The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks review

The good:

Pretty much everything

The bad:

Train sections are somewhat tedious



The Legend of Zelda is franchise is synonymous with the word good, almost all the games in the series have met with amazing critical reception, and the demand for the games is ever rising. The latest entry in Nintendo’s legendary series is Spirit Tracks. Released for the Nintendo DS on December the 11th Spirit Tracks takes place 100 yeas after the events of Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass. It kicks off in the same fashion it’s two predecessors did; with a storyboard briefly explaining the basic back-story to the game. Sometime after the events of Phantom Hourglass, Link & Tetra’s crew of pirates arrived at a new land and christened it ‘New Hyrule’ and reinstated the Hyrulean monarchy. An age of peace followed but it was short lived, with appearance of the demon king Malladus. Malladus takes over the land, but is eventually stopped by the Spirits of Good and imprisoned beneath the land using shackles that cover the land itself, all of which intersect at the Tower of Spirits; created by the Spirits to maintain the shackles. The weakened Spirits departed to the heavens and left the land in the hands of the New Hylians.

"Damn it my evil plot was foiled by those shiny triangles!"

Fast-forward to the events of the game itself and the kingdom is flourishing, and the shackles that imprison Malladus have become known as the ‘Spirit Tracks’ and are used as a railway system across the land. You take on the role of a descendant of the Link whom was the protagonist in Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass. An aspiring apprentice engineer this new Link is just about to set-off to Hyrule Castle to attend the graduation ceremony that will crown him a Royal Engineer. Link travels to the castle and heads to the ceremony where he is bestowed the title of royal engineer by Princess Zelda herself, whom reveals to Link that the Spirit Tracks are disappearing and that she needs him to take her to the Tower of Spirits to find out what’s going on. She warns Link to be weary of the mysterious Chancellor Cole whom she suspects may have dark motives, and has Link guide her out of the castle by giving him the royal uniform which is the same as Link’s traditional tunic, and from there they meet up with Alfonzo; the master engineer and former soldier whom taught Link all he knows about trains. Just as the three make there way out of Hyrule Castle aboard Link’s train, the Tower of Spirits is shattered and the Spirit Tracks begin to disappear, causing the train to crash. Much to the horror of the trio Chancellor Cole appears and reveals himself to be a demon and along with his second in-command; Byrne, they easily overpower Alfonzo and Link and then proceed to murder the Princess, taking her lifeless body with them.

The main villain is a midget and his sidekick is a rejected design from Terminator: Salvation. They do however have awesome theme music.

Link awakens in the castle and learns that Zelda’s spirit is now separate from her body and that only he can see her. Zelda gives Link the Spirit Flute; a magical instrument passed down by the royal family and then after Link attains a sword and shield, the two set off to the remains of the Tower of Spirits to seek out the sage whom inhabits it. Upon arrival they meet Anjean; a member of the mysterious Lokomo tribe and sage of the tower. She reveals that Cole plans to use Zelda’s body as a vessel to resurrect Malladus, and that in order to reunite Zelda with her body and prevent Malladus’ revival; Link must restore the Spirit Tracks. In order to do this Link must locate the fragments of the Stone Maps that are hidden throughout the tower, but in order to restore the tower Link must head out to the temples about the four realms of the land. Thus Link is forced to go back between the tower and the temples, as he gains more fragments he can access the temples that restore the tower, and then continue until the tower is restored. With nothing else to do, Zelda tags along with Link in her now ghostly form and discovers that she can possess Phantoms; the mysterious guardians of the Tower of Spirits. With all this in mind, Link and Zelda set-off to restore the Spirit Tracks and the Tower of Spirits.

She's referring to the upcoming Zelda Wii.

The story itself features a fair few twists throughout it, and as you get further into the game it becomes surprisingly deep. The characters are portrayed well and you quickly find yourself coming to care for several of them, and even the unimportant NPCs have a bright vibrant atmosphere to them that makes them likable. The premise of saving the land by going to A, B and C certainly isn’t new to the series, but the brilliant twists along the way leave you constantly compelled to find out what happens next, and the humorous and interesting dialogue throughout the experience really gets you hooked. It’s certainly not the best story ever written, but Spirit Tracks certainly has an incredibly good, -if slightly out-there at points- story that will keep you gripped from start to finish.

Spirit Tracks is arguably the single best looking DS game.

