Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Various Items

So I made another loaf of sourdough bread today, and I think as far as texture and consistency go, this is the best yet, although the flavor is a bit milder than my previous loaves, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I also recently bought some yeast so that I can try to make some regular white bread, or any of the sundry variations on it. So far I've made one loaf of white, using a recipe from my regular cookbook, which took about 1.5 hours from start to finish. All things considered, I think it came out quite well, although I think I'd like to try a recipe that doesn't rush the dough.

On the schooling front, I've received all of my grades from this past semester, and it turns out that I earned A's in all 3 classes (Advanced Quantum, Particles, and Qual Prep). This is, I believe, the first time I have earned a 4.0 for a semester, so yay for that. Now, all I have to do is pass the Quals in August, and I'm home free.

Finally, I have decided that on those (fairly rare) occasions that I complete a game (computer, video...) I think I'll attempt to post a (hopefully) smallish review of said game here. I'll hide them all behind the expanding post thingy that I have so that they don't bloat the post lengths though. With, that, let's start things off with a review of The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass.

The Phantom Hourglass is one of those few Zelda games that is a direct sequel, in other words, it's easy to set the game in a definite time line, in this case, it takes place at some point after the events of Windwaker. Because of this, Nintendo decided to use similar art for this game, which makes everything, even the scary monsters, look adorable. The visuals are about on par for what I expected from a Gameboy game, although it's been a while since I've played GB.

This is the first DS game I've played (aside from about 5 minutes of Brain Age), so it was interesting having the main game window in addition to the top screen. Which brings me to the first complaint that I have, even though it's a minor one: the entire game is played with the touch screen. Everything you want to do, from moving Link and attacking, to using items, is controlled with the tiny little stylus. There are a few "hotkeys," such as pressing right and left on the d-pad to open the main menu and the item menu, and pressing (and holding) L to ready an item, but you're still spending the whole time gripping the stylus and tapping or swiping the screen. I'm sure this wouldn't be a problem for many people, especially the younger players out there, but after playing for a while, my hand would start to get sore and cramped, since the tiny stylus was clearly not meant for my long fingers/hands. That issue aside, the control scheme is fairly nice. Sure, it takes a little getting used to, but once you do, it seems almost second nature, and with the hotkeys you can quickly and easily ready an item for use, even in combat.

Having two screens is cool, and I can't imagine the game using them better. While most of the action occurs in the bottom (touch) screen, the top screen shows a full map of the area or room you're in. This is nice to see in a Zelda game, since in general, the on screen maps tend to be limited, making you pause the game to figure out where you need to go. It's also good on the collection screens, since it let's you see more of your inventory at a time, which means you don't have to cycle through 3 or 4 different screens to find what you're looking for.

Since this is a sequel to Windwaker, the land is covered in a great sea, with numerous islands that you travel to. The sailing was pretty fun, some of the enemies get old after a while, but they help to break up the monotony. There are two minigames that you can play while sailing, salvaging and fishing. Fishing is fun, although I quickly gave up on catching anything other than the two most common fish out of 5 or 6 types. Salvaging is also a fun pastime, and is the most common way to get different parts for your ship. There are a number of different "styles" that you can make your ship, though you have to find different parts to do it. This almost turns into a game of Pokemon, where you want to collect all of the different pieces so you can make your ship look however you want. There is a bonus to finding other pieces in addition to the aesthetics: if you use a style other than the starting one, and match multiple parts from that style, your ship's health will increase, which is useful if you find yourself running into sea battles often.

As far as the story goes, it seems a little short, but this could be due to marketing towards a younger audience, which I suppose would make sense for a GB game. This would also explain why, in general, the puzzles were slightly easier than other Zelda games, usually revolving around some form of "hit the switches in x y z order." This is another place where the touch screen was implemented well, requiring you to make notes on your map in order to pull levers or note the path of an enemy. There were also a few places where you can draw a picture on the screen in order to teleport somewhere, or to open a door. The nice thing about the notes you make is that they don't disappear when you leave the area, which is important.

The one major complaint I have is in regards to one out of the 6 or so dungeons that you must traverse: The Temple of the Ocean King. I won't spoil anything about it, but this dungeon is one that you must go through a number of times. Oh, and it's timed, in a way. And there are monsters that can kill you, but you can't kill. And there are traps...that reset when you leave the temple. This is where the note-taking comes in handy, you can trace the patrols of the invulnerable enemies, mark down how to disable the traps, and make other helpful little notes on your map that will be there the next time you visit. There are about a dozen floors to the temple, and you descend a little bit deeper each time you visit it, since you need different items to get past various obstacles. The main problem is that each time you visit, you have to go through the previous levels before you can continue deeper. At some point, you can make a kind of save point so that from the entrance you can skip a few floors while keeping the time you used to get there. The problem with this is that the floors you skip are easy and once you get the save point they pose little to no problem, it's the following floors that are the bothersome ones. I can understand having to go through them once, but by the third time you almost want to just turn the game off.

The sound was on par for a Zelda game, with the requisite effects for finding secrets and unlocking things and so forth, and the expected Zelda theme, remixed to fit the game. Otherwise, I can't remember anything specific about the sound effects or music other than the fact that they seemed fitting. Obviously a Gameboy is not meant to output astounding quality audio, though it was better than I expected.

All in all, I think Phantom Hourglass is an enjoyable game, and I would recommend it to any Zelda fan, though I might not suggest it to someone who wants to get into Zelda, since there are better ones that don't have sections like the Temple of the Ocean King, that annoy you to no end.

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