You have to plan ahead to avoid other trains on the tracks.
Driving the train is easy: You have three speeds to switch between using a lever on the right of the touch screen, as well as a rope for the horn, which you can pull at any time (toot-toot!). The rest of the game's controls are similarly simple and intuitive, with the touch screen and stylus used for all movement and actions. You simply hold the stylus on the screen to move Link and tap or slash on enemies to attack. It was a winning control scheme two years ago when used in Phantom Hourglass, and it has lost none of its positives today. The DS's microphone gets another workout this time around, though. You can use it as a weapon by blowing into it to send a gust of wind at enemies, and you need to use it to play the spirit flute. You'll learn several songs that you can play on the ocarina-like instrument throughout the course of your adventure, with each song having special effects, such as healing you in dungeons and unveiling hidden chests.
Side quests aside, Spirit Tracks features more than 14 hours of play in the main story, but there's plenty to do outside of trying to stop Malladus. As in most Zelda games, there are plenty of hidden secrets and chests to track down, and many are inaccessible until later in the game when you've unlocked all of Link's weapons. The train is also used in several of Spirit Tracks' side quests. You'll be asked to use your train to ferry fussy passengers, move livestock from town to town, and even hunt down and capture cute rabbits for relocation to a bunny sanctuary. Your rewards for these tasks range from extra hearts to whole new sections of Spirit Tracks, leading to previously inaccessible areas and even more hidden goodies.
The game also comes with a fun four-player competitive mode which, in a plus, can be played by using one game cartridge and the DS' download play mode. It's a pretty simple set-up--you and three other players race around single-level dungeons trying to grab as many force gems before the timer runs out. Dying--either by getting hit by a roaming Phantom or falling victim to an environmental hazard such as lava or a deep pit--will cause you to drop some of your collected gems, which your competitors can then swoop up. And while you won't be able to use your weapons, you can cause mischief to your fellow players in other interesting ways. If a Phantom is chasing you, for example, running past another player will cause the Phantom to switch their brutal attention onto them instead. You can also activate switches to open trapdoors which, if timed correctly, can send your competitors hurtling to their doom, allowing you to pick up their hard-earned gems. Multiplayer games--especially with a full complement of players--are usually hectic and lots of fun as you scramble to grief other players in order to steal their gems. But with only six maps available, multiplayer is more an interesting little distraction rather than a fully-fledged time sink.
Using Zelda-phantoms adds a whole new dimension to the Zelda formula.
The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks hasn't improved markedly on the visuals seen in Phantom Hourglass, which isn't a problem considering that the first game looked great on the DS. Spirit Tracks is just as impressive, with the colorful world containing a surprising amount of detail to help bring the land of Hyrule to life. This game has an abundance of charm, from the endearing conversations you'll have with Zelda, to the many kooky and interesting personalities you'll come across and even the varied enemies. And while there's no dialogue in the game, aside from some grunts and squeals, the audio is impressive, with a tuneful soundtrack mixing seamlessly with classic sounds from the Zelda series' history (including that familiar yet still triumphant trill when you open chests).
You'll find plenty that's familiar in The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, but the inclusion of new mechanics, such as controlling both Link and Zelda, and the simple joy of driving the train lift this game above being just another Zelda adventure. This game is a top-notch adventure, and whether this is your first or 15th time in Hyrule, Spirit Tracks is a must-play.