previews\ May 9, 2006 at 8:00 pm

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass - NDS - Preview 2

E3 2006 Hands On Preview

I feel a bit nostalgic right now. The first game I played at E3 2005, my first E3, was New Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo DS. It was brilliantly designed with perfect controls, classic music and advanced visuals. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it again, which is why I returned to unearth further information on the last day of the show.

Today – the first day of E3 2006 – I walked up to the Nintendo booth looking for Wii, but fate had other plans. There were DS titles everywhere, but which one did I sit down to play first? Once again I had no clue as to what game was inside the kiosk, so call it good fortune or whatever you like, but my first game of E3 2006 is by far one of the best and most innovative on display – The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass.

Just like Mario DS, I loved Zelda before I stepped off the plane in LA. Cel-shaded visuals, touch screen puzzles, a new camera view – these aren’t things we’ve seen on a handheld action/RPG before.

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass screenshots

Something we have never seen before, in any shape or form, is the way in which Link is controlled. Don’t even think about touching the D-pad, that’s not what you need. Pick up your stylus and touch the screen, then drag it anywhere you please. A fairy is highlighted on the pressure point of the screen to let you know you’ve made contact. Meanwhile, Link starts moving. You drag a little to left. He turns left! You drag down and start drawing circles and sure enough, Link follows.

“That’s not Zelda,” you say. No, it’s not Zelda – not exactly the way you know it. Like the breathtaking masterpiece Kirby: Canvas Curse, Nintendo is taking Zelda to places you never expected. It’s still a part of the world and Zelda series, but now you’re controlling the game in an entirely new way. It’s unfamiliar territory that becomes familiar quickly. I felt like a pro after just five minutes of play. After 10 minutes: “What’s that Mr. Enemy? Is that all you got?”

To pick up objects, simply tap them on the screen. Link will walk over and pick them up. Tap somewhere else on the screen to throw the object; tap close to Link to set it down. Attacking is done in the same easy-to-learn, highly-intuitive way. Tap the enemies and Link will run over and strike them repeatedly until you stop tapping, or until the enemy is dead. The same can be done to trim bushes, revealing valuable rupees.

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass screenshots

Puzzles are based on the touch screen, which means you’ll get several opportunities to draw lines and various shapes or pictures. Not much could be found out about this in the demo, but it’s unlikely that Nintendo will stop there. I’m expecting a lot of touch-based puzzles in the final version, which is due to hit sometime in the fourth quarter.

Divided into four sections, the Phantom Hourglass featured a town with locals to interact with and a clever dungeon with lots of simplistic puzzles (this title has not been completed – expect more complex objectives later on in the game). The puzzles were fun and the sound effects and music were of the standard Zelda collection and sounded amazing.

Although the demo also featured a section where Link could sail to various locations, it was the boss battle that provided the biggest challenge. He had a thirst for flying and hovered over Link. Link’s only defense: bombs. Unfortunately the bombs can’t reach the enemy from where Link is standing. What to do?

Every now and then I noticed a twister appear from one of four locations (this boss stage was set on a circular platform). Throw the bomb into the twister and it’ll shoot straight up into the air. If you time it just right and wait for the flying menace to pass over, the bomb will hit and damage the boss.

Needless to say this is one of the most impressive titles at the show. Anyone who loves Zelda and the innovative content the Nintendo DS provides will be instantly captivated by this unique addition to the series.


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