sore thumbs

By Matthew Scott Hunter


‘The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks’ (E10+)
The unending Zelda spirit

Nintendo DS

Chugging away for 22 years with one innovative installment after another, the “Zelda” series is the little engine that could, so it’s only fitting that this latest entry features a train. While maintaining the cartoonish style of “Windwaker” and “Phantom Hourglass,” “Spirit Tracks” trades the boats of those two adventures for a locomotive. Link follows railroad tracks into parts unknown, and as usual, it’s all to save the princess. But that task is a little more daunting this time around, as Zelda is already dead.

Not content to sit out the adventure in the afterlife, the titular damsel in distress plays the role of spectral sidekick, giving Link some nifty new advantages. Zelda’s spirit can possess a mighty suit of armor, which gives the player control of two characters that manipulate the game’s ingenious puzzles. Like “Phantom Hourglass,” “Spirit Tracks” utilizes the touchscreen for most of the game commands, but the DS’s microphone comes into play as well. One of Link’s new toys is the spell-casting spirit flute (similar to the ocarina of past quests), which is played by actually blowing into the microphone, effectively turning the DS into an actual flute. As usual, “Zelda” has found the perfect balance between nostalgic staples of the series and fresh new ideas. While other video game franchises eventually fly off the rails, “The Legend of Zelda” is still right on track.


‘Silent Hill: Shattered Memories’ (M)

“Shattered Memories” is a bold reimagining of the psychological horror story that started it all. Once again, players are cast as Harry Mason, searching for his daughter in the mystery- and fog-shrouded town of Silent Hill. While consistently creepy, the “Silent Hill” series has always suffered from awkward combat. “Shattered Memories” has finally resolved this problem. There is no combat. When some ghastly creature appears, all you can do is run. Without combat, some people might complain that this is barely a video game, but no one can complain that it isn’t scary.


‘The Saboteur’ (M)
Electronic Arts
Xbox 360

The developer that brought us “Mercenaries” has created another open world game, and this time, the open world is Nazi-occupied Paris. The 1940s locale is stunningly rendered in black and white with a few well-chosen flashes of color, giving the game a unique atmosphere. Unfortunately, the gameplay isn’t quite as striking. As a ridiculously overpowered Irish member of the Resistance, you colorize Parisian neighborhoods one dead Nazi at a time. You have the option to use stealth, but why bother when you easily absorb enemy gunfire? So eventually, the whole effort devolves into a monotonous run-and-gun-fest.


‘Assassin’s Creed II: Discovery’ (T)
Nintendo DS

That “Assassin’s Creed” has been made to work as a 2D sidescrolling platformer with any success at all, goes a long way towards making me forgive “Discovery’s” faults. This is a series that is famous for its lifelike, sprawling sandbox environments. In 2D, all of that is lost. Yet, thanks to polished animations and gameplay variety, this genuinely feels like “Assassin’s Creed.” There’s stealth, free-running and slick combat. It’s all over far too soon, but I’m still impressed it didn’t feel far too long.


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