I'll admit it. When Nintendo announced The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks at its Game Developers Conference keynote, I baulked at the use of trains. I don't hate trains or anything, I just wasn't sure about their place in a fantasy game. Shows what I know. Nintendo has thoroughly won me over with Spirit Tracks.
The premise is fairly straightforward – Link and Zelda are alive and well and living a hundred-odd years after the events of Phantom Hourglass
. Link's been qualified as an engineer on the trains for all of about 89 seconds when things start going awry. Zelda slips him a note asking him to meet her in her chambers. It doesn't get as saucy as you might think - Link
learns that the Spirit Tracks, the railroad that Link now works on, are actually shackles keeping something big, nasty and heinous (the Demon King Malladus) trapped beneath the Spirit Tower. Unfortunately, it turns out Chancellor Cole is set on releasing Malladus and requires Zelda's body to do it. In the process of snatching the lovely princess's body, her spirit gets knocked right out of her earthly being. So it is that Link sets off, with the spirit of Zelda in tow, to restore the Spirit Tracks.
The basic structure of the game involves trekking about the Spirit Tower to obtain glyphs, which will restore sections of track. They won't restore all
the track, however. To do that you have to head off to a series of temples in distant corners of the land on your fancy spirit train. To get to said temples you'll typically need to stop off and complete a side-mission or two.
See, totally straightforward. Like a zig-zag.
Driving your train is much like sailing the ships from Phantom Hourglass
. You get to control your speed as well as which turn in a track you'll take. It's never as simple as taking a straight line from here to there, however. Steaming around the tracks are big brutish horrible trains that look like they want to eat your nice cutesy lovely train, so you'll need to use your map (displayed on the top screen) to keep clear of their chomping maw. You'll also get to blow your great big whistle to scare unsuspecting animals out of your way and shoot your great big cannon at less well-meaning critters. Nintendo's fairly successful at keeping driving your train interesting, but not to the point where you won't sometimes find yourself wishing you could just get to where you're going. Still, (insert joke about the state of British rail services here).
The meat, of course, is in the dungeons. It's just as well, then, that their design is superb. In the Spirit Tower navigating the dungeons revolves around teamwork. Yes, teamwork! For once Zelda is an active element of the game. She keeps popping up in her spirit form to be all peppy and a little annoying – her exchanges with Link are good fun. Anyway, the useful thing about having her around in the Spirit Tower is her ability to leap into the bodies of big armoured phantoms after you've taken them down using a spot of stealth. Once she's inside them, you get limited control over her movements, meaning you can get her to do useful things like carry you to places you can't get to or light the way with her flaming sword in dark spots. The teamwork adds a very welcome level of strategy to proceedings.