Phantom Hourglass continues on from where the Gamecube’s Wind Waker left us. Remember how good that game looked with its cel-shaded, cartoon-like appearance? Well the same animated vibe as been masterfully recreated over here, too. Sure, it’s a bit fuzzy at times, but the characteristic style is a perfect fit for the DS and this is easily the best looking 3D game on the handheld.
After picking yourself up from the initial visual gobsmack, it’s time to pick up Link after he is unceremoniously dumped on the coast of some unknown island. No hero is worthy of such a title if he doesn’t have a sword and shield in hand, and so the first order of business is to locate this basic combo. The set-up follows the traditional Zelda formula that we’ve come to love. After having obtained the gear you need to smack stuff around, you’ll have to ride a custom-built steamboat across the large expanse of water over to other miniature islands of interest. There you will engage in your typical Zelda fare, dungeons and all.
However, you will not be hammering on the B button to unleash Link’s fury, nor will you be guiding him by way of the conventional d-pad. Instead, everything is done with the stylus on the touch-screen. Link has a fairy companion (yet again) who you are in control of. By holding the stylus against the screen you can direct where she flits to. Have her hover a few steps in front of Link and he’ll walk over in that direction; bring her far out of reach near the perimeter of the screen and Link will start running.
Attacking is also a simple affair: a few swipes in front of Link will have him slice on that side, a full circle quickly drawn around him will yield his trademark spin-slash attack, and tapping enemies directly in sight will make him wail out with some heavy hitting strings. Put simply, the controls work – extremely well. And if being entirely touch-based wasn’t enough, there’s also some very good use of the microphone made too; one monster with abnormally large ears requires you to shout at it to stun it! In fact, virtually every single aspect of DS functionality is explored in Phantom Hourglass which makes for a highly refreshing and often-times surprising experience that hasn’t been seen in a Zelda game for a long time.
Is it a perfect action-adventure? Not quite. But the amount of innovation crammed into Phantom Hourglass is staggering. The classic puzzle-based dungeons combined with a unique touch-screen interface are truly amazing, as is the vast water world that you steamboat across. This is easily one of the best handheld games out there.