The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass Review

by Paul Govan October 24, 2007 @ 12:43 am

Nintendo has a long history of handheld Zelda games. You may well remember playing Link’s Awakening back on the original Game Boy. Whilst it was pretty impressive to get a full action adventure squeezed onto a handheld, more surprising was the fact that the games are the full Zelda experience, in every sense of the word. The game structure, the enemies, the sounds and the art style all receive as much attention on their handheld brethren as they do on the home consoles.

Keeping in this tradition emerges another game in the series- Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. There is something iconic seeing Link out and about on the DS. It feels like a real coming of age for the handheld seeing that Nintendo can trust their number one franchise to it. This game picks up both the art style and the story line from Wind Waker. Although you don’t need to have played through the GameCube classic to enjoy entry into the series, it’s good to see the developers return to one of the most interesting Zelda designs.

The biggest innovation for this Zelda, and the DS in general, is the control scheme. Rather than using a combination of buttons and sticks to control Link, everything is achieved via the touch screen. Although this has been used before, none to the great avail this game achieves. To run around you simply tap and hold the stylus where you want Link to go, you can then roll by a quick circle gesture at the edge of the screen. Items are picked up and thrown with simple taps. Weapons are selected with the right trigger and then controlled with the stylus. The boomerang work particularly well, as you simply draw a line to show where you want it to go, then release, and watch it fly.

Again we find that Nintendo understands both the game franchise and their handheld’s audience to perfection. This Zelda has been tweaked to better fit the pick up and go nature of DS play. For example, dungeons are slightly smaller and more puzzle focused. Even if you do need to turn the game off and return later, a series of short cuts are provided to whiz you through the portions already completed. The over-world portion of the game is also a lot tighter; in particular the sailing has been greatly refined since Wind Waker. Not only are the journeys shorter but they are controlled by simply drawing your course on the DS touch screen.

Visually, as stated previously, things are rendered in a similar style to Wind Waker. This not only looks really clean and crisp, but enables the DS to provide the first full 3D handheld Zelda. Although the majority of play is still from an isometric raised perspective, that fact that you are playing in a real polygonal world means your movement is not restricted. Combine this with the superbly analogue stylus control and the game delivers a real sense of control freedom. The whole package really draws the most possible out of the DS’ little graphics processors.

The music and effects happily evoke all those Zelda memories of old. It is surprising after all of these years the feeling of pride you get when you hear the tone after opening a treasure chest. The music used throughout draws upon years and years of other Zelda games’ excellent scores. This is complimented by some updated renditions of the classic theme music and other sound effects.

Overall, this is an absolute must-buy for any DS owner. Not only does it provide many hours of game play, it is the game that marks the coming of age for the DS. Whilst purists may complain about this slightly mainstream revision of their favorite franchise, the majority of the gaming public can revel in another well pitched and excellently executed Zelda game.

– Full Zelda action adventure
– Superb control scheme
– Beautiful Wind Waker art style

– Shorter experience than other Zelda’s
– Occasional repetitive play