Nintendo showed off a three-part playable demo of The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks at its E3 booth this week, and as a rabid fan of the last DS Zelda game, Phantom Hourglass, I couldn't resist trying it. If you were the sort of person who finished that game and felt like you could have played a lot more of it, you're in luck; I'm happy to report that Spirit Tracks is remarkably similar to its predecessor.
In part one of the demo I got hands-on with Link's new mode of transportation: a train, which Nintendo has basically substituted in for the boat you had in the last game. The train controls the same way, with stylus-based speed controls on the side of the screen that let you speed up, stop, and reverse. There's also a rope you can pull to blow the train's whistle, which scares critters off the tracks, and the train even has a cannon mounted on it that fires at enemies that run alongside you. It's point-and-shoot, just like the boat's cannon.
It doesn't seem like a stretch to assume you'll be able to collect different sets of parts to upgrade the look and power of your train with, like you could with the boat in Phantom Hourglass. The upgrades gave that game a loot-lust element that made it hard to stop playing. (My girlfriend, who doesn't even play a lot of games, spent a ton of time looking for spare parts and even gifted me all her extras so I could assemble the golden ship. Thanks honey!)
In the dungeon section of the demo, I found that Link will have significant help this time around. Remember the phantoms, those burly, faceless knights that chased Link around the mazes of Phantom Hourglass? This time, those guys will work for you. There was a single phantom in this demo who would walk a path I drew with the stylus, and it could do other useful stuff like activate switches and attack enemies. The phantoms will come in handy in solving puzzles and getting you from place to place, since Link can hop onto them and ride them around through obstacles like lava (which the phantoms are impervious to).
There was also a new item here that let Link aim a strong gust of wind that you activated by--what else--blowing into the DS' microphone. From what I saw, this was only useful in this particular dungeon, which had small turbines spread around that would open doors and such when turned.
Lastly, Nintendo was showing a new boss--which the hectic nature of a busy E3 schedule prevented me from fighting. But I can at least tell you that the boss fights in this game will continue to fill up both screens and probably require you to use the items you pick up in dungeons in some creative ways, just like in the last game.
Spirit Tracks is using the same cartoonish art style--and a ton of the same art assets, gameplay mechanics, and everything else, to be honest--as Phantom Hourglass. That's A-OK with me; PH was one of the best DS games released so far, in my opinion, and when you're starting with such a great foundation, "more of the same" is really not a bad thing at all.