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Mini-Zelda a fun little romp

October 12, 2007

By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada

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The Legend of Zelda: Phantom HourglassIn true Nintendo fashion, the company waited quite a long time for a brand new Zelda title to appear on the DS. With the exception of Twilight Princess, fans have always been forced to wait patiently for Zelda games to appear on new Nintendo systems.

But is Phantom Hourglass worth the wait?

Admittedly, it is a solid game, but in the grand scheme of games in the Zelda series, it's closer to the bottom of the heap in terms of overall quality. There are some absolutely fantastic things done with the touch screen, but the game is also quite short compared to others in the series, it has an annoying hook, and it may be too difficult for casual gamers, while being too easy for hardcore Zelda fans.

Don't get me wrong - overall, the merits of Phantom Hourglass outweigh its faults. But when you compare it to masterpieces like Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess, it definitely feels like something's missing.

This particular adventure is a direct sequel to the spectacular 'Wind Waker' title that was released on the GameCube in 2003. The game starts off as most Zelda games do, with a girl being snatched away (Tetra, though for all intents and purposes, it's Zelda), and Link taking it upon himself to save her. The routine is the same as always - earn new weapons and tools, defeat monsters in numerous temples, and repeat - but what keeps Phantom Hourglass feeling fresh is how Link and all his tools are controlled; everything is done with the stylus.

This may worry some gamers but rest assured the folks at Nintendo did a wonderful job. Moving Link works the same as in Animal Crossing: Wild World. Just drag the stylus onscreen in whichever direction you want Link to go. The further the stylus is from him, the faster he'll move. You can also activate items by holding down either one of the shoulder buttons. It's amazing to see the things you can do with the boomerang, hookshot, et al thanks to the touch screen. Attacking is as simple as touching nearby enemies, drawing a circle around Link for a spin attack, or swiping toward an enemy for a jab. The only move I had problems with was Link's roll, which is done by drawing small circles at the edge of the screen. It was sometimes difficult to pull off when a lot was going on onscreen. It worked much more often than not, but it was the one noticeable problem I had with the controls.

Not only does the touch screen invent new ways of control, but you can also use it to draw notes and solve puzzles. The touch screen plays a big part in solving many of the game's brain stumpers. One scenario required me to literally draw the shape of an uncharted island. Once I figured out the shape of the island, I could then solve the riddle that was given to me. It may not sound like much here, but it truly was only one of many brilliant touch screen-related ideas in the game.

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom HourglassThe 'hook' of Phantom Hourglass is that Link has to return to a specific temple several times throughout the course of the game. This temple has the ability to suck power right out of anyone who steps in it. Link, luckily, attains the Phantom Hourglass early on, which has a limited amount of sand in it. Once the sand runs out, you're as good as gone. As you defeat bosses in the game and find treasure, you'll earn more and more sand, allowing you to go deeper and deeper into this temple. The problem is, you have to repeatedly go through the same levels of the temple. It's a lot of annoying memorization that really brings the game down. Granted, as you gain more powers and earn more tools, you'll be able to take shortcuts through previous rooms, it still doesn't help the fun factor. It's a neat idea on paper but its execution was far from perfect.

The other problem with the game - and something the series is notorious for - is that although there are some very cool items to be found (made even cooler thanks to how they're used with the touch screen), some are gained only near the end of the game and are barely given a chance to be really shown off. Shooting the hookshot across two poles to create a man-made slingshot is, once again, brilliant. One could only imagine the kinds of puzzles this could be used to solve, but it seems you'll have barely picked it up in the last temple before you're moving on to the final battle. Disappointing, to say the least.

There is still plenty to like about Phantom Hourglass though. The cel-shaded look, which is taken straight from The Wind Waker, is tailor-made for the DS. I've seen better-looking games on the dual-screen handheld, but Phantom Hourglass holds its own. It's still fun watching Link's facial expressions, and some of the larger enemies are quite impressive. Many of the boss battles take up both screens and give the game that epic Zelda feel.

Whoever says this is a more mainstream Zelda title is off the mark. Yes, it's easier than most Zelda games, and is surely shorter, but there are assuredly enough puzzles in the game to stump most 'casual' gamers.

It may not be quite as epic in scope as other Zelda games, but for a handheld RPG, you can't go wrong with Phantom Hourglass. It'll be interesting to see where Nintendo goes with the series after this, as the Zelda formula is getting slightly stale, but you won't be wasting your money if you're a fan of the series and decide to pick this up.

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
Format: Nintendo DS
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: E for Everyone
Official Site:
Rating: 7.5 / 10

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