Link is drawn towards the stylus like a moth to a flame, giving him a fluidity of movement that far surpasses the old-school dual axis movement of previous handheld Zeldas. With silky movement at their disposal, the designers are allowed to lob all manner of dexterous spatial tasks Link’s way.
With each new foray you can jot down info on the handy map. Scratch that. It’s not just handy, it’s bloody brilliant. Tap down and it slides from top screen to the bottom, ready for annotating with lever-yanking combinations, routes through booby traps and side quest info. Scribbling becomes second nature, and is a must for Link’s future DS outings. Admittedly, it’s used less in the last few dungeons, but by then you’ll be playing with your toybox too full of items to care.
This tightening ethos flows into the dungeons. The longest can be outsmarted in 45 minutes - not indicating lazy design streamlining, but delicate filtering. Remove the dull bits from any Zelda dungeon - rooms of countless foes to smite or 40 iterations of the old “light three torches” routine - and you’re probably left with around 10 moments of proper puzzling ingenuity. Hourglass simply takes this to an extreme by offering only these choice dungeon cuts.
Any bittiness is fully justified by the structuring of the game around the Sea King’s Temple. Washed up on an island, Link discovers that the means to save Tetra lie in this mysterious structure - a series of trap-laden floors leading deep underground. It’s here that you liberate that blue-coated chap, Lineback. Lineback is a rare thing in the Zelda universe, a genuinely funny comic creation. Dressed in the finest foppery and sporting an impressive catalogue of wily facial expressions, he lets Link explore ahead - finding the eponymous hourglass in the process.