I Gave up on Zelda
As I mentioned on the podcast last week, I had been very excited for Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, expectations perhaps unmeetable by any game. (I haven’t played a Zelda game since loving A Link to the Past 15 years ago, so my comparison point is a distant, near-mythical gaming experience, not a recent Zelda game.)
The game has many great things about it, primary among them the control scheme. The touchscreen controls are completely intuitive for most operations like running around and slashing things. Some specific things venture into gesture territory: drawing a path for the boomerang, the fishing minigame, the sword’s circular slash. And all of those things wind up being fun. And, of course, the way the game encourages you to draw on maps is something that could only be done on the DS, and while it’s somewhat half-baked (“draw exactly this on your map. Got it? Okay, put away the map.”), it’s still nice to see. The net effect of all the touchscreen control innovations is that this potentially hardcore title is effortlessly transformed into a casual game. My girlfriend could easily play this Zelda game, which I wish could be said for Halo and many other franchises I enjoy.
I liked many other things about The Phantom Hourglass: the music. All the weapons are fun. And it did take me back once or twice to the old Zelda happy place of distant memory. But two things made me drop it.
- The RPG elements are way too lite. The only customization on offer seemed to be ship parts, and roughly halfway through the game I could see no effects when I swapped out parts. And maybe I’m too spoiled by Oblivion, but any wholly linear RPG I play these days seems to be missing the point. It’s not just character customization, it’s the lure of poking around off the beaten path. Nadine tells me that Zelda is a kid’s game, but I don’t know how that changes things. The things I love about RPGs were almost entirely missing here, leaving a repetitive, easy puzzle game with a childish story.
Repetition. I don’t want to go through the same dungeon over and over again. It’s one thing to use the same level environment repeatedly for different reasons (bioshock), it’s another to have to transverse the same space repeatedly to get to new encounters (Halo 3, level 2). But when I have to play through the same three levels of a dungeon for the third time, while a counter counts down, to unlock a whole new level of the dungeon that has the same enemies, platforms and puzzles as the first three levels that I have played three times – that’s just too much.
I didn’t throw down the DS and storm off in a huff, I just got to a point where I decided I’d prefer to play Advance Wars: Dual Strike instead, and I haven’t gone back. And assuming I keep finding good games to play, I probably won’t.
Which leads me to an “issue”. I must have played at least 10-15 hours before I gave up. This game has gotten extremely good reviews. Are these things related? Or is my repetition-aversion more of an outlier? The working theory I’m going on is that most reviewers did not play through the entire game before reviewing it, and granted, I know it’s hard to get reviews of 20+ hour games done on a deadline. The other possibility is that other reviewers are forgiving Zelda fanboys, which is also certainly more than possible.