This is practically the only DS game I can think of that I bought this year - with this year dominated by PlayStation 3 gaming - I haven't really been playing too much of Nintendo's old dual screen wonder. I bought Spirit Tracks new in Super-Target for $19.99 which I didn't think was too bad.
Having played the first in the DS Legend of Zelda series - Phantom Hourglass - which I loved playing through right to the end, I had high expectations for this sequel...
So the opening scene to the main menu was pretty cool, showing the train which was obviously the main mode of transport for this game, replacing the boat which was in Phantom Hourglass. Tapping the screen led me to choose a New Game. There was nothing new here, still a choice between the story: Adventure Mode and multiplayer: Battle Mode.
The story begins the exact same as Phantom Hourglass did with a historical, mythical story involving cute picture-book style pictures. In both games the story is basically the same - Princess Zelda is kidnapped by some dark god who is in turn defeated and the world is saved. However, in Spirit Tracks the dark god couldn't be defeated and was instead imprisoned under 'The Tower of Spirits'. The spirit tracks which trains use are said to be chains that run around the whole kingdom keeping the dark god imprisoned.
After the story is over, the camera pans out and the same character in Phantom Hourglass (Niko) is holding the picture-book. I thought this was a bit lazy and uncreative of the developers. The beginning of both games is practically exactly the same! After this introduction, the gameplay begins. It is identical to Phantom Hourglass, which is good anyway as I was expecting this. There are a couple of changes for the better however. Doing forward rolls on the prequel saw the player making small circles with the stylus in the corners of the screen. This was tricky and very irritating at the best of times. In Spirit Tracks, a double tap is all that is required. Link's voice when attacking is different too, to me it sounds slightly higher pitched. If anyone has played the first game, then they will very familiar with everything here. There's no real difference to the controls or any new attacks and the menu interface has only changed slightly to make the game look a little different from its predecessor.
The train travelling, unfortunately, is ultimately not as good as the fun boat travelling in Phantom Hourglass, although there are a few highlights. As you are driving a train you obviously can only follow the set tracks which I personally think is a step backwards in the whole adventuring side of things. You are constantly told where to go too and although you can go off and do what you want, so far I have seen no reason to do. In Phantom Hourglass there were uncharted islands which had fun puzzles and minigames on them and you could plot a route to anywhere on the map and see what was there. In Spirit Tracks I have experienced no such alternative. You do obtain a cannon fairly early on like in Phantom Hourglass but I've found that it has a much longer range and you can pretty much hit anything - there is not a lot of skill required, even less so than in the first game. Another thing is that you can only customize 4 parts of your train as opposed to the 6 parts of your ship in Phantom Hourglass and I've noticed it's much harder to get these parts and there aren't as many either. Some good aspects are the environment around you is much prettier and there are hills, trees, rocks, clouds and lots more which does compensate by making the travelling nicer than the same old ocean in the prequel.
So far, of the 4 or 5 or so hours I've played of this game it hasn't really impressed me at all. It's unfortunate really and I've heard lots of people say this game is better than the first! I guess it's partly because I knew what to expect and there is hardly any difference between the gameplay of the 2 games.