There's one thing that Nintendo's been selling recently, and it isn't videogames—it's charm. From the all-inclusive Wii to constant additions to the infinite Pokémon series, Nintendo's all about... well, the softcore, I guess. Smartly countering the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3's attempts to net hardcore gamers, the welcoming, non-threatening Nintendo has instead gone after your grandma.
We probably should have seen it coming. Last generation's GameCube was a harbinger of cuteness to come, and nothing exemplifies it more than The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, a bright, cartoony game that looked like it should guest star a Teletubby. But behind Wind Waker's cutesy visuals was an epic entry into the Zelda series that contained some of the games' best moments.
Wind Waker's story—and visual style—has now been continued on the DS, with The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass, a game that's arguably the best on the system. Trouncing the Wii's Zelda entry, Twilight Princess, Phantom Hourglass sets our reliable hero, Link, off on another sprawling adventure. Like Wind Waker, there's a nautical theme—Link sails from island to island, solving puzzles and collecting junk before sailing again (the sailing, thankfully, is a vast improvement over Wind Waker's snooze-tastic voyages).
Pretty much everything else is an improvement, too, graphics aside: Clearly designed for the DS from the ground up, the game makes full use of the system's touch screen, with all of Link's movement and actions determined by dragging, tapping, or swirling the DS' stylus. It's tricky to get used to at first, but 20 minutes in and it feels like second nature—while the Wii's controls for Twilight Princess felt tacked on and forced, Phantom Hourglass takes great advantage of the DS' unique design.
There are a few minor issues—the game's difficulty is uneven, and there's an overabundance of "go here, get this, come back" quests. But overall, Phantom Hourglass' witty dialogue, likeable characters, and sunny visuals make it a sharp, engaging game with personality to spare. And a charming personality at that.