The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass

I predict that this year will be the Year of Zelda. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is on the way for the Wii, but all of us portable fans won't be left out in the cold either, with The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass just on the horizon.

As you may (or may not) remember, at the end of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Ganondorf is defeated. Link along with Tetra (Wind Waker's version of Zelda) and her merry band of pirates sail off to new adventures. Phantom Hourglass on the DS is actually a direct sequel to Wind Waker. The game opens with Link and Tetra/Zelda encountering a mysterious ship,.Link falls into the ocean and loses consciousness, only to be awakened by a fairy similar to Navi from Zelda: Ocarina of Time. All alone, his new quest begins. He must find out what happened to his friends, and what evil force is behind his unfortunate circumstances.

Sounds fairly typical so far - Link on a quest to find Zelda, a mysterious evil force being involved, not to mention the usual swords, boomerangs, maps, and dungeons. This time there is a big difference in game controls however, thanks to the DS's touch-screen functionality. According to Phantom Hourglass producer Eiji Aonuma, "My main objective was to develop a Zelda game controlled only with the stylus." Yep, that's right, no buttons or d-pad for this game. Most if not all the game controls will be focused on the touch screen capabilities.

So how will that work, you may ask? To move link you tap on the screen, using the fairy as your onscreen cursor. Tapping enemies will activate Link's sword attack, and drawing a circle around Link will perform his signature 360 degree spin attack. Picking up items, jumping over pits, throwing bombs and boomerangs, all will be done with the stylus. You can also write notes on your maps, navigate paths while sailing between islands, and draw symbols to perform certain tasks. These new game controls should keep the Zelda franchise fresh for veteran fans, but may also make the Zelda game more inviting for new players as well.

Visually, the game will continue the Wind Waker cel-shaded look, which disappointed some fans on the GCN, but seems to fit the DS nicely. The game will mostly be played in the traditional overhead perspective, but with 3-D elements. The bottom screen is where most of the action will take place, with your maps and inventory available on the top screen. Boss battle action will take up both the top and bottom screens, however.

It has been revealed by Nintendo that a major portion of the gameplay will consist of Link exploring a main large dungeon that he can only progress through as he conquers other smaller dungeons. The dungeons will be scattered across a myriad of islands. It's an interesting concept that will hopefully freshen up the aging franchise - with interconnected dungeons we can expect more mystery and story possibilities.

Phantom Hourglass also features wireless multiplayer action. Unlike Zelda Four Swords, in which multiplayer was shared among multiple Links, Phantom Hourglass' multiplayer is a two-player versus mode between Link and the Chasers. And just who are "the Chasers," exactly? Essentially, the Chasers basically chase Link around, as one would expect. The game ups the ante in that Link cannot kill chasers, and once they get Link, instant death is a result. The multiplayer action could be explained at a combination of capture the flag and hide-and-seek. Controlling Link through a labyrinth arena, you are the challenger, trying to capture force gems and bring them back to a home base. The chasers, or defenders, are controlled via a map, using the stylus to plan out attacks and routes. Whether this is local wireless play or online play has not yet been revealed.

Instead of treading the same old ground, Phantom Hourglass incorporates many radical gameplay changes that should keep the franchise fresh for Zelda veterans, and accessible for new Zelda converts.