The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks – DS Review

Quickly!  Princess Zelda has been kidnapped!  You must guide Link through—  Wait, what?  Oh, that’s not the case this time around?  Interesting.  It seems as though the folks over at Nintendo have decided to change the Zelda formula a bit, those sly devils.  Not only is the story in The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks different from most others in the series, but Link now gets a new mode of transportation, and there are a few changes to the gameplay as well.  These changes aren’t vast in number, and truth be told this still feels like a Zelda game, but there’s definitely a slightly different feel to the overall package.  The game has a few flaws in its design, but the hits easily overshadow the misses.

The story in Spirit Tracks takes place 100 years after the events that occurred in Phantom Hourglass.  Link has just earned his engineer’s license and is on his way to being one of Hyrule’s royal conductors.  After his graduation ceremony, Princess Zelda speaks with Link, telling him that she fears the future of Hyrule may be in peril.  It appears that Hyrule’s Spirit Tracks have been disappearing.  These magical railroad tracks serve as more than just a means of transportation for the citizens of Hyrule; they are also the shackles holding the Demon King Malladus prisoner.  It isn’t long before the culprit emerges and begins to wreak havoc.  His first order of action is to take Zelda’s body, which is essential to the resurrection of Malladus.  However, while Zelda’s body may have been taken, her spirit remains, and Link is one of the only people who can see Zelda in her ethereal state.  The Princess enlists Link’s services, and thus our young hero’s quest to save Hyrule begins.

The gameplay in Spirit Tracks doesn’t stray too far from the traditional Zelda formula, but it does have its fair share of differences from the rest of the games in the series.  For starters, Zelda’s spirit now acts as a companion to Link in certain parts of the game.  The Phantoms from Phantom Hourglass return, and this time around, Zelda can possess the armored Phantoms once Link has weakened them.  This paves the way for a good amount of cooperative puzzle-solving.  As a torch-wielding Phantom, Zelda will light the way for Link as the two explore the Tower of Spirits.  Another instance will call for Link to fight off monsters while a key-toting Zelda makes her way to a locked door.  There are numerous situations which the duo must tackle cohesively, and all of them are engaging, fun, and unique.
The aforementioned Tower of Spirits serves as this game’s Temple of the Ocean King.  Those who despised the repetitive nature of the last game’s dungeon need not worry, though.  You won’t have to play through the same areas each time you visit the Temple.  Instead, each new section in the Temple of Spirits is a separate room which opens once you get through each of the main dungeons.  Additionally, there is no time limit in any of the rooms, so you won’t have to watch the clock this time around.  This keeps the game from ever getting dull, and the Temple of Spirits can easily be considered something that the Temple of the Ocean King wasn’t: fun.

As previously mentioned, Link is now sporting a brand-new train engineer’s license, and he’ll put it to good use in Spirit Tracks.  You’ll travel using Link’s trusty locomotive from dungeon to dungeon, so prepare to spend a lot of time traveling by train.  Using the train is easy.  You just plot a course on the map and presto!  The train can travel at different speeds, and it even has a reverse gear that doubles as an emergency break.  Enemies will appear periodically, and you’ll have to either dispose of them or run from them.

The rest of the gameplay is standard Zelda fare.  Using the game’s solid touch-based controls, you’ll push blocks, hit switches with Link’s boomerang, and blow up walls using bombs among other things.  This time around, Link gets a cool little pan flute which he’ll use to solve puzzles and reveal hidden treasure.  Having the element of music in your repertoire is reminiscent of Ocarina of Time, and it adds a hint of nostalgia to the game.  Using the pan flute is as easy as blowing on the DS’s mic, which you’ll do a lot in Spirit Tracks.
The latest Zelda game looks great and has the cel-shaded style first introduced in The Wind Waker.  Given that this is a DS title, the visuals aren’t as crisp as that installment in the series, but they still look good nonetheless.  Each of the characters oozes with charm, and the architecture of the different temples and sanctuaries gives off a sense of artistry and aesthetic excellence.

The music in Zelda has always been one of the series’ strongest aspects.  Phantom Hourglass had a decent though limited soundtrack.  Spirit Tracks has a larger amount of memorable tunes than its predecessor did, but it’s still not the most compelling soundtrack in the Zelda franchise.  However, most of the music in the game is, for all intents and purposes, really catchy and really nice to listen to.

Spirit Tracks is a decent-sized quest that should keep you busy for 15-20 hours.  There are also a number of side quests to keep you playing for a while longer.  There are the standard fetch quests and hidden secrets, but there are also some unique challenges to accomplish.  One of these sees Link using a net to capture bunnies that are scattered all throughout Hyrule.  The furry creatures appear while Link is traveling, and players must tap the touch screen to capture the whiskery little fellows.  Early on, Link will also be given a book with blank pages.  You’ll be able to fill the book with stamps from each of the locations you visit.  It’s an interesting little side mission, and it will definitely have you trying to fill in each of those blank pages.
Another little distraction which will add a few hours to the replay value in Spirit Tracks is the game’s multiplayer mode.  Players must collect gems and accrue the most points before time runs out.  Various tactics can be employed to cause your opponents to lose points, and these contests can get really intense.  Up to four players can compete using a single DS card, but there is no Wi-Fi support, so players hoping to play a few rounds online will be disappointed by the lack of online play.  It’s a shame, really, that Spirit Tracks doesn’t support said mode, especially since it was prevalent in Phantom Hourglass.

Spirit Tracks is another nice addition to the Zelda franchise.  The game rarely ever gets challenging, though, and this will turn off fans of games such as A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time.  Additionally, though the game lasts around 15 hours, this is relatively short for a Zelda game, and before you know it, you’ll be playing through the game’s final dungeon and wanting more Zelda goodness.  Still, despite the low level of difficulty and questionable length of the game, Link’s latest outing provides more of what fans of the series have come to expect: great gameplay, fun puzzles, a beautiful sense of style, and a good story.  Ultimately, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is a beautiful, imaginative romp through the land of Hyrule.

[xrr rating=4.5/5]

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