Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks DS

Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks DS
As Nintendophiles impatiently await a rumoured reinvention in the eventually upcoming Wii Legend of Zelda, they're being assuaged by Zelda's pocketsize return with Spirit Tracks, the 15th entry in the everlasting franchise.

As the name denotes, train travel is the key addition to the game, replacing the last edition's over-world transport steamboat. Our cel-shaded hero, Link, is an aspiring railroad engineer until an evildoer kicks princess Zelda out of her body so that a demon king (who had been kept prisoner by the spirit tracks, which were later transformed into train tracks) can set-up shop. Mwa-ha-ha.

Zelda's disembodied spirit follows you, for the first time ever acting as guide and companion as you traverse the sprawling continent of Hyrule, crawl its many labyrinthine dungeons and, er, towering Spirit Tower, while battling its many beasts and cracking its plentiful puzzles in hopes of restoring the princess and rescuing her kingdom. Yes, again.

This direct sequel to Phantom Hourglass may be set a hundred years later, but it's essentially the same game in terms of its cartoonish visual aesthetic, imprecise and indirect stylus controls - you basically tell Link where to go, rather than moving him there yourself - highly-polished level design and massively epic environs. (Though portable consoles were purpose-built for short play bursts, the Nintendo DS has excelled at long-form role-playing games.)

There's not much rule-breaking here - it's Zelda, after all, not a modern genre deconstruction like The World Ends With You - but best to think of the series like jazz: each edition is a variation a theme. In this case, the theme of exploration as inspired by creator Shigeru Miyamoto's childhood spent wandering the familiar hillsides and combing the unknown caves.

Zelda games offer a similar mix of the familiar and unknown, with new riffs bouncing off the same essential structure. It's not about cutting edges, but virtuosic craftsmanship, and Spirit Tracks lives up to its legend, even if it doesn't forge a new one. (Nintendo)