No doubt many of you have already seen the many positive reviews for The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass dotted all over the Internet. We realize we're a bit late with our own critique of this highly anticipated videogame, but with a series like Zelda you simply have to take your time. It wouldn't be wise to rush things when dealing with something as beautifully crafted as this.
As you might guess from that rather flowery opening paragraph, we quite like Link's latest outing. From the moment the first screenshots drifted into view we instinctively knew that it would be a sumptuous treat. Although many people struggled with the cel-shaded visuals of Wind Waker and the vast amounts of (often tiresome) ocean travel, here at NintendoLife we lapped it up; it was a fresh and brave new take on the franchise. Therefore, when it became clear that the DS edition would be a direct sequel to the GameCube classic, there was a fair amount of whooping and cheering to be heard around Nlife towers.
Upon firing up the game, the first thing that strikes you is the control system. It's completely stylus-driven, with the buttons and d-pad only being used for shortcuts. Although it's initially jarring, within the space of a few moments everything falls into place; it's a wonder that no one has attempted to craft such an interface on the DS in the past. No aspect of control is compromised – Link responds wonderfully to your stylus movements and gestures, and at no point do you find yourself wishing a more 'traditional' control scheme had been included.
Such a revolutionary interface is a wonder in itself, but the fact that it's backed up with one of the most robust and satisfying Zelda adventures of all time certainly helps matters. As was the case with Wind Waker, the story is set in a ocean world dotted with many tiny islands. Those of you that took issue with the constant travelling and manipulation of the wind in the aforementioned prequel will be pleased to note that everything is much more streamlined this time round. You simply tap where you wish to go on the map and your vessel follows the route; occasionally you will have to avoid obstacles or fire at advancing enemies. Treasure hunting – a neat feature in Wind Waker – also makes a return, but this time you have to be a little more 'hands on' and guide your crane down to the seabed in what turns out to be a throughly entertaining little mini game.
The plot revolves around a mysterious Ghost Ship that kidnaps the gutsy pirate captain Tetra (who, as Wind Waker players will be aware, is actually Princess Zelda). Link receives the titular Phantom Hourglass early on in his quest, and using this item he is able to enter the Temple of the Ocean God – a multi-level dungeon that forms the focal point of the game. When inside the dungeon Link's energy levels are under constant bombardment, and only using the magical properties of the Hourglass can he expect to withstand damage. As you successfully progress through the game and defeat various bosses in other locations, sand is added to your hourglass, which in turn allows you to descend a little deeper into the oppressive Temple. This obviously means there's a little bit of repetition, but thankfully as you unlock abilities and items your path to the lower levels is made easier.
We've already touched upon the fact that PH replicates the cel-shaded look of Wind Waker, but it's worth expanding on this point, as the game is arguably the best looking 3D title on Nintendo's handheld. Granted, some of the textures are a bit blocky and many of the character models lack detail, but Link is superbly animated, losing none of the charm he possessed in the GameCube instalment. Although the world is rendered in three dimensions it's worth noting that the viewpoint is classic 'top-down' Zelda – something that will please fans of Link to the Past and the more recent Minish Cap.
There's plenty more to talk about here but we're not going to launch into a review of essay-like proportions; you already know PH is a must-own and there's a good chance most of you already own it. For those of you that don't – and we assume you have a perfectly valid excuse for missing out on one of the most essential videogames of the past ten years – you'd best ask Santa to pop a copy in your Christmas stocking. This is a legendary game that blows away anything yet experienced on the DS, raising the handheld gaming bar to previously unheard of levels. Most fittingly, it's proof that Nintendo is simply untouchable when it comes to crafting pieces of electronic entertainment.