The stylus, too, has manifold uses. You'll need to make notes on the various maps that Link receives - jotting down useful information on the whereabouts of hidden treasures, penning special routes on the advice of talking statues and, when at sea, planning a course across the ocean. Although Link travels from island to island on a steamboat, you don't have direct control of the vessel; instead, after drawing a line from where you are to where you want to be, the main objective is to get there safely.
Whenever the boat comes under attack from them thar pirates and other enemies, it pays to launch bombs in their direction. In line with Phantom Hourglass' determination to keep everything smooth, you can just tap on enemies as they appear on the waves; that'll be enough to lob something explosive yonder.
The game is constantly moving, regardless of where you are. Link always has something to do - whether it's an errand to run, a boss fight to win, a treasure hunt, a dungeon to explore, or a journey to the next island. And there is no downtime between objectives in Phantom Hourglass. You can sense at all times, and in everything you see and do, that Nintendo has rigorously tested the game to ensure that the high just keeps on rolling.
The only comedown is when, to attend to silly real world matters, you reluctantly turn off the DS. But even then, this is the kind of joyous gaming experience that you'll think about while you're away from it.
Not only is Phantom Hourglass testament to the d-pad/analogue-trumping capacity of touch screen control - it's also proof that Nintendo still has what it takes to create real gamers' games.
The success of Phantom Hourglass is attributable to the hundreds of little things here that make you think, "Ha, nice!" It's in the dungeons, which are multi-leveled and labyrinthine, carefully leading you ever deeper into their web through puzzles (both of the stated variety, where clues are provided, and of the DIY type where only your own musing and experimentation can succeed). It's in the option to upgrade your boat with new parts, enabling you to create a mean sailing machine. It's in the two-player Wi-Fi mode, which offers competitive dungeon challenges for Zelda players the world over. It's in the facial expressions of the bit-part characters, which are based on the soulful Wind Waker style. It's in the music, which we would happily listen to for ever. It is everywhere, because Phantom Hourglass is complete.
There are many excellent games on the DS but few masterpieces. This one, though, is a masterpiece. And worth every penny you'll pay for it. Hopefully it'll be released in Europe before Christmas.
The single greatest reason to own a DS, Phantom Hourglass is everything we've come to love about Zelda games wrapped up in a shiny new package. Genius and brilliant fun from start to finish.
- Innovative and enjoyable controls
- Looks and sounds gorgeous on DS
- 30 hours' worth of consistently absorbing adventure
- Challenging puzzles and dungeons
- Terrific atmosphere
- When it's over, it's over (but even then, there's multiplayer...)