Nintendo’s Anti-Hype Campaign Buries DS’ Finest Title Ever

User Rating: 9.5 | Zelda no Densetsu: Mugen no Sunadokei DS
Well, perhaps not buries, but usually when a Zelda game is about to release we hear a lot about it. And we did, indeed, hear about Phantom Hourglass here and there during its time in development, but it didn’t even make it to the cover of Nintendo Power upon its release. Reviews of the game, too, were kind of glossed over, and though fans of the series were there to greet the game, gaming as a whole gave little more than a passing glance at what is possibly the very best game in this long-running franchise.

This is Zelda the way I have always wished it would be. Now that Link has finally arrived on the DS, I think it’s clear that this is truly where he belongs. The stylus is the perfect implement for controlling Link, and this game is basically a culmination of years of Zelda-making – all the best – with few fillers.

For starters, the top-down view is clearly a winner. No more fussing with a camera system during frantic boss battles. You’ve got a clear view of everything within Link’s nearby environment, and it looks good to boot.

Controls? Man, there was rarely a day I wouldn’t see a post in some forum – someone complaining how the stylus-only controls were gonna blow. Well, the opposite is true – squared. The controls are the catalyst for what makes this – in my opinion – now the seminal game in the Legend of Zelda series; the system is fluid, easy to use and versatile. You never feel disconnected from Link, rather you feel like you’re in his boots at all times.

And the controls are the polished brick and mortar for what is truly an epic adventure on the DS. From beginning to end there is always something interesting and fun to do. Wind Waker was a good game, but there were some pacing issues, as far as I’m concerned. Phantom Hourglass, however, is pretty much non-stop goodness. Sure, you are required to return to a particular temple over and over – and it’s the one element of the game that is, at times, a bit of a drag – but there’s something new there, too, to be found each time. The puzzle elements – though many of them will likely be familiar to Zelda aficionados – are, in the context of this game, always fresh, offering something wholly new for you to discover.

Additionally, the world of Phantom Hourglass is huge – not just for the DS – it’s huge, period. Many islands and races of people to encounter, tons of creatures to battle, and there are bosses up the wazoo – some of the most fun boss battles, at that.

Now, some folks immediately began labeling this game as a sort of Zelda lite – a Link for the “casual gamer.” Total guff! The game does start out fairly easy – I won’t attempt to argue with that notion – but it ramps up plenty toward the middle to end of the journey. But the emphasis, surely, is on the fun factor. Phantom Hourglass seems to consider every type of gamer. It will often come at you strong, but if you die and continue, the game will, seemingly, then go a little easier on you. Regardless, the puzzles aren’t puzzles per se – they are demands on a player’s resourcefulness. This aspect is perhaps the hallmark of the series, and it’s perfected in Phantom Hourglass. You’ll constantly be required to try things you just wouldn’t normally think would be asked of you in a video game, and usually the thing you think is a long shot ends up being the right thing to do. It’s genius.

Take all that Zelda goodness and gift wrap it in the most elegant, gorgeous presentation ever seen in a DS game and you have Phantom Hourglass. The graphics are beautiful, but more impressive is the way they are presented. Cinematic cutscenes everywhere, tastefully crafted to move the game’s story forward in a way that completely captures the imagination. The sound, too, is exquisite, and some of the instrumentation will shock you when you contemplate that it’s coming from those tiny DS speakers.

Some reviewers have clocked the game in at about 15-20 hours. I’m not sure how, but I guess they rushed through it. Myself, I’ve gotten closer to 25-30 hours out of the game, and none of it was due to lolly-gagging on boring sidequests. The sidequests that the game does offer are very fun gameplay elements in their own right, and often play into helping you along in your quest. And though you may not be inspired to immediately play through the game again, it’s definitely one fans will want to keep for another time & place. There’s also a little bit of multiplayer going on, as well as trading. In sum, Phantom Hourglass is a tremendous game wrapped in a tiny DS package. It’s clear that a lot of love and inspiration went into this particular Zelda title. For me, Phantom Hourglass now stands apart as the greatest Zelda game ever, and perhaps one of the greatest games of all time. Huge, huge matzo balls on my part, I know, but at least give this one a playthrough. Ocarina of Time had its day in the sun as the gleaming gem among gems, but a new hero’s tale has arrived, and it’s a true Legend.

Thanks for reading, and happy gaming!