Luckily, there’s more, much more, to cheer about. For a start, the worst aspect of The Phantom Hourglass – the use of a repeated central dungeon which you have to work through under a draconian time limit – has gone. Spirit Tracks has a central dungeon – The Tower of the Spirits – but you’re not expected to repeat sections of it, and there’s no hourglass running out to spoil your chances either. I’m sure that all of us who grew to hate Ocean God’s Temple in the last DS Zelda will be very happy about this indeed.
Better still, this Zelda has jettisoned The Phantom Hourglass’s paddle steamer for a much more enjoyable form of transport: the steam train. In fact, the whole premise of the game is that a monstrous evil has been trapped under the aforementioned tower, and that the tower’s magic relies on power routed through the spirit tracks of the title, which criss-cross the land. Over the years these have disappeared, and it’s up to you to restore them. In short, no train, no game.
On the one hand, all this locomotive malarkey cuts down on your freedom to roam around the game world as you wish, but on the other there’s no denying the fun of tootling around on the Spirit Tracks of the title, sounding the whistle as you pull into a station and changing direction at the junctions. And while the initial novelty of train travel should wear off pretty quickly, the game steadily trickles in new elements to keep things interesting. First comes a cannon, which you can use to blast hostile creatures, and before you know it you’re dealing with easily disgruntled passengers, warp gates and even freight. It’s the Zelda-loving trainspotter’s dream come true!
Yet the really good news is that, once you get into the minute by minute detail, there’s actually more new and interesting stuff going on here than you’d think. For a start, this is the first Zelda game where the title character actually has more than a walk on part. Here’s how it works. Early on in the game, the princess is attacked by demonic forces, and her soul separated from her body. Luckily, her spirit survives the experience and accompanies Link on his adventures.
Up to a point, Zelda works like Navi in Ocarina of Time, but when you run up against phantoms – the huge, animated suits of armour from The Phantom Hourglass – you’ll soon discover that she has another talent. Defeat a phantom (which is harder than it sounds) and Zelda can possess its armour, enabling her to distract or combat other phantoms or battle smaller creatures, defend you from missiles or flames, or carry you on a shield through lakes of molten lava.