And here The Phantom Hourglass delivers more than any handheld Zelda before it. The world is more compact than that of The Wind Waker, let alone Twilight Princess, but if the result is a bit less aimless wandering then that's hardly a disaster. I know that some of you who hated The Wind Waker's endless nautical exploration will feel a certain sense of dread when I say that The Phantom Hourglass still involves a lot of ocean travel. However, these stretches rarely last more than ten minutes at a time, and now it's mostly a case of plotting a course on a map with the stylus, then managing the cannons and helping the ship to jump the occasional barricade.
The story, meanwhile, might neither be as epic nor as full as that of Twilight Princess, but like The Wind Waker before it, it makes up for it with a lightness of touch and some enjoyably silly characters. It's a world you can easily get caught up in, where isolated island communities get on with their odd little lives and where you'll still be stopped by a flapping messenger boy to take a postal delivery. Is it all a bit primitive in these days of Oblivion and S.T.A.L.K.E.R? Of course. But on a handheld it's a serious achievement.
The game also hits a nice balance between exploration and problem-solving and the hardcore dungeon delving that has always been at the heart of the Zelda experience. Fans will already know the score: solve some puzzles or gather some items to find and get into the dungeon, face a mix of deadly traps and fearsome monsters, discover a new useful item, employ that item to grab a boss key, then use it to battle the boss and open up the next avenue of adventure. Admittedly, The Phantom Hourglass has a tendency to make its solutions too obvious, as if fearful that the casual crowd, once stuck, will leave the game for dead, but there are still some great head-scratching puzzles, and some brilliant multi-monster scraps and big boss battles to keep you on your toes.