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E3: The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

Train to win.

Link's latest magical ability is the power to summon queues. Long queues, in fact. Queues that snake patiently around Nintendo's pristine white E3 booth while a lot of the other games on-show can be played with little or no waiting. After a strangely muted response to its unveiling at GDC 2009, the latest DS Zelda title appears to be picking up steam again: business as usual, then, as the mild-mannered pixie folk eclipse most of Nintendo's other offerings.

It's business as usual in the game itself, too. The playable E3 demo build is broken down into three separate sections, covering train travel, dungeon exploration, and a boss encounter. Taken as a whole, it's a surprisingly generous slice of adventuring, and one that showcases a game that's typically thoughtful, and typically traditional.

The train, replacing the Phantom Hourglass's cheerful little paddle steamer, would appear to bring the biggest changes with it, but the truth is, chuffing your way through the landscape feels almost entirely natural from the start. That's partly down to the fact that the controls - limited in the main to forward, reverse and stop - are very similar to the boat's, with a cartoon gearbox painted onto the right side of the screen.

But it's also because of the simplicity with which this particular train-set is constructed. The top screen shows a map of the local network, highlighting your eventual destination and listing the various junction points along the way. 'Switch' sections allow you to turn left or right, and a little on-screen rope can be tugged with the stylus to sound the horn, either to scatter the chunky pigs who like to sleep on the tracks or just because the chance to sound a train horn is something you should never really pass up.

Nintendo has yet to reveal whether Spirit Tracks will take you through Southampton Central as with most train journeys.

And, unsurprisingly, railways are a perfect fit with the cartoon aesthetic of the Wind Waker-style Zeldas, fitting into the toybox world with little fuss as you coast past forests of papery trees, firing your cannon with sharp onscreen taps to destroy rocks and collect rupees, or battle the deadlier elements of the local wildlife, such as the snaggle-toothed boars who attack in packs of three or four.

Heading into a tunnel banishes the breezy outdoor game world, and plunges you into the dark, mysterious side of Zelda, as the craggy stones overhead glow with a strange turquoise light. And, with no switches to worry about, Spirit Tracks tosses other difficulties Link's way, throwing in a meatier enemy in the form of a huge rocky toad, who crawls along the ceiling behind you, his glowing tongue - or is it an eye? -appearing unexpectedly out of the dark and presenting a handy target.

It's enough to suggest that Spirit Tracks will have no problems holding your attention on the open road, even without a huge, surf-flecked ocean to explore, and a chance to hack through a dungeon suggests that things are looking typically confident in that department too.

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About the Author
Christian Donlan avatar

Christian Donlan

Features Editor

Christian Donlan is a features editor for Eurogamer. He is the author of The Unmapped Mind, published as The Inward Empire in the US.

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