It seems like forever since we heard about the latest addition to the long running cult franchise in the shape of Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, which promises to return to the strength of The Phantom Hourglass while providing a new gameplay angle through the DSi's unique hardware.

The game is due for release around the 7th-11th December (depending on your territory), positioning it as Nintendo's Christmas champion, and reviews are just starting to filter through the blogosphere.

GameTrailers offered up a very encouraging 9.1 yesterday, saying, "The dialogue is top notch, in particular the banter between Link and Zelda, which accounts for most of the game's memorable moments."

The site goes on to praise the gameplay just as much: "Spirit Tracks addresses all the shortcomings of Phantom Hourglass, and delivers a brilliant experience."

And it seems this isn't just the score of a long term Zelda fanatic, as CVG awarded the exact same figure of 9.1 in its own review, and seems particularly enamoured with the controls.

"Once again, Nintendo has made absolutely fantastic use of the touch screen. There are invisible mazes that you'll trace out by observing the positions of statues, routes through hazy areas you'll have traced from maps and bosses that have you speeding to perform multiple actions on the screen as smoke emits from the end of your busy stylus."

Edge magazine agrees for the most part, though it offers a less ethusiastic score of 80, mainly for the same reasons the other reviews have ramped up the scores - similarity to Phantom Hourglass.

"Spirit Tracks' aging tricks continue to carry you back into the narcotic realms of pure ritual, until you're deep in the caverns yet again, holding the magic yellow boomerang once more, and wondering what quirky brilliance it will bring with it this time."

Of the current reviews, perhaps the most confusing is that of the Official Nintendo Magazine. You're unlikely to read a damning review in here, and although it lavishes a score of 91 per cent upon Spirit Tracks, its conclusion doesn't exactly read as gushingly as the score: "Not a huge leap forward for the series but a wonderful game nonetheless."

Even the lower end of Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks's reviews still thrape (excuse Spanner's northern vernacular - ed) any DS game since GTA: Chinatown Wars, so it's looking as though Nintendo might well have found its must-have Christmas title.

Being someone who isn't particularly swayed by the Zelda franchise one way or the other, I find myself vaguely perturbed by the strong references toward Phantom Hourglass permeating criticism of the game so far.

Is this the same game, tweaked and updated, or does credit go purely to Spirit Tracks for its own success? We'll find out soon enough right here on Pocket Gamer. Don't go far.

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