Legend of Zelda, The: Phantom Hourglass (2007)
I’m often described as being “differently abled”, something I always take umbrage with. After all, I do apply for the Special Olympics every four years, but I get snubbed every time. And I can’t join the regular circuit of the Olympics either, because my 100-metre times don’t especially measure up and Ireland is, unfortunately, a member of the drugs governing body WADA. But I know that I do have one physical ailment that sets my life back considerably, and that’s the fact that I’m left-handed.
You may think my reviews are simply full of smut and pulp, but I always like to toss in something educational, something that you can take away with you. So here: did you know that the Latin for ‘left’ is ‘sinister’? That means that even today, there are certain slur words against us lefties still in common use. The Latin for right, incidentally is dexter, which is why you’ve got lovely words like dexterity and ambidextrous and all that.
Meanwhile us lefties were the devil. Honestly, my mother was left-handed and got a terrible lashing off the nuns who ran the schools. Nuns are thankfully extinct in mostly any country that isn’t ass-backwards, but back then, they ran the place. I’m told you haven’t experienced cruelty until you’ve seen what a nun can get up to in a school, unchecked. Which makes me wonder why Sister Act is a comedy, yet Song for a Raggy Boy isn’t. Either way, let’s be glad they are no more.
And then we had those rubbish 1970s desks in school, the ones that came around your body – from the right. A nice little armrest for those run-of-the-mill righties. But for us leftie freaks? Useless. Our developing little arms left floating, absolutely helpless, a lot tougher to find something to lean against and sleep on.
Already, anything we wrote into our little copybooks or worksheets was smudged beyond recognition, which made a complete mockery of the teacher’s proposed exercise. He or she would then call you out in front of the entire class and breathe fire all over you. For something that wasn’t even your fault. ‘It’s just the devil, sir, he flows through me and I can’t do a thing about it.’
I sometimes throw my hands up at football players for being so highly paid and yet they are one-footed. The ball comes to their left foot and the shot they produce dribbles miserably out of play like a fat child slipping and falling on ice. Well, I can hardly get on their back because you put a pen in my right hand and I’ve suddenly got double Parkinson’s. I don’t even hold the pen in my left-hand correctly, according to about nine teachers from my schooling days, so no way could I ever get to grips with being a righty.
I tried shouting this fact into the DS microphone over and over, at the very top of my lungs, but Phantom Hourglass just wouldn’t listen. Released as an honest-to-God Zelda sequel, Phantom Hourglass is allergic to buttons; it’s stylus control right the way through. Immediately I was brought back to the days of writing down all sorts of complex maths formulae in the middle of the exams that would shape our entire lives (they said), and I’d take a step back and realise that something resembling a splattered bird had suddenly appeared on my exam book. It was a bit late then to raise my hand and tell the girl (sorry, The Invigilator) that I was special needs and could somebody please do my exam for me as I am clearly incapable, also I’ve just fouled myself.
Phantom Hourglass didn’t listen to my cries for help here either. I’d have to grin and bear it, and try desperately to manoeuvre an even cattier version of Toon Link across the flooded expanses of what was once Hyrule. I imagine the 3D, cel-like graphics were impressive to get up and running on the DS, but I have to say that Link’s model looks pretty atrocious here: his eyes take up over half of his little round conker head.
You will use the stylus and only the stylus to get CatLink in gear across the islands of Hyrule. Yes, we’re still on islands, and that means protracted boat journeys between the tiny rocks that house the towns and dungeons, right? Yes, in a sense, although you can cleverly draw yourself out a path with the stylus and pretty much put your ship on autopilot from there. No faffing about with the wind or any of that cobblers from The Wind Waker, although you’ll still get those occasional hazards that can kill you in pretty short order if you’re not paying attention.
The bad stylus use crops up again and again, but the game just doesn’t do enough for you to deserve this pampered treatment in return. Scribblenauts didn’t deserve loving caresses from the stylus and the ensuing hand cramp either. The World Ends With You did. Picross DS thanked you kindly for it. Phantom Hourglass just cackles at you, especially if you’re a hellbound leftie, when your hand smudges the screen and suddenly catboy is rolling in the opposite direction, slashing nowhere near the enemy and heavens knows what else.
The stylus control snarls at you the most when you’ve acquired the Salvage Hook, and one of those interminable DS touch-screen minigames crops up. I swear, those things are worse than waggle. They were easily the worst part of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, for example, when you’d need to hotwire the cars using your stylus. What’s the point? Mess up the Salvage Hook minigame by taking too much damage, which you will, and it’s back to where you got it and a 100 Rupee reparation fee, before you go out and break the darned thing again.
While all of this is taking place, a pretty pedestrian soundtrack is playing, including a particularly uninspiring display where every single dungeon in the game, as well as all of the little caves, have the same 3-note dirge which serves as the background music. That’s pretty upsetting, and it’s pretty easy to tell that our man Kojo Kondo didn’t feature on this one.
And I haven’t even gotten to the biggest bone of contention with the game, the Temple of the Ocean King, the large hub dungeon that you’ll need to revisit after every main dungeon. It’s a race to the bottom, where you’ll have to repeat sections you’ve previously completed. Not only that, the dungeon throws in stealth elements and a time limit for a laugh as well. Those much-loved gaming mechanics brought together in beautiful harmony, I don’t think. Actually, I’d say that this place isn’t as bad as people say, and it can be a fun diversion at times. But still, leave it out.
Though the stylus use can be nifty for the use of items such as the boomerang, where you can quite literally draw out its path and make it do a hundred figure-eights in one throw, that’s about the only useful innovation the game has. The dungeon items themselves hold absolutely no surprises either and the dungeons themselves are just glorified caves with an extra floor or two. It all combines to make Phantom Hourglass an experience that was fairly lacklustre back then, and looks worse with every day. When was the last time you needed good penmanship anyway?
2 November 2018