I remember the moment The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass was announced at Game Developers Conference in 2006. Nintendo showed the debut trailer during its keynote address, and everyone in the room flipped out as is customary when a brand new Zelda is shown. The excitement had many different reasons behind it. Wind Waker fans were thrilled that Toon Link was finally making a comeback. DS owners had their first Zelda game to look forward to. I was pumped to get another classic top-down view experience in the vein of the original.

Phantom Hourglass was anything but traditional, however. The innovative controls showed that a touch screen on the DS could handle just about everything for a full action adventure game. Making movement and attacking feel natural was an achievement in itself, but so many other creative uses were the icing on the cake.

Remember how boring sailing was in Wind Waker? Here it was completely remedied on the S.S. Linebeck by being able to draw out your course and shoot the cannon at seafaring enemies while you cruised automatically across the sea. And who could forget how awesome it was to be able to trace out the path of your boomerang before you threw it? The puzzle possibilities opened up by this alone were amazing.

The simplest and most useful touch screen tool by far, however, was the note system. After decades of finding some scrap paper to write down puzzle clues and special locations in Zelda games, it was finally packaged in the game itself. Simply being able to mark bomb locations on an in-game map would have blown my younger self’s mind, and it still kind of does. Nintendo has gone on to implement note-taking into the 3DS itself so that all games can take advantage of this popular feature without extra hassle on the development side. It gets me wondering what innovations are around the corner when Nintendo gets around to an inevitable all-new Zelda on 3DS. All I ask is that Nintendo keeps that top-down view.

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[This essay first appeared in Game Informer issue #222]