Popular games don’t disappoint

Owen Sound Sun Times (On)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

I’ve been playing “The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass” and “Guitar Hero III” since their respective release dates, Oct. 1 and Oct. 28.

I had been highly anticipating both games and wasn’t disappointed.

Zelda: the phantom hourglass

“The Legend of Zelda” is a very important property for Nintendo and they’re always careful to deliver compelling if not universally praised games. This particular game has been receiving very positive press, though not to compete with the likes of “Ocarina of Time” and “A Link to the Past”.

I really like this game. It does a great job of pushing the DS both graphically and with its control scheme.

The game is all 3D, except for some very nice still frames telling some story. The graphics looks great on the DS. Nintendo chose to cel-shade it like “Windwaker” – in fact it’s set in the same world. Cel-shading works wonders on the DS since its textures can get pretty blocky and cel-shading smoothes the whole look of the game. It also allows the characters to be very expressive, which really enhances the experience.

The game’s look can be a mixed blessing though. Anyone that passed on “Windwaker” because of its art style will probably not like “Phantom Hourglass” either.

The concept for the game is great. Similarly to “Windwaker” shortly into the game you get a ship. You can sail the ocean searching for dungeons, treasure and secret islands. The ocean is the game’s overworld, so there are many things to discover before you even set foot on the islands to advance the story and find the game’s dungeons.

The story is pretty standard Zelda fare – save the world by collecting the super powerful item, killing the bad guy and rescuing the girl.

Nothing new, but it doesn’t feel tired and it’s got some plot twists to keep you playing.

The control scheme is the most pleasant surprise of the game. Zelda games are pretty controller centred and the controls are expected to be good.

“Phantom Hourglasses” controls are good, but they’re also completely through the touch screen. Admittedly timing some precise movements is harder when you are moving Link with the stylus, but the stylus opens up so many new options. This is where the game shines. You draw a path and your boomerang follows it, draw a path for your ship to traverse the ocean, make notes on the map and draw symbols to open doors. There are so many cool things to do with the stylus and the game keeps surprising you.

There are a few problems with the game, but they’re mostly subjective. Some people may be put off by the art style. Some people may not like the control scheme and the departure from its pedigree. Some may find it too easy or short, since it’s a little of both (I think that works for a handheld game, though). That being said, I am really enjoying it and have been stumped by some puzzles and some bosses.

If you like Zelda games, particularly if you liked “Windwaker”, pick up this game. It’s one of the best games on the DS, and if you don’t mind the stylus control (which works very well) you’ll have a great time.

Highly recommended

Guitar Hero III

I picked it up for the Playstation 2. It’s also available for the Wii, the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3. I was very excited about this game. I loved “Guitar Hero II” and “Guitar Hero III” has the Muse song Knights of Cydonia, which is one of my favourite songs at the moment.

The track list for GHIII is impressive; the songs are good and many of them are from master recordings, not covers. You get Black Sabbath, Rage Against the Machine, The Rolling Stones, Metallica, Dragonforce and the Beastie Boys to name a few, a great selection of classic and new songs, well known and unknown.

The graphics are nothing special since it’s the PS2. The animations for characters, particularly the drummer are quite wooden, but most of the time you aren’t paying attention to anything but the notes flying at you so it’s fine. There’s nothing particularly bad about the graphics, the PS2 is merely showing its age. I imagine the other versions look much better, but I’ve heard the animations are universally wooden.

The game has it where it counts, the gameplay is spot on. GHIII is made by a different company than the previous two and the new developer really nailed the feel of the game. There’s not much new, just more rocking out. One improvement that I really like is hammer-ons (where you can play the next note without hitting the strum-bar) are much easier to see in this game and it makes a big difference when the songs get fast.

There’s a head-to-head battle mode where you get powerups to make your opponent mess up, but they’re not as much fun as just playing better than the other person. The addition of a co-op mode is fun. Two players, one guitar and one bass (both with guitar controllers) can play through a career mode with the track list switched around and some new cinematics. You actually need to do this to unlock all the songs, so good thing it’s fun.

The learning curve is also better this time around. In “Guitar Hero II” going from medium difficulty to hard was a huge jump, in GH III they’ve made it more gradual and less frustrating, but trust me, when you get to “Through the Fire and Flames” by Dragonforce you’ll find it hard.

“Guitar Hero III” is a safe entry to the franchise, but delivers where it counts. I’ve had a blast with it so far and any fan of the first two will like it, just don’t expect it to break much new ground.

Highly recommended

Calen Henry is a fourth-year student of Japanese Studies and Multimedia at McMaster University. He grew up in Owen Sound, has been a gamer since childhood and is also interested in music and film.

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