Review: The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (DS)January 22nd, 2010 | Written by Danreb Victorio | Topic: Nintendo DS, Reviews
Those who followed our coverage from the latest E3 were treated with an unfamiliar, yet interesting sight—Link navigating with a train. A train in Hyrule? As random as that may seem, it’s one of the central components of gameplay in the latest Zelda game, and it doesn’t take away from the fun you’ll have from this title.
If the train doesn’t interest you, and it probably doesn’t, we’ll just let the cat of the bag now. In The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, Princess Zelda dies. Not only that, but players are treated to a cutscene, showing how she was murdered by her Chancellor Cole in hopes of using her shell of a body to awaken the Demon King Malladus. (Un)luckily for Link, the spirit of Princess Zelda is awakened, and with the spirit now by Link’s side, they embark on a quest to rid the land of Hyrule of the Demon King all in the hopes of getting Princess Zelda back. Yes, Zelda plays an annoying role that just might be worse than Navi from Ocarina of Time, but it also happens to be the most exciting nuance in the gameplay.
Spirit Tracks follows suit with the traditional gameplay fans all know and love. You explore the depths of Hyrule, meeting new faces, getting through dungeons, finding new weapons, and killing huge bosses along the way; all to complete the process over and over again to get to new areas.
Seeing as how this is a direct sequel to 2007’s superb Phantom Hourglass, a boatload of the characters you’ll run into are actually characters that are related to those from Phantom Hourglass. If you remember Linebeck the treasure hunter from Phantom Hourglass, you’ll instantly recognize Linebeck III, a cheap and greedy bizarre owner who dreams of being rich through cheating people.
You’ll also run into a lot of familiar weapons in the game, such as the bomb and the boomerang. The boomerang though, is so much more useful than in past Zelda games. Like Phantom Hourglass, you still use the stylus to control the boomerang’s aerial path, but it has many new effects. The dungeon where you obtain the boomerang requires you to use it to create frozen bridges that allow you to cross large bodies of water. In addition to this, throwing the boomerang through flames will also melt frozen paths. This snow dungeon is actually one of the most interesting dungeons since Majora’s Mask, so it’s good to see that Nintendo is putting some awesome creativity into their level design.
Of course, there are some new items as well. The first item you actually obtain is a magical twig called the whirlwind that is used by blowing into the DS mic. This will cause a whirlwind to come out of where Link is facing, allowing Link to activate fans or blow unreachable items (like boss keys) to an area that you can easily access. In addition to this, Spirit Tracks marks the return of magical musical instruments. Much like the Magic Harp, Ocarina of Time, and Wind Waker before it, the Spirit Flute allows Link to access new areas, reveal hidden treasures, be cured of his wounds, and a whole mess of other things. The flute is played by moving your stylus back and fourth on the screen while blowing into the mic to hit various notes, giving it a more realistic feel that instruments in the past. The flute also happens to be the central piece to bring good back into Hyrule, but Zelda fans have grown to expect such importance from a flute.
As with each Zelda game before it, once you unlock a dungeon’s signature weapon, it ends up being your best bet against that dungeon’s boss. The boss fights in Spirit Tracks are nothing short of breathtaking and are actually some of the hardest fights in the series. The Snow Temple’s boss is similar to Ocarina of Time’s Twinrova where you have to deflect each of their attacks to the other witch. This time, you really have to master your boomerang technique to take the boss out with its fire and ice attacks. After defeating each boss, they drop a Heart Container (which adds an extra heart to your overall health) and a path opens to the Tower of Spirits, the central tower where all of the train tracks go through.
While it may sound awfully similar to the Temple of the Ocean King in Phantom Hourglass, we’re happy to say that while they pretty much hold the same meaning—the Tower of Spirits is nowhere near as annoying. You don’t have to go through the same rooms again with a strict time limit. In fact, you don’t have to go through the same rooms again at all. Each dungeon you finish makes the central staircase a lot bigger, giving you new rooms to navigate your way through. They are similar in the sense that they both require stealth because of phantoms securing each room, but you have a new trump card—Princess Zelda.
When Princess Zelda isn’t bothering you in her spirit form, she acts as your Guardian Fairy to help get you through certain areas when stuck. But other than that, she has a more useful side to her. In the Tower of Spirits, she can take control of a Phantom, and you can use that Phantom to your advantage. Phantoms can kill other phantoms, are invulnerable to water, lava, fire, and just about anything that’ll cause a natural disaster. With that, Link can use Zelda in her Phantom form as a floating platform, a shield to hide from fire spouts, and plenty of other situations. Switching control between Zelda and Link just requires you to tap a button on the bottom left-hand corner of the screen, and from there, it’s smooth sailing.
Speaking of sailing, there’s no sailing in the game. Transportation on Hyrule has pretty much been replaced by railroads and locomotives. While they’re just about as repetitive and annoying as the boats were in The Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass, it is a bit more enjoyable. Using levers on the touch screen, you can control the pace of your train while also using a lever at the bottom to choose the left or right path depending on the forks on the railroad. Eventually you’ll receive upgrades that’ll make your train more powerful and also give it the ability to fire bombs at incoming enemies. You also have a rope that’ll toot the train’s horn, making you feel like a happy 8-year old conductor. Railroad sidequests in the game require you to drive your train in a certain safe fashion, so it all makes good practice.
To keep train rides from being dull, phantom, ghost, and other evil trains will be in the area to force you to adjust course. Very rarely can they be gotten rid of, so the main course of action would be to flat out avoid them. Crashing into a train leads to an automatic game over, and you’d have to start from where you first got onto the train—adding to even more repetitiveness.
Seeing as how Link once again plays the role of a youth, the game’s visual style will draw endless comparisons to its 2007 predecessor. While not much has changed, this isn’t a bad thing considering Phantom Hourglass was visually superb. You can expect to see the same colorful environments and vibrant cast of characters in Spirit Tracks, so while nothing is really new, it still looks great.
The sound is actually a lot better this time around. Zelda games are known for their exquisite soundtracks, and Spirit Tracks is no different, taking tracks from other games and westernizing each song and tone to fully match this western-style railroad environment. In addition, each dungeon has its own theme—something Nintendo failed to do with Phantom Hourglass.
The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is everything its predecessor was and more. The game features a slightly darker story, increased challenge, and a bunch of nuances we’ll get used to all while keeping that same tried-and-true Zelda formula. It’s cliché to say that the game is a must-play, especially considering the fact that it’s a Zelda game. But be that as it may, in a year where plenty of quality games have come out on the handheld, Spirit Tracks just happens to be near the top.