The Phantom Hourglass is a mini-sequel set in the world of Wind Waker. After the events of that game, Link and Tetra are just sort of bumming around the world in the pirate ship. I assume not pirating anything, but even if they are I don't know what they would do but rob Beedle over and over (screw that guy). They stumble across a ghost ship, Tetra impulsively leaps aboard and gets herself snatched up by some sort of amorphous darkness with tentacles, so it's gonna be the princess-rescuing again.

It's on the DS, though, so that means you can expect heavy pimping of the touch-screen controls. I came in prepared for that, but I was not aware that the gamepad is totally disabled as an option save for serving as a shortcut to a couple of menu functions!

So, if you've ever wondered what a mobile touch-screen Zelda game would be like ... well, this is pretty much it. We've had a little over a decade of smartphone games now, and companies still struggle to make a touch screen work well with action genres. It wasn't any better in 2007. Even with Nintendo's vaunted R&D teams on the job, the all-stylus control is just passable at best. It really isn't good, and it often feels like you're battling the controls in a way uncomfortably reminiscent of the weird CD-I games.

At best it's just OK, at worst it's absolutely maddening. You have to click directly on enemies to attack with your sword; clicking on small moving things with the stylus has typically never been a good look on the DS and it's really no better here. Also, Link's swings typically hit multiple enemies at once in the mainline games, but here they only hit the enemy you're targeting. So if they're bunched up, usually the others will tag you while you're hitting one of them.

A lot of little nitty hits don't necessarily make the game hard, but they do make it annoying. Inversely so from the beginning of the game onward, as going down to 1.5 hearts starts the obnoxious BODOOP BODOOP BODOOP sound with an added drunken animation for Link every time he's still for even a split second.

The absolute worst command is the somersault, though. You're supposed to draw a small circle at the edge of the screen in the direction you want to go (as the initial tap will start Link running in that direction). It's incredibly fussy about responding to this, most of the time you just keep running or end up slashing your sword randomly. Oh, and heart pieces almost never appear from grass in this game as they do in all the others - when outdoors, guess how you often have to refill your health? Yep, trying to roll into a tree while you've got BODOOP BODOOP BODOOP in your ear.

Not that any of this means that the game is difficult. To the contrary, Nintendo seemed to realize that their controls were iffy and ratcheted down the difficulty in response. Puzzles tend to be simple single-screen affairs, and fights are cakewalks aside from occasional bouts of wrestling with the controls.

And this is kind of a side note, but the game periodically pulls the jerk move of forcing you to re-watch the slow, unskippable Tetra tentacle kidnapping scene again when you load in a game. You're right, Nintendo, I haven't played this since yesterday, I probably completely forgot what was going on.

From the very beginning I felt like I was just dragging myself through this game every time I came back to it. And that's a shame, because the Wind Waker world is actually my favorite iteration of Zelda. But this thing is just such an unfun chore to play. The worst bit is having to return to the Ocean King Temple between each dungeon, re-doing obnoxious timed floors each time.

Oh, almost forgot - in addition to the iffy touch controls, it has a bunch of that mandatory microphone hollering and blowing sprinkled throughout as well. Maybe not a big deal if you're emulating, but if you're playing on an actual DS in public this kind of thing can bring the whole quest to a screeching halt if you don't want to be a weird spaz on the bus or whatever.

There are some aspects of the touch screen control that are interesting here, like drawing a path for the boomerang to follow. But those little points aren't nearly enough to replace the tactile feel of actually playing a Zelda game with a controller, which turns out to be pretty critical to the experience. The sad thing is, they really could have just made gamepad control possible and most of the stylus stuff optional. But Nintendo was bound and determined to ram them Unique DS Features down your throat in these years, whether you wanted them or not.

It's not terrible, but it doesn't hold a candle to mainline Zelda and is frequently irritating. Even big Wind Waker fans can safely skip it; you really aren't missing anything of significance.

Videos :

* Gameplay Video