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Everything about this game from its stunning visuals to its intuitive controls is an astounding experience. The quality of a Nintendo developed game is evidenced here with a pixel-perfect release of Zelda Phantom Hourglass. Its arrival on the DS meets all the expectations I had for a Zelda game and is an essential purchase for any videogame fan.
Believe it or not Zelda has been having something of a torrid time amongst the Japanese gamers. The likes of WindWaker and Twilight Princess haven't been received with the same enthusiasm as older titles such as Ocarina of Time. In European and US soils there may have been less riding on the Phantom Hourglass, but there was no less expectation for the release. It was with considerable glee that I ripped the wrapping off the game as soon as it dropped through my doorbox.
From the first few scenes and tutorial it is pretty clear that Nintendo have again delivered the goods. And there are many goods to grab a headline here. The intuitive control scheme is masterful, the visuals are stunning, and the scaling of the Zelda experience to suit the DS is no less than genius.
Although it's all on the diminutive DS, this really is a fully fledged Zelda experience
Without doubt Phantom Hourglass is the most polished game to have graced the DS. A simple wink from the doe-eyed Link communicates more than a paragraph of text does in many other games. The game engine provides a solid three dimensional experience, but at the same time understands that the player needs some restriction to make sense of it. To that end the world is held to a fixed isometric perspective, not a million miles away from the classic top down Zelda games on the GBA, SNES and NES.
However, Phantom Hourglass's third dimension and analogue stylus control means that you can move Link in any direction, rather than being stuck to the limited 8-compass-point movement of the older games. Whilst this may seem like a minor point, it makes the game world and wider experience feel much more open, and creates more involved puzzles and battles.
Cut scenes are all rendered in the game engine, which really helps to mix the game's different aspects into a coherent whole. This sort of continuity extends on into the various encounters which all feel like genuine Zelda experiences. All the usual Hyrule fare is here from the iconic trumpet blast, to the camera presentation of the contents of a chest, to the art style and design of each island level.
The experience as a whole still has a grand epic feel to it.
The game's score continues the good work that it started with the graphics and provides a boost to the sense of occasion. The first time you hit the sea in your little boat and stand on the bow leaning into the wind, and a familiar Zelda tune pipes up is enough to send tingles down your spine. It's this attention to detail that keeps Nintendo so close to my heart.
Although it's all on the diminutive DS, this really is a fully fledged Zelda experience, and whilst many have been highlighting how foreshortened it all is, I really feel like is the real deal. Tasks and stages have been suitably tailored for those snatched moments of gameplay available to the more casual gamer, but the experience as a whole still has a grand epic feel to it.
Its arrival on the DS meets all the expectations I had for a Zelda game and is an essential purchase for any videogame fan.
The learning curve has been tweaked in the easier direction, which is obviously a nod to the more casual player, or those who haven't played a Zelda game before. This again attests to how well Nintendo understands their own game. What could so easily have been the undoing of their franchise has in fact been handled with a deft and knowing touch. The changes that have been made to both the structure and play mechanics all accommodate the physical specific of the DS control scheme.
The game is loosely built around a series of islands that can be navigated and give way to the more familiar dungeon-exploration-dungeon structure. The major difference is that Phantom Hourglass works around a central hub dungeon. You return here after collecting different items that let you delve ever deeper. Although there has been some clever design to ensure subsequent visits can progress quicker through the dungeon, it still feels a bit forced to make you troll back down through the same levels each time you unlock another section. This is perhaps the low point of the experience, although even this delivered a fair amount of fun.
The release of this game marks the coming of age for any platform and it feels like the DS is now a proper bona-fide member of the Nintendo family. Not only does it raise the stature of the handheld console in the eyes of many gamers, but it also brings Link and his related protagonist back to a much wider audience. It brings together Nintendo's two great successes of recent decades: compelling hard-core gaming and casual play on the go.
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