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Link returns to the Nintendo DS in an entertaining adventure on the high seas...
A direct sequel to 2003's unforgettable Wind Waker, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass picks up where the GameCube title left off. Porting the distinctive visual style to the DS with considerable success, Phantom Hourglass commences with Link, Tetra and her crew searching for a mysterious Ghost Ship believed to hide a wealth of hidden treasure. Of course, it's not long before Tetra is kidnapped and Link has to save the day. Teaming up with Lineback (who bears more than a striking resemblance to Captain Jack Sparrow), The Phantom Hourglass feels closer to a buddy-story than any previous Zelda title with a strong comedic element throughout the entire game.
With a style and level of substance belying its handheld constraints, Phantom Hourglass maintains the qualities we've come to expect from the series, whilst introducing a handful of DS touches that elevate the experience even further.
Despite the game's magnitude and the way in which it captures the majesty associated with Zelda titles, Aonuma-san and his team have streamlined many aspects to ensure it's a Zelda game that suits the handheld experience. Nowhere is this more evident than the removal of Rupee limits that have become a characteristic of past Zelda titles, as a result its played at a faster pace more befitting a handheld title.
Throughout the entire game it's evident that tapping into the DS unique abilities was the overall goal. Using the stylus exclusively to move and unleash Link's repertoire of sword slashes, the controls have generally been adapted to the DS with convincingly familiar results, although getting Link to roll around the screen seems a little hit-and-miss at times.
Trademark Zelda puzzles and exploration are on display throughout the game's seven temples, nine bosses, hidden treasures, and mini-games galore. Armed with an array of heroic weapons and cunning wit, the DS touchscreen is put to good use whether it's jotting down hints and locations, or solving some of the game's more creative challenges. One word of caution, if you're the type of DS owner who frowns upon blowing into the handheld, then you might have a few problems with some of the challenges.
Sailing the oceans has undergone a significant change since Wind Waker, but is still a questionable experience. Plotting routes on the touchscreen map instead of taking direct control over the boat, you'll nevertheless have to keep an eye out for enemies to shoot at, barriers to jump, fish to catch, and hidden treasure to find. Ultimately the pedestrian nature of watching your boat sail automatically to the next waypoint may be a little too relaxed for some gamers, though thankfully the option to warp to different areas becomes available as the game progresses. Throughout the game Link discovers various new parts for the ship, and by combining these into the correct sets you'll earn additional health for the ship. It's a shame that these have no affect on other aspects of the ship's performance, as the plodding nature of the sailing sections leaves you desperate for a more powerful engine.
Sandwiched between the sea-faring and dungeons, Link must occasionally use the Phantom Hourglass in a novel test of timing and patience. Pitted against a time limit to work towards the exit of each floor, the Temple of the Ocean King challenge takes on a stealth approach with patrolling guards, safe areas, and puzzles to solve. The tight time limit and safe areas lend these sections a puzzle-like mentality, but the impact of these enjoyably different challenges is ultimately hampered by the sheer repetition that's involved. Link makes a frequent visit to the Ocean King's Temple and each time you'll have to run through the same levels just to progress further; admittedly it's a small gripe, it's not the first time a Zelda game has occasionally felt padded, but it does begin to grate until midway checkpoints become available.
Continuing the recent multiplayer obsession, Phantom Hourglass features a satisfying multiplayer mode that belies its diminutive prominence. Featuring support for Multi-Card, DS Download, and Nintendo WFC, Zelda's solitary multiplayer mode is a surprisingly deep interpretation of the slightly aggravating Phantom Hourglass stages from the main adventure mode. Taking place across three rounds, each player takes it in turn to play as Link or take control of three phantoms. Link's challenge involves getting triangle pieces to the colour-associated base, whilst the phantoms try to stop him. What starts out as a deceptively simplistic mode, turns into something considerably deeper with the various power-up's, shortcuts, and techniques you'll have to devise.
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