When the legend is bigger than the game
This is the first Zelda for the Nintendo DS system and has many important new features. It uses cel-shaded graphics that really suits with the essence of the DS and a new control system never seen before in a game of the series. The whole game is controlled with the stylus, every movement is done with it and you don't need the buttons. Anyway, you can use the buttons as shortcuts, but you don't need them to finish the game.
That feature is the most important one, with that, this new Zelda is the most different one in some years. When Ocarina of time was released the jump to the 3D never ruined the story and the gameplay, that's why Ocarina of Time is one of the best games ever and probably the best game of the Zelda series. They managed to do a new game with the same old concept that is going to be repeated over and over through the years. Phantom Hourglass is more of the same.
The story is the same as always. You have to save a princess from a monster and you'll need special powers to achieve your quest going through dungeons, exploring secret areas and killing enemies with your sword (and many other sub-weapons like a bow, bombs...) until you find a special sword that can hurt the big boss. It's always the same, and that's why Zelda is so special. They've made many games of the series and it's always the same, but it shouldn't be changed because it always works.
Beside that, the only important change from other Zelda is the gameplay, and that's the main attraction of the game. You use your stylus to move Link, attack, grab things, jumping and everything that Link has always do. The mic is used too in some parts, so, the game uses the potential of the system really well. You can draw things too, to solve puzzles of the game or just drawing something on your maps to remember a code or whatever you want. You can drive in almost every map of the game, and that's a great feature, for sure.
Apart from gameplay, story and other things and focusing on the game, it's a good game. You have many secrets to find, and the game is not short, there are many islands to explore and many things to do like. The game is really easy, but it's funny, so, no problem.
Phantom Hourglass is not the best Zelda game ever made, and it's not even one of the best of the series. There's something wrong with this game and it's not easy to know the reason. When you're playing, you'll never feel as you're playing a great game. It's a good game, but nothing more, and Zelda deserves something better, a special feeling like the other games of the series which is not in here. You'll enjoy the game, but you'll miss that feeling, it's hard to describe.
Beside that "feeling", music is not as good as it should, some good songs but nothing special. The main problem is that gameplay is bad. To control Link with the stylus is something different, but not so good. It's obvious that a game like this need to use the special features of a system like Nintendo DS, but maybe the game would be more comfortable if it was played with the classic gameplay, just using the buttons. There are no big problems when you're just walking around and killing some enemies, the problem appears when you need to be more precise because sometimes it's really frustrating. Link will attack many times when you don't want him to do that, sometimes you just want him to go to a concrete point and he will start slashing.
There's another problem leaded by the use of the stylus. Your hand will block your view many times and you'll see just 75% of the screen, it's possible that an enemy hits you just because you didn't see him coming. Maybe because of that they've done a really easy game, far from other games of the series.
Story is not addictive. It's good, but not as great as it should. That's what happens with almost every aspect of the game, a good game but nothing more, no big surprise.
There are many good games with the cel-shaded technique, we can fight incredible battles in the Dragon Ball Budokai Tenkaichi series, unmask a conspiracy to become the president of the USA in XIII or climb walls and do incredible jumps in Prince of Persia 2008. Cel-shaded graphics for those games are just perfect and make them different from many others, but the graphics for this game are simple and doesn't make them different. I don't know if it's just because of cel-shading, but it feels like it doesn't suit with the game. Maybe another concept using cel-shading could be better, or just another alternative technique, but graphics are not remarkable
The Bottom Line
A good game of the series, but not the best one. Link comes again with a new control system which is as necessary as annoying. The game uses the special features of the DS very well, but the feeling is that something bigger should be done. Every aspect of the game is ruled by this sentence, good, but not as good as a game with this name should be. Anyway, is one of the best games for the DS, but it's not better than Zelda: The oracle of seasons/ages for the GBA. The Nintendo DS deserves a better Zelda game, just because of the success of this system and because of the importance of the Zelda series.