The only thing I can definitively say about my hands-on demo of The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is that it was way too short to say anything definitively. Though it's a brand new Zelda game, it doesn't seem to have much of a spotlight at Nintendo's booth. But that's not suppressing fan interest, as the lines to preview the game were still very long.
Unfortunately, the demo itself was very short, so I was forced to pick two of the three available areas of the game: regular combat, and of course, the train. (Boss battle is the one I missed).
Regular combat was pretty much how it was in Phantom Hourglass: use the DS stylus to direct Link where you want him to go, tap treasure boxes and info signs for items and clues, and use slashes and motions to attack enemies. In this particular dungeon sequence, Link was paired up with a moveable statue -- the statue friend could also be controlled with the stylus just like Link, and the goal was to use the abilities of both characters to navigate through the classic Zelda puzzles.
The statue was strong enough to withstand fire and lava, and Link was able to ride on his shoulders through impassable areas. There was also the "step on/activate switches simultaneously" puzzle that developers are so fond of. The timed demo expired just as I was getting into it, which meant it was time to get on the train.
When Spirit Tracks was revealed at GDC this year, my train-loving inner child rejoiced. But because overworld traversal is so important in a Zelda game, the slice of train gameplay wasn't enough to convince me that it was a practical idea. You can control the train's speed and forward/reverse direction, and use the stylus to rotate the camera 360 degrees. When you need to clear obstacles from the track, either use the train whistle (if it's a live, peaceful obstacle) or the bomb cannon (if it's inanimate or hostile). The train has life hearts just like Link, and any damage taken can be recovered by blowing up boulders and enemies that ride alongside the engine.
There are different tracks to take, and right before you approach the switch, you can decide which way to go (the rail map is up on the top screen for reference). In this particular situation, I was being chased down by enemy trains and had to keep finding different routes to the end goal. What I couldn't quite figure out before the annoying "Thanks for playing!" screen popped up was exactly how to fight the enemy trains. The bomb cannon seemed to have little effect at knocking them back, and I ended up getting caught between two of them, ending the demo.
I have faith that this is going to work, and that it won't be a redux of Wind Waker's endless ocean. But like I said, I need to see more. A lot more.