Phantom Hourglass Through the Lens of Truth

If you hadn’t guessed it by now, last week’s article was a joke made for April Fool’s Day, and I feel like I need to apologize for that. I’m not sorry, but it’s polite when you keep away from your most popular series (based on Twitter conversations) in order to troll the fans. So sorry (not sorry) about that.

Anyhoo, this week we are moving on to a new console. The first game in the series for the Nintendo DS made many changes while still staying true to what we knew as the traditional Zelda formula. Was this good or bad? I feel like my rating is overly critical of a game I had a ton of fun with, but trying to keep it objective, I had to point out the (mostly) obvious flaws. Let’s jump right in!


The official art stuck pretty much dead on the formula that had been presented in Wind Waker, with Toon Link center stage, followed up by a marvelous cast of colorful characters. The DS was significantly less powerful than the GameCube, however, so they were not always able to translate this artwork to the screen as well as I would have liked. It was never outright bad, but throughout the whole game I was distracted by the egregiously enormous noggin stuck to our perplexingly pixelated protagonist. The blurriness was understandable, as 3D gaming on handheld devices was still in its infancy, but I couldn’t help but think Golden Sun did it better on less powerful hardware. Being bad enough to break my concentration through most of the game, but not bad enough to be mad about considering the tech, I give the graphics an eight out of ten.


The sound effects stuck with me as impressive for the handheld; it sounded pretty close to the Wind Waker, possibly because many sounds were borrowed from that game. Still, I felt like the sound effects in a mobile game were on par with a “real” console for the first time with this game.

The music is another story. I had no major grievances with it, but the tunes were not as memorable as I would have liked. The only background theme I could think of when mentally revisiting this title for the review is the Temple of the Ocean King, and I attribute that not to how good it is, but rather to how long I was in that god-forsaken place (more on that later). It took me a while, but I did remember a few tunes that I liked; Anouki Village and the Goron City themes sit well with me, but I cannot recall any other dungeon themes, nor the sailing theme. I just wish they were more memorable.

Having a score that is nigh on one hundred percent forgettable pulls its overall score down to a seven out of ten. I want to say it gets a ten because of how well composed it is, but I cannot if I do not remember it.


Hooray, we finally get to address the elephant in the room! Actually I liked the touch controls. I felt like they were unnecessary, but they were responsive, easy to use, and it didn’t really detract from the game. Well… most of the time. I enjoyed the on-land gameplay incredibly, but once you went on the sea it was a different story.

I liked the idea of plotting your course and letting Linebeck take charge, but the inherent flaw here is that it makes combat tedious. Whenever you get attacked by another ship you have to delete your course and make Linebeck drive around in circles until you destroyed it because otherwise it would follow you to the ends of the Earth, and it would have the advantage blasting you from behind. Then inevitably just as you were about to win the fight, the random swirly course you plotted will run out and you’ll be a sitting duck as the enemy wastes you. Realistically, this could easily be fixed just by giving Linebeck an autopilot button. They wouldn’t even need to design him an AI, just copy and paste that from the pirate ships, but you control the cannon. This was not the case, however, and ship-to-ship combat suffered for it.

On land, as I said a moment ago, the gameplay flowed nearly flawlessly. Everything I love about Zelda was totally here. There was exploration, puzzles, and dungeons to rival any good 2D game in the series. Maybe not beat, but rival. The only annoying thing that came of the touch screen was the inability to use an item on the go. Having to press the item button in the corner of the screen and then interact some other way with it to use it (like drawing a path for the boomerang) was an oversight that could have also been easily remedied by tying item use to a button as well. Holding the DS with one hand, it could have been any direction on the D-Pad or the trigger and it would have worked fine.

