Considering that this is on the DS, and the first Zelda DS game at that, I expected a bunch of innovative gimmicks throughout the game. I wasn't really expecting anything really new; the Zelda series has always been using the same basic stuff: boomerangs, going from one dungeon to the next, maybe bombs, arrows, etc. The packaging is always different however, with an idea that stands out within each game.
For "Phantom Hourglass", it is actually a continuation from "Wind Waker" on the GameCube. You are Link and you are trying to save Tetra (who is actually Zelda who is either overly tanned or a nigger) from the clutches of Bellum. The game world is an archipelago, and you have to sail from island to island to unlock stuffs and gain more power and...stuffs.
Plot your routes and draw your maps!
One thing that made "Phantom Hourglass" and "Wind Waker" unique is 'sailing'. I don't think any other Zelda games have that. Don't worry, no more talking ships this time, just a really annoying person tagging along.
Straight off the bat, you can see the game making use of the DS technology. Maps at the top, using stylus to walk, enabling you to draw notes on your maps (very useful honestly), the way you execute the spin attack, drawing the path for your boomerang...the list just goes on.
But Phantom Hourglass focuses on sailing itself. To move your ship, you actually have to draw out the route for it to take on the map. From there it will obediently follow the lines you drew. Of course, you can choose to abort the path and draw another one. A novel idea, but it gets boring after awhile. Watching your ship getting from one place to another (with random monsters appearing occasionally) isn't exactly fun, but they get a thumbs up for trying to implement it.
The Phantom Hourglass! Top screen's map's pretty useful for dungeons.
Navel combat is pretty decent. Like "Wind Waker", there are still boss fights on the sea, though it's just simple point and click, or rather, touch. At the same time though, you have to keep your ship moving using the map, so I guess you are expected to actually alternate between both the map screen and the actual game screen.
So what does your ship actually shoot? Wait, your ship can shoot? Yes, this time, your ship comes equipped with a cannon. But not only that, you can upgrade it. In fact, you can upgrade and customize your entire ship. Traveling around the world will land you some ship parts which you can equip your ship with. A ship have 8 parts to customize with and having it equipped with a 'set' item gives it more health.
For more on ship parts, here's a pretty in depth guide.
Kids' don't ever try this at home -_-;
So what does "Phantom Hourglass" mean? As you travel through the world, every boss fight will 'fill up' your 'phantom hourglass', which is essentially a magical hourglass that lets you survive in the last dungeon. To prevent disappointment (for those who already starting thinking too much), this idea actually causes the last dungeon to be much more interesting because your terrain becomes your enemy. However, as a small spoiler, you are required to enter this dungeon several times throughout our journey so you are forced to redo some parts of it.
Also, in this dungeon, there are Phantoms, monsters that are literally invincible and will chase you down until you reach a safe point (marked my the terrain) or it catches you. As opposed to previous Zelda games where you are mostly forced to beat the shit out of your enemies, these Phantoms requires you to 'stealth' through the dungeon (you get to see their triangular field of vision).
What's a sailing game without fishing?
All in all, 'Phantom Hourglass' was a fun runthrough. The new controls are easy to handle and the whole feel is rather intuitive. Despite it using the old Zelda formula, its repackaging really causes it to stand out among the rest of the Zelda games. There are still many little things I haven't mentioned in this review,
There is also a multiplayer mode where you play some pacman-like game where one player controls Link and the rest controls the Phantoms, armored monsters that Link can't defeat without certain help. Unfortunately, not many people around me own DS or this game for me to actually try it out.
To me, I think this game is a must-try for all DS owners.
NeetGeek score: 8.5/10