The game's biggest downside is that there is only a handful of what you might call proper dungeons. It's not short at 15 to 20 hours of play, but you don't get a lot of dungeons for your dollar, and rarely are they as long or difficult as seasoned Zelda veterans might demand. In a way, the game forestalls this criticism by incorporating a central dungeon - the Ocean God's Temple - which you're forced to revisit several times. In fact, this is where the titular timepiece comes in; the floors of the temple are filled with a poisonous fog, which you're only safe from when standing in specific coloured areas, or while golden sand remains in the top of the hourglass.
Unfortunately, this idea brings with it some problems of its own. First, while bringing new equipment in does cut down on the amount of old ground you have to traverse on each new visit, it doesn't cut it out entirely. At times, repeating a chunk of the game for the umpteenth time seems like a cheap way to prolong its lifespan. More seriously, the fact that you might have to get through several floors and solve several puzzles within the time limit means that you often take two or three tries to do the relevant portion of the temple without dying from the effects of the fog - particularly as the temple is also patrolled by indestructible phantoms who knock thirty seconds off the clock each time they batter you. While the stealth gameplay you resort to is relatively well implemented, it's still a bit of an annoyance. There are times when the Oceans God's Temple sections threaten to bog down the game as whole.
Luckily, the rest is so exuberant and so constantly engaging that this never happens. Like Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess or The Wind Waker (at least while Link has his feet on dry land) there is something terribly moreish about The Phantom Hourglass. You'll tell yourself that you'll give it a break when you've found the dungeon entrance, but that soon becomes "maybe when I've got inside" or "perhaps when I've found that next bit of kit" or "I'll just have a quick look at the boss, what's the harm". It's just so hard to stop. And while the collectibles and bonus quests that prolong the lives of console Zeldas are in short supply, there's enough ship customisation and power-gem collecting to keep you from reaching the credits before you're quite ready. On a home console this was trouble, but on a handheld it might be disastrous. I for one am glad that I don't have a daily commute to play this on. I wouldn't hit my stop again for weeks.
Is The Phantom Hourglass as good a Zelda as Twilight Princess? Not quite. It hasn't got the scale, the looks or the depth. But when you realise that a game on a handheld can actually stand any comparison to one of last year's best games on any format, you know that you have something special on your hands. The Phantom Hourglass isn't perfect, but it's one of the very finest games on a platform that's hardly starved of greats. Another classic Zelda, another DS essential. Now rush out and buy it - you've already wasted enough time.
The full Zelda experience in beautifully realised handheld form. A must for fans of the series, and one of the richest, deepest, most innovative games on the DS.