The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass might as well be called The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker DS. The game features the same fabulous cel-shaded game engine of the GameCube game and picks up a short time after its conclusion. Phantom Hourglass follows our hero on another adventure on the high seas, and features new friends and a whole new gameplay style thanks to the touch screen and stylus.
When starting out, the game fills you in on the backstory so you aren’t required to play through Wind Waker to enjoy. Your adventure begins while exploring the high seas with Tetra and her crew. These particular seas are protected by a great spirit named the Ocean King, and rumors of a mysterious Ghost Ship abound. A thick fog surrounds your vessel as a rickety old ship appears in the distance. Tetra boards the ship to investigate. As Link tries to follow Tetra aboard, he falls into the ocean and awakens on a strange island with a curious fairy buzzing overhead. That is as far as the manual covers so I won’t spoil anything further for you, but rest assured Wind Waker‘s great storytelling has made its way into Phantom Hourglass.
Despite using some modified version of Wind Waker‘s engine, the graphics obviously aren’t quite as smooth as what the GameCube was able to produce. However, they are still impressive, and all things considered, Phantom Hourglass definitely isn’t limping along in the graphics department. The animations are very smooth, and during gameplay you might even forget that you aren’t playing on your GameCube.
As with the Wii, one of the most important aspects of a DS game is how the controls are implemented. Phantom Hourglass was no exception to prerelease control anxiety, with its exclusive use of the stylus for movement, combat, and virtually all gameplay. But rest assured, it becomes second nature after a few minutes. The d-pad (or ABXY for lefties) gives quick, handy access to various menu screens, such as your Map or Collection Screen. Your shoulder buttons handle holding an item, and the mic even makes a cameo for various tasks.
After making my way through quite a few levels, the combat and movement system is really solid. On occasion, I did have issues executing a spin move or a roll, which take a little practice. Combat, on the other hand, is easy and works great. Using the stylus for interaction with other objects on the screen is perfect. Nintendo really nailed Hourglass‘s controls.
Since sailing was such a large part of Wind Waker, it was obvious that it would make a return in some fashion. Nintendo has reworked the mechanism for this and made it quite easy to get where you are going, in most cases. After boarding the ship, you’ll simply bring up the Route screen and draw where you want to go. A jump button is provided if you need to make a mid-ocean leap. Move the stylus around while sailing and you can look around as you follow the course you drew. After obtaining your cannon, you’ll spend plenty of time fighting off enemies while cruising along. This new system makes sailing much less tedious compared with Wind Waker due in large part to the much smaller map and auto-sailing components.
Phantom Hourglass also adds a few new elements to the Zelda series. For example, you can customize your ship’s appearance. Another new feature is the included local and online multiplayer Battle Mode. You can use the game’s matchmaking service to find someone of equal skill, or play against a friend. The mode pits two players in a head-to-head competition to collect the most Force Gems before time runs out. Up to two additional players assume the role of a Phantom and try to catch the other players and end their turn. The mechanics of Battle Mode are quite neat and will become very familiar once you’ve played through a few levels of the single player adventure mode.
The only gripe I really had about Phantom Hourglass is related to saving your game. You are able to save your game at any point in time, but if you end a game while in a dungeon you start at the beginning of that dungeon the next time you start your game. With some very long dungeons, Phantom Hourglass can be difficult to play in short bursts as you are left putting your DS to sleep instead of saving and powering down. Once, I had to leave my system on for several hours until I could pick the game back up. This may not be a problem for everyone, but it’s worth mentioning.
Needless to say, Phantom Hourglass is a very deep game, and I am absolutely loving every minute. The Wind Waker engine ported nicely to the DS and the controls make it an absolute joy to play. Phantom Hourglass is a game for everyone, especially the Zelda fans.