why they had to change the much loved movement input from the D-pad to the stylus but I guess it was a way of selling more DS consoles and trying to get the players used to the stylus. One of the bad things with having to move with the stylus (except the constant pointing at the screen) is that the screen is always partly covered with your hand holding the stylus or the stylus itself.
Innovative and, at times, embarrassing input
Most of the times the stylus does work very well, for example when moving the boat you draw a wanted way on the sea chart, which will then be sailed on. Sailing is the only time when you don’t have to have the stylus pushed against the screen to be moving; the boat sails along your drawn route as long as nothing blocks its way. At sea enemies can attack you; these enemies you have to blast with your cannon (by tapping on the screen); obstacles can also appear which you have to jump (!) over, to do this you tap a jump action on the screen.
At times these new inputs can be almost too much, putting you in embarrassing situations (of course, depending on where you are located when playing). You can read more about it in this post, but in short some passages in the game require you to blow air into the microphone or shouting as loud as you can (the louder the lower price of an item) into the microphone. I wish these parts of the game had alternative solutions. At other times these innovative inputs are quite funny (and hard) to discover; such as when you need to press your map against a tablet on a wall to copy its information. This is solved by having the map on one screen, the tablet on the other screen and then closing the 3DS’ screens together; this results in that the information from the tablet is copied to your map. You can also draw and write on the map to leave hints for yourself or mark different paths to help you solve some of the many quests-in-quests that the game is filled with.
As mentioned earlier the game world is sea based, but there are of course islands where most of the game takes place. The main quest is to find a Ghost Ship which has captured Tetra; this is done through sailing around to different locations, finding help and advice and many useful items. The layout of the world is very familiar for anyone who has played a Zelda game before; it is very green, there are trees to roll into to look for small treasures and most enemies are quite easy to beat; most challenges lie in finding the correct way to go or how to solve all the puzzles. A small annoyance is that you are required to go back to the same temple many times; although you are differently equipped every time you come there it is still not too exciting to enter the same “old” temple over and over again.
In contrast to some of the Zelda games on the “bigger” consoles, most handheld Zelda games are quite un-bloody and not too frightening and that includes Phantom Hourglass. I played part of this game with my six year old nephew looking over my shoulder and at parts I think he enjoyed it more than me, especially the repetitive parts. Additionally, he didn’t have any problems using the stylus which were one of my main annoyances. He even solved a few problems that I couldn’t figure out!
If you are looking for a game to play on a trip or maybe let a young relative play with, this game is perfect, although beware of the possible embarrassing moments that can arise when playing in either quiet or crowded places. The stylus input is both good and bad; for the general movement it feels a bit unnecessary, but you get used to it; for drawing on maps and such it is a genius solution. Not Link’s best or most original adventure, but surely a good travel companion!
- Platform(s): Nintendo DS or Nintendo 3DS [played on 3DS]
- Developer: Nintendo
- Version: Release
- Release date: 19 October 2007
- Innovative inputs (although annoying at times)
- Colorful and easy going game