I’d love to say that the Nintendo DS installments of The Legend of Zelda titles are divisive, but frankly, I’ve never spoken to anyone who loves them. I can’t even say I love them. But that isn’t to say Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks didn’t do some things right (even if it was just a few things). These direct sequels to Wind Waker are Nintendo trying to figure out what worked for Zelda on the DS, and as usual they made some difficult (and odd) decisions with the direction.
- The touch controls for both games are functionally similar. Link moves towards where you touch on the screen and swiping swings his sword. There were times I felt like I didn’t mind it, but others when the tapping made my hand sore. How well it works is pretty mixed, but Nintendo couldn’t have executed these games any other way because of my next point:
- The item and puzzle gimmicks, I thought, were great. I know that gimmicks aren’t for everyone, but there were some truly head-scratching puzzles (One specifically that involved closing and opening the DS) that I couldn’t help but grin at. Items like the Whirlwind’s use of the microphone was cool, and using the touchscreen to direct the boomerang was well executed.
- Both the DS iterations take the Wind Waker cel-shaded style and put it on the DS. While at the time it seemed like a good idea, replaying them now make the graphics seem muddy and imprecise. It’s unfortunate that we’ll probably never see a 3DS or Switch HD Duo-pack re-release, because as we’ve seen, the original art style holds up great in HD.
- Phantom Hourglass took the sea-faring mechanic and introduces Linebeck as our new ship captain. I can’t say that it was any better than Wind Waker, but it wasn’t worse either I guess. You’ll still be able to explore somewhat freely, but not to the extent of Wind Waker.
- Spirit Tracks’ genre should be called an “Adventure on Rails”, since the forced and literally linear game progression really limits the sense of exploration, the most important part of a Zelda title. While the train mechanic is novel at first, the gimmick slows the game down immensely very, very quickly.
- Both these games reuse a mechanic that I truly did not care for. Trecking up the tower after each dungeon to unlock a new area of the map was annoying, and while some of the puzzles seemed interesting, I ultimately grew bored of it. I see it as a way to pad a short game and a cheap way to build up a final dungeon without adding a legitimate one.
- Wind Waker brought the Zelda frianchise some of it’s greatest characters, and I think that Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks followed in it’s footsteps pretty well. Zelda’s characterization is fun and vibrant. Linebeck is a character I’ve always wanted to see again both in the main series and in spin-offs like Hyrule warriors.
- There’s a multiplayer, but you’d be hard pressed to find another person with the game to play with.
Ultimately, I can’t recommend these titles to anyone the way they are now. I love what they did right with characterization and some of the item gimmicks, but so much of the gameplay is either annoying or so slow that you’ll get bored and put it down before you’re halfway through (this is especially the case with Spirit Tracks). Hardcore Zelda fans will probably already have played it, but for everyone else... well I’m really hoping for a Wind Waker style HD re-release. One that irons out the things that didn’t work and makes this part of the Zelda timeline worth telling.
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JpSr388 is a casual(ish) gaymer, hardcore Nintendo fan, designer & writer. He writes about what he cares about, and is always good for some opinions. Find his sexy ass on Twitter here. Or keep on the lookout for more editorial, QuickDraws, Hot Takes and reviews here.