A frustrating experience that's saved only by it's controls.
THE BAD: Terrible level design, disappointing story, hard to use online play, lack of excitement during most of the game.
Nintendo wanted to create a brand new Zelda game for the DS that would be controlled entirely by using the touch screen. This is a great challenge, considering you wouldn't think of a Zelda game, which has always had very complex controls, to work on one touch screen. But somehow, they actually pulled it off. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is a full Zelda game that works entirely on touch screen controls, and there is not one glitch in the entire game. But unfortunately, Nintendo should have spent less time working on perfecting the controls, and instead spent some time actually making the game design fun.
When you first start the game, you will be amazed. This game includes the most impressive opening cinematic ever on any system I have played, mainly because it's all in real time and it's running on the DS. It's not impressive because of the huge number of polygons or the high resolution textures, it's because this is the most flawless animation I have seen since a PIXAR movie. Just about all of the main cutscenes are like this, and the one at the end of the game is worth the ticket price alone! You have to applaud Nintendo for being able to pull of something on the DS that has yet to be seen even on the PSP.
But these big budget cutscenes are worth near to nothing when there isn't a good story to tell. This is very true here. The game has probably the most disappointing story I have ever seen. Even the Halo 2 cliffhanger is barely nothing to cry about compared to this game's story. This game is supposed to be the sequel to The Wind Waker, which had the best story in all of the Zelda games. At the end of that game, the story was open for a sequel, as Link, Tetra, and the pirates went off to find a brand new Hyrule. This game completely forgets about that. Instead, the game deals with they looking for a ghost ship [?], and Tetra gets kidnapped and turned into stone with Link in hot pursuit. Those looking for a continuation of The Wind Waker will find nothing here. This is more of a spin-off than an actual sequel, and it would have been smarter for Nintendo to create a sequel to one of their most touching and well-written plot lines they have ever made instead of this.
But hey, a Zelda game doesn't need a good story to be good. In fact, the original Zelda game didn't even have a story. All you need for a Zelda game is great dungeons and motivation. Unfortunetaly, this game has neither. Controlling Link is near perfection, but that's nothing if the dungeons are so boring. The dungeons on Phantom Hourglass are repetitive, short, and easy. In past Zelda games, you could spend from a day, to a week, or depending on the person, a month on a single dungeon. With this game you could complete a dungeon in a couple of minutes. Sure, we are talking about a handheld game, but even with that in consideration, the dungeons are just way too short and easy.
Boss fights are another story. They are challenging and fun. It's impressive how the controls make each and every boss fight unique. For example, in one of the temples, there is a boss that is invisible. But in the top screen, it shows from a first person point of view what the boss is seeing. Even though you cannot see the boss itself, you can use both screens at the same time to know where the boss is and attack. In another one, you have to use an item you got to create a trampoline that will deflect enemy fire. The boss fights are very nice, but unfortunately, they have no backstory to them. In Twilight Princess, all of the bosses had a backstory, so there was a reason they were there and what they are. But there is nothing of that on Phantom Hourglass. It's very odd going to a boss and wondering why do you have to kill it other than to get the item it's holding.
But the most insulting fact is The Temple of the Ocean King, a huge dungeon that you have to revisit many times during the game. This dungeon is HORRIBLE. Absolutely horrible. Everytime you complete a dungeon you have to go back to this dungeon so you can open the next dungeon. This alone will kill the game for most people. This is because the dungeon resets itself everytime you get out of it. You have to go through the whole dungeon multiple times and it gets frustrating. This literally makes no sense. Whatever possessed Nintendo to put something like this into the game!?! It's frustrating, it makes you cry, and it stops you from liking the game. This is more absurd that Nintendo made this for the casual in mind. If this is too much for a hardcore gamer, how in the world would a casual respond to this? This absolutely terrible level design is the reason this game is so disappointing in every way.
But wait, there's more! This is the first Zelda game to have online play! But it's not worth your time. The multiplayer component is badly designed as well. The rules of the game and what you have to do is ok, but what is bad is how you do it. Connecting to Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection takes a year, and it takes even longer to find an opponent. What's worse, is that the gameplay is a lag fest. Mario Kart DS doesn't have lag, but yet somehow this game does. So much in fact, it makes the game UNPLAYABLE, because the opponent actually disconnects because of all this lag.
After the near-perfect Wind Waker and the great Twilight Princess, Phantom Hourglass had a lot to live up to, and it did not make it. The story sucks, the level design is terrible, the online play is broken, and the game is overall boring. But the stunning graphics and cutscenes (especially the one in the beginning and the one in the end) and the perfect control scheme makes the problems a little bit less frustrating. It just could have been a lot more.