So I'm sitting in a coffee shop in Boston, blowing into my DS Lite, and trying very hard to be discreet about it.




A woman at a nearby table eyes me suspiciously. It's safe to say she has never before seen a man in his late 30s huffing into a portable video game machine in public before.




The reason for the display: I'm playing the recently-released chapter in the never-ending "The Legend of Zelda" series, "The Phantom Hourglass."




There are several portions of the game where, as Link, I needed to literally wheeze into my DS Lite's built-in microphone to douse fires, spin windmills and, ultimately, make progress through the game.




The game takes its visual and narrative cues from "The Wind Waker," the sometimes-maligned cel-shaded chapter in "The Legend of Zelda" that appeared on the Wii's predecessor, the GameCube, that featured sailing. And more sailing. And then even more sailing.




"Phantom" picks up where "The Wind Waker" leaves off. The elfin Link, the consummate overachiever, always doing oh-so-much with oh-so-little, is at sea with the sassy Tetra, who's secret identity is Princess Zelda, just in case you didn't spend the required 50 to 60 hours to polish off "The Wind Waker." (I did spend those hours; which is, I realize, nearly as embarrassing as blowing into a DS in a crowded coffee shop.)




Tetra decides to investigate a mysterious ghost ship, which we all know is a terrible idea. But there's no denying the spunky Tetra. Within seconds of loading up the game, Tetra is gone, along with the ghost ship, and it's up to Link, and you, to find her.




The most striking quality of "The Phantom Hourglass" is its ingenious control scheme. It's nearly 100 percent stylus-centric. Everything, and I mean everything, is controlled by the DS stylus. Want Link to head to the far side of the screen? Simply drag the stylus in that direction. Tap rocks to pick them up. Make tiny slashing motions to mimic sword strikes.




It all feels awkward and ineffective and frustratingly inaccurate at first, but give the control scheme an hour or two, and it begins to feel spot-on. (Tip: Instead of flailing about, make quick, efficient motions with the stylus for best results.)




The game is paced like all "Zelda" games. You talk to a few people in a village. Acquire a sword. Find an entrance to a temple. Solve puzzles. Pop open treasure chests. Battle a boss. Acquire new weapons. Then do it all over again.




And again. And again.




To its credit, "Hourglass" displays a tremendous amount of video-game craft, intelligence and visual panache. It also has the distinction of being the least taxing of any "Zelda" game in the series. The puzzles never busted my brain. Dungeons, instead of feeling plodding and dreary as they normally do, actually feel almost breezy in "Hourglass." Even the sailing portions of the game, which were such a chore in "The Wind Waker," are actually borderline fun this time around.




Call it "Zelda-lite."




Yet, in the end, I never really fell under the spell of "Hourglass." The whole enterprise is charming, but in a muted, distant sort of way. There is a tremendous amount of content here; I'm talking about fully realized worlds and entire oceans, all crammed into a cartridge that's smaller than a saltine. I felt myself admiring "Hourglass" more than I ultimately enjoyed it.