A new entry in the Zelda franchise has been rumored for some time, so it was only a mild surprise today when Nintendo unveiled that it is, in fact, working on Link's next adventure. What did create a stir, though, is that this is not a new Wii game. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks follows on the heels of the hugely popular DS game Phantom Hourglass, and though details are sparse at this time, Nintendo has released a trailer that shows off a few of the new features. There is one concrete bit of information that is sure to delight eager fans, though: Spirit Tracks is set to come out later this year.
The cel-shaded art style from Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass returns in Spirit Tracks. Although Nintendo has not confirmed where this falls in the Zelda timeline, it appears as though this is a sequel to Phantom Hourglass. If true, this would be the first time a Zelda storyline has continued for three straight games. We'll have to wait for Nintendo to fill us in on the plot details, but at the very least, this is an aesthetical sequel that seems to be every bit as charming as the games that preceded it.
As the name implies, Link has now ditched the boat that allowed him to traverse the globe in Phantom Hourglass in favor of a train. In Phantom Hourglass, you were able to draw your course on a map and set sail in the open seas, but things look a little different now that you're restricted to rails. It appears as if the tracks are already laid out across this land and you are able to switch between routes on the fly. Link has always had the ability to travel across the countryside as he wishes--either by walking, riding a horse, or setting sail. It will be interesting to see how things will change if he has to follow the preset tracks the whole time.
Link is decked out in a fancy conductor hat to showcase his newfound vocation, and there are a number of other tiny details as well. When you come to a new set of tracks, a switcher will briefly appear on the touch screen, allowing you to stay the course or move over to a new path. There is also another meter, vertically oriented, that appears to control your speed. It's impossible to know if fuel will be a concern at this point, but there are plenty of hearty trees lining the countryside. A whistle string dangles tauntingly above your head, begging to be tugged to make the world know of Link's newly discovered love of the rail.
Luckily, Link's magic train is armed with a cannon, so any enemy who stupidly wanders near your locomotive will meet a quick end. Like in Phantom Hourglass, it appears as though your aiming is controlled on the touch screen, letting you quickly point at whatever foe dares to cross your path. At one point in the trailer, a skulltula dangles menacingly above the tracks and Link is all too happy to blast it from its sticky throne. At another point, a herd of animals that look like pigs but have the markings of a dairy cow meander in a nearby field, but Link has decided to play the humanitarian and keep these docile creatures alive.
When Link reluctantly leaves his steam-powered hobby, he battles baddies in the same way as in Phantom Hourglass. A new weapon is showcased in the trailer that looks like a pinwheel gun. You can shoot out a miniature cyclone that can stun enemies and grab nearby keys. During another shot, it's clear that Link still has a boomerang in his repertoire. Given that the pinwheel gun is performing many of the tasks the boomerang was accustomed to, it will be interesting to see what new role the boomerang has. Another weapon lets you control the giant metal guards who frequently tormented you in the last game. Actually, you had this ability in Phantom Hourglass as well, but it was restricted to the multiplayer. Here, you can direct the golem to cross fiery paths to flip previously inaccessible switches or battle an enemy while you run away in fear.
Finally, the two-screen boss battles from Phantom Hourglass are making a triumphant return. In the only battle showcased, you square off against a monstrous scarab beetle that has a forked horn sprouting menacingly from his head. Those tough exoskeletons only protect the back of these overgrown insects, though, so Link can slash away at their glowing weak spot by flipping them upside down. Hopefully we won't have to wait too long before Nintendo reveals more information, but at least we'll have to wait only a few more months before the final game comes out. Spirit Tracks is scheduled for release later this year.