Previews

Zelda: Phantom Hourglass

Hands-on: It's Red Link vs. Blue Link in capture the triforce

There's been talk of a Zelda: Four Swords game for DS for a while now, so when we got our first look at Phantom Hourglass's multiplayer element, we were surprised to see that the co-op steal-a-thon we were expecting was nowhere to be found (although there are different coloured Links).

Instead, Eiji Aonuma and his portable Zelda team have come up with a fun little one-on-one battle game which has a red and blue Link fighting over scattered triforce pieces in a Pac-Man style maze.

You're tasked with collecting various triforce pieces and taking them back to your capture area on either side of the map. The bigger the piece, the more the points - though larger pieces slow you down.

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The control setup is the same as in single-player; movement is managed by directing the stylus on screen and items are picked up by simply tapping them, and thrown in the same way. While this control method works well - and no-doubt opens up some interesting gameplay later on such as the drawn-path boomerang - we wish we had the option of using the d-pad as well.

But it's not just a simple game of 'Capture the Triforce'; as one player skims around the level pillaging triangles the other controls a team of three hard-nut Phantoms (the cloudy blokes from Wind Waker).

As the baddie player you command your henchman using a top-down map view to draw paths for them using the stylus, hoping to corner your opponent who is conveniently highlighted on your map. This is a great use of the stylus and requires real strategy to trap Link, who can only see your Phantom trio when he's carrying a piece of the tri-force.

Once the baddie player does eventually manage to capture Link (which the Phantoms do automatically upon encounter) player roles switch and the Phantom man takes the role of a second Link to capture more triforce pieces.

The field remains the same though; so if you're feeling particularly mischievous you can nick triforce pieces from your opponent's capture zone and return them to your own, making for some frantic revenge-fuelled bouts.

Graphically you'll know just how gorgeous this mode is if you've seen any of the movies or screenshots of the solo adventure thus far. Adopting the same 'art-shaded' graphical style from Wind Waker, a lot of the bells and whistles from the GameCube cousin are at work on the DS, including facial expressions and gorgeous character animation. All combined Phantom Hourglass looks fantastic, and is definitely a graphical height of the DS.

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Affairs are bumped up a notch with the addition of special "safe zones" around the map where link can go invisible to the other player, as well as use various warps to other areas of the map. There are also items like the power gloves which let you pick up larger triangles without slowing down.

During our time with the game the safe zones seemed to provide the most strategy for the player controlling Link, as exits and entrances are usually swarmed by phantoms when the blonde haired hero is spotted slipping into them.

A quick warp to the other end of the map, and the cloudy bad guys are left struggling to stop you from snatching that last triforce piece.

It was certainly an enjoyable build on the GDC show floor but we don't know how long it'll last once the dual-screen Zelda is in gamers' hands.

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