Love/Hate: The Phantom Hourglass
Welcome to the first edition of Love/Hate, Modojo's latest weekly column. We're going to let you in on a secret: most game writers have a... (wait for it)... love/hate relationship with the games they review. Even the ones they really like. You see, even when we're playing something superlative and revelatory like Peggle or Ouendan, we're still being forced to go through the whole thing at breakneck speed, and with our critical "reviewer's eye" turned on, instead of just being able to veg in front of the comforting glow of our DS and PSP.
After that, the opinions we've formed have all their rough edges messaged and ironed out via the editorial process before the final review is published. Games are given the score they deserve, good or bad, but sometimes it isn't viable to rant at length about very minor issues you we dug, or loathed.
Thus... Love/Hate was spawned.
For this first edition, rookie Kaes Delgrego takes a look at the polarizing Zelda: Phantom Hourglass:
Link's latest adventure sees the return of the controversial "Celda" style from The Wind Waker . While some still dislike this style, I find it to be quite beautiful. For a handheld adventure, the developers have managed to create one of the most impressive graphical displays on the DS to date. The Phantom Hourglass retains the same whimsical feel that its GameCube cohort made famous.
[SUBHEAD]Hate... My Own Hand:[/SUBHEAD]
Perhaps I'm holding the DS wrong, or maybe I'm choking up too much on the stylus. In any case, when attacking enemies or solving puzzles that require tapping on the left side of the screen, my right hand blocks much of the action on the opposite side. I find myself having to rotate my hand and DS accordingly, resulting in some awkward playing situations. Sure, you might argue that it would be impossible to have this style of game without my hand getting in the way once in awhile. I still say that it grinds my gears.
[SUBHEAD]Love... Boss Battles:[/SUBHEAD]
A common critique of The Twilight Princess was that the boss battles were merely pretty graphics camouflaging simple "attack weak point for massive damage" gameplay. Nintendo has made up for this with The Phantom Hourglass. Often making great use of both screens, the boss battles here are fresh, frantic, and exciting. The challenge is still moderate at best; most skirmishes are not likely to get your DS ripped in half. However, the unique controls make fighting the bosses an entirely different experience from any previous Zelda iteration.
The only mode of transportation worse than sailing in The Phantom Hourglass? Sailing in The Wind Waker. Yes, they improved on it. Yes, it's still awful. Draw a path, tap on enemies, get out. The monotony is stupefying. And I hope you enjoy blue, for that's the only color your surroundings will have. While every Zelda has had the player traversing a large overworld, this method feels more like sitting in the back-seat. No, scratch that; the view outside changes when you're in a car. This is pure tedium.
Many were uncertain exactly how a stylus-based Zelda would turn out, myself included. Thankfully, controlling Link on the DS turned out to be quite a unique and enjoyable experience. The tap-to-attack method is much more intuitive than the Z-targeting established by The Ocarina of Time. This is most evident when you are surrounded by several enemies. In targeting-based Zelda games, you would sometimes find yourself targeting the wrong enemy or unable to target a particular enemy at all. In The Phantom Hourglass, you tap the enemy you want dead. It's as simple as that. In addition to the great controls, the dungeons are outstanding as usual. And as a retro gaming junkie, the 2D foundation of The Phantom Hourglass makes me feel at home. Handheld gaming doesn't get much better than this.
[SUBHEAD]Hate... The Temple of the Ocean King:[/SUBHEAD]
By far the worst thing about The Phantom Hourglass (and perhaps any Zelda game) is this particular temple. Let me start by saying that as a single experience, The Temple of the Ocean King isn't bad. The stealth elements are enjoyable, and the limited time factor requires unique planning. However, throughout the game, in order to advance, you are required to sail back to the main island and return to this temple. Each time you come back, you go a floor deeper to get what you need to access the next part of the game. In a cheap tactic to lengthen the adventure, you need to redo the same puzzles you previously did on earlier floors. Every. Single. Time. It gets annoying on your first return to the temple, and that's just the beginning. If you're anything like me, you will be cursing into your DS's microphone in the hopes that the game can somehow understand your anger. You are shown mercy halfway through the temple: a warp allows you to skip the first half. Nonetheless, this asinine back-tracking blemishes an amazing game.