So, I might have done something horrible. Something so horrible, I only began to laugh more and more as I plodded along this adventure. Something that our favorite, green-tunic wearing hero’s lack of dialogue made all the funnier…
The Legend of Link: Phantom Hourglass is a top-down, spinoff side-entry of sorts. It continues right after Wind Waker, but doesn’t exactly follow the core formula with the Triforce. Given this game originally released in 2007 exactly today, has this game aged well over its 9 years?
Right off the bat, there is a bit of an issue here. Part of that is the game’s ENTIRELY stylus-based gameplay, but that’s the next item on the list. The first here is the layout on the Wii U. You see, none of the combinations of screens make playing this game particularly easy, and the asymmetric one I chose was the most reasonable. What this game needed was a setting that placed the screens side-by-side at the maximum size possible. The best setting (which places the screens horizontally oriented) works well on a vertically turned Gamepad, but of course renders the TV entirely useless. And the setting that divides the Gamepad and the TV as two separate screens makes boss fights that use the upper screen for enemy tracking quite the whiplash experience. Moving beyond this is the second immediate issue: the stylus gameplay. Don’t get me wrong, it actually works better than I thought it would, and I eventually got used to it, but it’s prone to errors or certain levels of multitasking frustrations when facing more challenging combat scenarios. Otherwise, once again, it actually works quite well, and the various dungeon designs that focused on its use panned out rather ingeniously. Naturally, the lower budget focus of the game resulted in an overall smaller scope than the usual home console counterparts, but I found this to be expected rather than lacking, and it kindly reminded me that this was an extension of the beloved Wind Waker universe. Its focus on the “time trial” approach with the hourglass gave the game’s primary dungeon a challenging flavor as well. I was quite glad to see that the core structure of the main Link games retained their presence even in a more simplified universe.
Being the extension that it is, this game didn’t last as long as a regular home console entry. I expected these results, but it’s worth noting nonetheless. The adventure matches quintessentially a larger Link game shrunken down into a smaller space. This means plenty of exploration is still possible, and plenty of things are available to collect, but they number far less than a full-on main Link entry. The biggest omission, though, was the lack of heart pieces, and while this came as a shock to me at first, I soon realized this should be the case overall. I now hope the new Wii U Link game uses whole hearts only to reduce that silly collectathon. While a staple of the series, I actually found it pleasant NOT to be on the lookout for heart pieces!
A DS game from 2007 should be all that needs to be said. Given my reasonable expectations, however, I still looked for effort and stylization. Most of it has not aged too well due to the ridiculously low resolution. Add in the very low polygon count and incredible blurry textures, and I had to brave my retinas for a graphical nut shot as I looked up at the TV sometimes to rest my neck. This is where I ask one simple question: would it have hurt to implement a simple resolution upscale into the emulator? We all know the Wii U has more than enough power to do that for something as old as a DS. As a DS game IN 2007, this game looks colorful and well done, but as a Virtual Console title, it really needed some effort in the upscale department. Stepping into the game’s world are much more positive notes, such as decent support characters, a better sense of humor than Wind Waker, and a proper assortment of non-annoying Navis. Outside of being quite an eyesore for any modern gaming enthusiast, the game’s creative presentational values have, indeed, survived the last 9 years in whole.
I’m reviewing the Wii U Virtual Console version of the Phantom Hourglass, and thus leveraging a bit of what it means to play a retro game on a modern system in the modern day. Some games survive in all aspects and others not so much. In this particular case, not only is the translation via the emulator missing obvious necessities like side-by-side viewing and a much-needed upscale, but the stylus-based gameplay can be a turn-off for many who have an aversion to what is colloquially known as “gimmick” controls (a.k.a. doing anything more than pushing buttons). All that aside, though, this game’s core has survived. I only found myself MORE excited for the upcoming Legend of Link entry coming to the Wii U by way of tasting the inexplicable charm of solving dungeons, exploring, and collecting whatever it takes to vanquish the plague of evil no matter its size, shape, or form.
I give The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass…