E3 '07: The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass Hands-On Preview

Nintendo delivers a time-limited demo of its highly anticipated DS Zelda title at this year's E3.

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Nintendo had much to shout about at this year's E3. First of all, the company broke the news that it had two new Wii peripherals set for release in the form of a Zapper light gun and a steering wheel. Then the company revealed a procession of new games heading to the Wii, including Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles, Mario Kart, and Wii Fit. But even with all these new products, one of the biggest attractions at the company's hotel suite was still The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass on DS. The game was playable in time-limited demo form, so while we only got around 15 minutes at the beginning of the game, we still relished every minute.

The game started with Link dreaming about Tetra, a character who should be familiar to players of the GameCube game The Wind Waker. Like that game, the artistic style of The Phantom Hourglass is reminiscent of mid-20th-century European animation, something that certainly divided fans the first time around. It's still open for debate, but there's no doubt about the game's technical prowess. Mixing top-down and over-the-shoulder views, the game boasts an impressive level of detail, while the overall character animation is superb.

Click to enlarge!
Click to enlarge!

The touch-screen control system is certainly very different to past Zelda titles, but the majority of Link's signature moves remain intact. Once Link awakes, he is guided by a fairy called Ciela, who then acts as a cursor for Link to follow as you touch the screen. Tap the edge of the screen and Link will perform a roll, and as always he'll automatically jump over gaps or down from edges.

What's arguably more important is the combat system, and Nintendo seems to have utilised the touch screen to great effect. Our demo gave us just enough time to find a sword and talk to a character called grandpa, who gave us the full lowdown on using the touch screen to attack. There are basically three different ways for Link to strike his enemies with a sword. Tap them once and he'll launch a simple lunging attack. Draw a line in between Link and the enemy or obstacle and he'll perform a sideways slash attack. Finally, perform a circular motion and he'll use a powerful spinning move on them.

We also managed to see a couple of puzzles in our short time with the The Phantom Hourglass. In trying to get hold of a sword, we had to gain access to grandpa's secret stash hidden in a cave. After some exploration, Ciela informed us that the entry code was the same as the number of palm trees on the beach. After heading down to the shoreline and counting seven, we drew a number '7' on the sign and managed to enter the cave. You can also draw memos on the in-game map to highlight key areas or make general notes about where you've been.

Nintendo has had to revolutionise the control systems for its two most recent Zelda titles, first with The Twilight Princess on Wii, and now with The Phantom Hourglass. Just from our short E3 play test, the touch-screen interface for the latter has clearly been carefully implemented, and it's intuitive after a few minutes of play. Time will tell if the system and the game itself will reward longer play, but as it stands right now, we're more excited than ever about getting hold of the finished game.

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