The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (Nintendo DS) Review

By Adam Riley 16.10.2007

Review for The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass on Nintendo DS

Following the shock and controversy surrounding the cel-shaded approach Nintendo took with Wind Waker on the GameCube, it was no surprise that the company reverted back to the more traditional style fans had been crying out for with Twilight Princess. However, the cartoon-esque route is being taken once more for The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, the series' debut on the Nintendo DS. But not only that, the development team has thrown the standard control mechanic out of the window in favour of a completely touch-screen derived method of input. The question is, though, whether or not this freshens things up or actually detracts from the Zelda universe we have all grown to love over the years.

For those wondering about the transition back to cel-shading, this is due to Phantom Hourglass actually being set after the happenings of Wind Waker, working as a sequel of sorts, thus retaining the same graphical style. It all starts with a gorgeous 2D paper cut-out tale that covers the title's back-story, before launching into the main game, where Link, plus Tetra and her crew come across the legendary Ghost Ship. Typically, things go slightly awry when going to inspect it as Tetra disappears into the ship and Link falls overboard, subsequently being knocked unconscious. Therefore, upon finally waking up again, the objective of TLoZ: PH is to rescue the hapless female pirate...or at least that is the primary aim, with the real plot being uncovered the more you work your way through the adventure. Thus begins a new escapade...

So, Phantom Hourglass takes on the appearance of Wind Waker in that the world is brightly coloured and looks reminiscent of the GameCube game (power limitations of the DS notwithstanding), even to the point of having 3D characters wandering around a fully-realised 3D world. Sure, close-up the textures are rather blocky, but on the whole the game looks fantastic in motion and especially from the above-the-shoulder camera viewpoint. Nintendo has dragged many classic tunes from previous Zelda games as well, to give older gamers playing PH a great feeling of nostalgia, whilst newcomers are now treated to the cream of the crop from the Zelda archives. That is not to say the new tunes included go to waste, though, with many of the new pieces fitting like a glove...Presentation-wise, PH is ahead of practically the entire DS library, bar some of Square Enix's portable creations so far.

Screenshot for The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass on Nintendo DS

The game itself is entirely stylus-driven, with the d-pad almost redundant throughout, and the face buttons used sparingly. Clearly this is a first for the Zelda Universe and naturally it may seem like it would take a while to acclimatise to the new input method. However, using the stylus to guide Link around the world becomes second nature literally seconds after making the little green-clothed lad walk for the first time. In order to run quicker, it is simply a case of dragging the stylus further away from Link! As for talking to someone, this merely involves tapping on the subject. In fact, the same technique can be used to slash enemies with Link's sword - tap on the creature and watch as Link lunges forwards to deliver the killer blow. For slashing side-to-side, randomly, all that is required is to do such a motion on the touch-screen just in front of Link, and drawing a quick circle around our Hylian hero results in a spin attack (too many in a row make him dizzy, so be warned!). Everything from the old quests has been successfully transposed onto the touch-screen.

Screenshot for The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass on Nintendo DS

As you work you way through the game, you will wander around various villages, gathering information from locals and trying to figure out where to go next. In order to traverse the world, though, there is no Epona to gallop along on; instead your steed is in fact the S.S. Linebeck (owned by the infamous pirate 'Linebeck', who follows you for practically the entirety of the game to help develop the story and add a humorous side-kick slant). But fear not, there are no long-winded (no pun intended!) sailing sections this time round that will bog down your progress. The alternative used here is that Link collects Sea Charts and the player draws the desired route and then watches as the ship heads off into the wide-open blue ocean. Whilst sailing, players must keep an eye out for enemies and obstacles, either jumping out of the way (yes, this ship can jump!!) or using a cannon (acquired early on) to blast through to safety. There are other extra aspects to sailing as well later on in the game, such as being able to fish at specific locations, warp to different spots to save time, uncover previously uncharted islands and even salvage treasure from the seabed, all of which ensure sailing is more interactive and enjoyable than ever before.

As for working through the various dungeons, Nintendo has marvellously crafted puzzle-heavy affairs that take full advantage of whatever piece of equipment you recently acquired, as well as those already in your possession. Being able to literally draw the path you want your boomerang to travel brings a whole new element of fun to dungeon exploration as you can use this technique to catch enemies by surprise and then charge round a corner to slash them down, as well as reach switches that would otherwise be totally out of reach. The same goes for weapons such as arrows; sliding the stylus down in the direction opposite you and holding it stationary until the right time, then letting go to fire feels far more intuitive than merely pressing a button at the appropriate time. There are plenty of other items later on that will leave you wondering just why this sort of approach was not used before. Oh, and then there are those dungeons that are time-based...a new challenge indeed!

Screenshot for The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass on Nintendo DS

The key is that Phantom Hourglass feels so natural right from the very start until the closing credits. Playing through the game using the touch-screen proves to be much more rewarding than other third-person titles that stick to the tried-and-tested directional-pad control. The sheer fact that you can do things like drag the map from the top screen down to the touch-screen and make notes on it is so simple, yet ever so effective. The development team has really gone to town with the number of features included in the final product, but ensured that long-term Zelda fans are not left behind, meaning the adventure will feel just as familiar as it has done in the past. The only difference is that Phantom Hourglass sadly ends quicker than you might like. Yet, in all honesty, it is very well weighted for a portable adventure and the inclusion of Wi-Fi extras, such as a sturdy battle mode, help to prolong the fun. And then there is always the extra time most people will spend on collecting everything dotted around the world. Well worth investing in...

Screenshot for The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass on Nintendo DS

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

For those that found Twilight Princess to be a joy to behold, but grew weary as the adventure went on, Phantom Hourglass will be a blessing thanks to the fact it retains all that Zelda fans hold close to their hearts. Yet, at the same time, it streamlines the gameplay and adapts everything perfectly to the touch-screen control system that Nintendo has made it both wonderfully accessible for newcomers and a fresh new challenge for veteran Zelda players. A must-have game for all DS owners...






Action Adventure



C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10 (39 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   


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