The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass Review

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Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo

Platform: DS
Reviewed on DS

Shortly after the events of The Wind Waker, Link is sailing with Tetra (the piratical Princess Zelda) when their ship and crew run afoul of the Ghost Ship that lurked in The Wind Waker's seas. Tetra jumps onto the Ghost Ship to investigate, and immediately disappears. Link attempts to follow, but falls into the sea.

After plummeting into the water, Link discovers that he's in far deeper than he expected. Rather than landing near his familiar ship and crew, he awakens on a strange island nestled in an unfamiliar sea. This sea was protected by the Ocean King, a powerful spirit served by several fairies. Sadly, the land has come under the shadow of a foul creature that has stolen the power of the Ocean King and his fairies, and holed up in the Ocean King's sacred temple.

With the aid of a captain named Linebeck, Link must travel these newfound waters to rescue Zelda from the Ghost Ship and restore the Ocean King to benevolent power.

Kyle Ackerman

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is an exemplary adventure on the DS. It's very rare that a handheld game can hold my attention so obsessively that I'll play it instead of a console or PC game, but Phantom Hourglass is both so entertaining and so effortless to play that it's a pure pleasure to pick up the DS and help Link save Princess Zelda once more.

Link Shows Off His Stylus Stuff

Phantom Hourglass returns us to the more cheerful and cartoonish link from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, the Link we knew before the darker, troubled youth of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. The pleasure of Phantom Hourglass goes far beyond happy characters in a familiar environment. Even more so than other Zelda games, Phantom Hourglass slowly introduces new tricks and tools such that I was effortlessly solving complex puzzles involving half a dozen different special items ranging from a bow and boomerang to a grappling hook and gigantic hammer. Phantom Hourglass is like a brilliant teacher that makes you feel clever at every turn by making sure that you have every tool and skill that you need to succeed before facing you with a challenge.

Just as cool, Phantom Hourglass really uses the DS to its fullest. This isn't the kind of game where you use the D-pad and buttons, mostly ignoring the touchscreen. Instead, everything is smoothly controlled with the touchscreen. I used the shoulder buttons regularly, but almost never touched the other DS controls. Phantom Hourglass uses the touchscreen perfectly, but also takes advantage of the DS' other features. I transferred marks from a chart to my map on the opposite screen by briefly closing the DS, and Phantom Hourglass even had me yelling into the DS microphone in a public place (before slyly letting me know that I could have just snapped into the mic).

Who'd Have Thought A Pen So Powerful?

Phantom Hourglass' best feature is the map. Play typically happens on the lower touchscreen, while the upper screen features a map. As simple as it seems, Phantom Hourglass lets you make notes on the map. This dramatically improves play, as you can take notes on puzzles. I constantly left myself reminders of places to revisit or made notes on the fastest way to get through the Ocean King's temple. Having an in-game way to take notes meant that it was easy to keep track of a lot of information. If I'd had to cart notes around with me and the DS, I simply wouldn't have bothered to explore those extra locations and find the extra items.

In addition to the main quest that had me sailing the seas in search of keys, metals and weapons, Phantom Hourglass features a lot of mini games. Like in other Zelda games, there are a lot of entertaining distractions ranging from optional puzzles to races to fishing all over the world. And all that time spent sailing was a lot more entertaining than in Wind Waker. There was always something going on, even if it was just firing at attacking sea monsters, and plenty of competitors sailing the seas, making it fun to seek (or desperately avoid) pirates and other vessels. Even Beedle's back! And remarkably, the game looks spectacular, coming close to matching Wind Waker's visuals.

No Twitch Skills Required

If anything is simplistic in Phantom Hourglass, it's combat. Combat is basic, thanks to the touchscreen controls. For the most part, it's easy to battle by tapping on enemies. Some require a bit of maneuvering or timing, but it's not particularly difficult. Link can also swing in a particular direction or do his famous circular slash, but such moves are rarely necessary. Still, the game is more about puzzles and adventures than straight-up combat. For example, boss fights are a lot more entertaining in Phantom Hourglass than in other Zelda games, as they are more about figuring out how to use Link's latest new tool than repetitive hacking and slashing. Figure out the pattern and most battles are over quickly.

The single-player campaign is entirely worth the price when it comes to Phantom Hourglass, but there is also a multiplayer mode playable using the DS WiFi connection. In that mode, players take turns controlling Link and a set of guards in a maze. The goal is to recover prizes from the center of the maze and take them back to your home territory. Honestly, the game isn't likely to be more than a few minutes' diversion, but on top of such a stellar title, it's really just a bonus.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on November 13, 2007 10:15 PM.

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