Getting back to dungeons, I loved all of them but one. I think most of us can agree the Temple of the Ocean King was just badly presented. As a dungeon I loved the design, but the timer killed it. I don’t mind a timed puzzle sometimes, but running out of time in this case had far too harsh a penalty. For the first few runs, you had to redo the entire dungeon. Having to redo such a large chunk of it so many times over the course of the game actually frustrated me so much that I shelved this game for over a year before I finally sat down and beat the damned thing. After the third time I think, you could save your progress with your current timer, but at that point it was too little, too late. If this was the case from the get-go, I would probably have no gripes about this, but since they presented it the way they did, it has easily become my least favorite dungeon in the series. I am having a very difficult time describing my hatred of this dungeon without using any F-bombs. I’ll leave it at that.

One crappy temple and a few odd design flaws drag this down to a six out of ten. Underwhelming for Zelda, but still a fun experience worth playing as long as you have a guide for the Temple of Suck.


In case you don’t remember, I love Wind Waker, and following up this classic with another seafaring adventure was grounds for one of the best sequel stories I have ever beheld. While I would have preferred if Tetra dusted off her cutlass and joined you in combat, having Zelda imprisoned in stone was an immediate way to make you pay attention. Coming in just after teaming up with her and defeating Ganon, suddenly losing her once again feels a little like a cliché, but also added some weight to the story because COME ON, I literally just saved her.

Breaking up the annoyance of losing your love interest, Link teams up with possibly my favorite companion character in the series, Linebeck. Always up to hilarious high jinks, Linebeck felt like everything weird and fun about Zelda stories squished into a wannabe pirate.

Unfortunately, our beloved captain had his sea legs and not his land legs (if that’s a thing), so we needed to take along another companion, and it had to be a fairy because so many people loved that in Ocarina. Okay, Ciela wasn’t that bad, but I feel like she was just there to be Navi light. She had only a vague outline of a personality, but she did not have all the secrets to defeating the baddies or warn you about weird places to Z-target. Without Linebeck, this shallow companion would have left the game totally forgotten.

Throughout the game you must visit a plethora of unique locales as well. I love visiting Gorons any time I can, and it was interesting to consider that these Gorons may have migrated here after the flooding of Hyrule in the first place. I’m big into timeline theories, so just the fact that they were there gave a lot of fun points to speculate, and many of them remain valid even after the publication of an official timeline.

This was not the only great place with a great story, however, as the newly discovered Anouki were just as charmingly whimsical as one could want from a Zelda species. As it did in Wind Waker, the Ghost Ship provided an engaging and spooky adventure, and no matter how much I hated it in terms of gameplay, I have got to say that in terms of lore, the Temple of the Ocean King is one of the coolest places we have ever seen. I remember much discussion as to who the “Ocean King” may have been when this game came out. Many posited that it could be Jabu Jabu or the Wind Fish while others claimed it was some other being entirely. Again this added to the timeline debates of old, however this is one point of discussion which has been laid to rest since Hyrule Historia.

At the end of the day, almost everything about this story was riveting… other than the final boss. Bellum felt like he didn’t have a reason to exist outside of presenting an endgame challenge. He had no character. He was a hell of a fun fight, but with villains presented so well as Skull Kid and Ganondorf, he was pretty lame. If he had been a more interesting or believable villain, I might have pushed this story to a perfect ten, but a wee blotch on the clean slate bumps it down to nine.


Thirty points, eh? Seventy-five percent is a game worth playing, but not something I would expect to compete against the greats. The saddest part is that nearly all my problems with the game were completely fixable. I don’t see why this game couldn’t have squeezed an extra five or six points out, but at the end of the day it’s just a bit below the curve in terms of standard Zelda quality.

What do you think? Am I overly harsh on the size of Link’s noggin? Was the sixth trip through the Temple of the Ocean King the best one? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter and we’ll keep the conversation meandering.

Current Rankings:

Oracle of Ages/Oracle of Seasons: 40/40
Ocarina of Time: 40/40
Link’s Awakening: 40/40
A Link to the Past: 39/40
Wind Waker: 39/40
Twilight Princess: 37/40
Majora’s Mask: 33/40
Minish Cap: 31/40
Phantom Hourglass: 30/40
The Legend of Zelda: 30/40
Four Swords: 28/40
Four Swords Adventures: 26/40
The Adventure of Link: 19/40

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