Ardent Zelda-ites (if you’ve got a resplendent Triforce tattoo in your most intimate of areas and/or genetically-altered ‘elf ears,’ that’s you) will be familiar with the contentious aesthetic of The Wind Waker. The ‘toon-tinged merriment therein was distasteful for some (even camptastic dudes like Boy George himself were heard to exclaim, “EGAD! That’s too much cute!”); even while others found it as relentlessly endearing as a puppy that’s been trained to say ‘I love you. Please hug me. I AM SUSTAINED BY HUGS, AND SHALL DIE WITHOUT THEM!’
Tangential ramblings aside -only momentarily, naturellement- a great glut of fans yearned for the style showcased by console tech demos after this iteration (a next-gen Ocarina of Time was touted). To their eternal dismay, Link’s inaugural appearance on DS, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, would continue to revel in the spirit of cartoon capers that its forebear introduced.
This October 2007 release finds Tetra reprising her pirate lord role, and the sea reprising its YOU WILL INDULGE IN TEDIOUS, PONDEROUS SAILING SECTIONS role. Aided and abetted by fledgling seafarer Linebeck, we must thwart the malevolent machinations of Bellum. This new antagonist has imprisoned Tetra upon a freshly-fabricated ghost ship, and ensconced himself deep in the bowels of the Temple of the Ocean King. He also enjoys reading poetry to incontinent pensioners in retirement homes, and is always seen sporting his Ganondorf is FAR cooler than me t-shirt. (Except he doesn’t, and he isn’t.) As is the wont of The Legend of Zelda, Link cannot locate this ship without first traversing temples, accruing items and stabbing an array of unpleasant foes right in the groin.
In deference to Nintendo’s touch-tastic handheld, Phantom Hourglass contains an obligatory stylus mechanic or two for our delectation. We can maneuver our elven hero and several of his armaments solely via stylus-flailing (drawing a course that the boomerang will then unerringly follow, for instance), and alter the orientation of the two screens so as to scrawl notes on the map. The clarity of said notes was akin to that which would be left by a drunken spider that had dashed through ink on its creepy little arachno-legs, and this is largely a glorified gimmick, but such serves to further augment the experience nonetheless.
This iteration is further notable for marking the inaugural appearance of main-series multiplayer Zelda. It’s rather a meagre affair, I’ll concede, a simple arcade distraction (one player, as Link, attempts to collect gems in an arena; while the other, strategically moving three knight-esque ‘Phantoms,’ must prevent his doing so), but a fleeting foray into online functionality is quite an anomaly for Zelda.
Phantom Hourglass, while a distinct oddity in series terms, was much-lauded by players and critics. In this title, as in its DS successor Spirit Tracks, the cel-shaded shenanigans endure. It is a rather more whimsical and jovial story, and the adorable aesthetic bolsters the game’s appeal in this regard. In summation, it is a tour de force for the console, and reiterates that touchscreen controls need not be a shoehorned distraction. This may be the finest example of the advantages that deft utilisation of the technology can bestow upon video games.