s a direct sequel to Wind Waker, a game that left off with Link and his ragtag pirate crew setting sail for uncharted waters, this installment also requires that you have sea legs. A good portion of this journey takes place on the salty blue, but unlike the previous offering, you won’t have to pay attention to which way the wind is blowing or travel great expanses without anything happening.
In this new world, the seas are mighty treacherous. Creatures from the deep see you as a tasty snack, and rival pirates are certain there’s a good stash of booty on your vessel. Whenever you shove off from shore, your cannon will be red hot by journey’s end. The oceanic travel, which is used through the majority of this game, is mighty thrilling, and now boasts the adventurous spirit you have come to expect from Link’s land-based explorations.
As much as you could see yourself spending days bouncing across waves and firing cannonballs at voracious squids, the best that Phantom Hourglass has to offer takes place on land. Link’s quest may follow a familiar path, such as finding bombs, activating the Triforce, and saving the princess, but the gameplay and puzzles that unfold within it are unlike anything this series has offered before. This is largely due to the unique functionality that the Nintendo DS brings. The touchscreen handles movement and combat without a hitch, and is tapped to deliver puzzles and sequences that will leave you speechless.
Most of the challenges will require that you take notes, but not on a notepad you have at your side. You can scribble anything you like on the game’s map, which is always shown at the top of the screen. Like any pirate map, your notes will lead to buried treasures and hidden wonders. A carefully drawn line can also be used to lead you across an invisible path. Most of the dungeons are brimming with unique moments, but don’t necessarily last long. You can usually fly through a dungeon in 20 minutes and tackle the boss without breaking a sweat. The dungeons deliver the fast-paced intensity found in A Link to the Past, but never really allow you to get stumped or think through the problems, as the solutions are clearly laid out before you.
The game also offers the most frustrating dungeon in Zelda history, and it all has to do with the relic known as the Phantom Hourglass. This item basically brings about a time-based challenge. As the sand drips through the glass, you must hustle through a stealth-heavy multi-floor maze. If you fail, you have to start from floor one again, and if you succeed, you’ll eventually unlock the second, third, and fourth Hourglass challenges – all making you run through the same dungeon and puzzles over and over again. In the end, the Phantom Hourglass just brings frustration and unwanted repetition.
It may not live up to the lofty standards recently displayed in Twilight Princess, but this adventure is worthy of Zelda canon, and still has enough great stuff going for it to be considered one of the year’s best adventures.