As far as Presentation goes, Spirit Tracks is simply amazing. Graphically it easily stands among the best looking games on the DS, the cel-shaded graphics that brought Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass to life return once again, and the improvement in the art direction really shows. Spirit Tracks looks considerably better than Phantom Hourglass did, the beautifully designed towns and impressive looking dungeons are all crafted amazingly, and although the overworld can be a tad bland at points and suffers from parts of the environment ‘popping in’ as you approach them, it looks considerably better than the Great Sea in the previous games. All the animations are fluid, the designs of most of the characters, areas and enemies have improved a fair bit, and the bosses and cut-scenes look breathtaking for a DS title.

The Spirit Flute is actually really fun to play.

On the musical side of things Spirit Tracks boasts an amazing soundtrack although such is expected from a Zelda title. Just like most other entries in the franchise you’ll find that a lot of the tunes get into your head. You’ll find yourself humming the themes for weeks to come, if there’s one thing the Zelda games never fail to do, it’s produce surprisingly catchy music. The only real complaint you’ll I have regarding the sound in Spirit Tracks is the rather repetitive dungeon themes, which really got annoying when you’re in dungeons for extended periods of time, but even then they aren't particuarly bad.

Yes, you get to peform duets with disabled midgets with afros.

When you get into the game itself Spirit Tracks essentially plays like an improved version of Phantom Hourglass. Practically everything is controlled by the touch screen; from moving around to interacting with people, objects and enemies. Your inventory and other menus are all accessed by tapping the appropriate icons on the touch screen, although you can alternatively bring them up with the Start and Select buttons. As far as the basic premise of the game goes, you follow the typical ‘Zelda Formula’; you'll explore various towns, complete a variety of side-quests, navigate the overworld and then enter dungeons where you complete puzzles, find items and slaughter enemies. Whilst Spirit Tracks certainly isn’t revolutionizing the formula, is does offer its own twist on various things, such as the Spirit Flute; Link’s latest instrument. You play the flute by blowing into the microphone and moving the flute itself about using the stylus, and it works really well. The use of the songs themselves is questionable though, the Spirit Flute really only comes into play during story sequences and with two or three particular songs that actually have practical uses, which is unfortunate considering many songs in the previous games had a variety of different roles.

Trains? IN MY ZELDA?! *Not an innuendo*

Spirit Tracks also introduces trains to the series, allowing Link to drive a train about the overworld to access towns and dungeons, similar to the boat in Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass. The train mechanic works quite well, once on the track you can draw the route you follow using the stylus and you can change it at anytime you wish by tapping the icon with a pen on it. When driving the train you can blow a whistle in order to scare off lesser enemies and wild animals, adjust the speed of the train, brake and reverse using the gearbox and you can fire your cannon at enemies. No, I have no idea why you’d stick a cannon on a train either, but we’ll go with it. The train itself moves quite quickly but the expansive world and winding tracks mean you’ll be spending a LOT of time on the train, and it does get rather monotonous as the game goes on. Unfortunately there just isn't anything to do whilst you're riding the train, enemies are dealt with a few taps of the touch screen and pose practically no threat to you at all. The only real threats you ever encounter on the tracks are other trains, which can be avoided easily enough by watching the map and adjusting your route when necessary. In the instance you do encounter another train it does lead to some rather tense situations, but they’re so easily avoided you’re unlikely to run into it until later on in the game. You can customize your train by trading treasures for varying train parts which do actually look really impressive, and when you're traveling about you can look for rabbits hiding about the area that can be collected in a rather challenging mini-game for an Animal Crossing style side-quest of sorts. You’ll also have to perform 'Escort Missions' at points in the game where you ferry characters from one place to another on your train, but unfortunately all these varying little additions offer practically no variation to the train driving itself, with the exception of the escort missions making it slightly more challenging. Ultimately the train just isn’t a particularly interesting mechanic, it’s certainly an improvement over the sailing in Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass, and it certainly never gets boring, but there are moments where it really makes you wonder why it takes so long.

Link used Skull Bash!

Now as you’d expect from a Zelda game, where Spirit Tracks really shines is in the dungeons. The level design in Spirit Tracks is fantastic and this time the Zelda team have really outdone themselves in coming up with some surprisingly innovative puzzles. Spirit Tracks makes full use of the DS’ various features like Phantom Hourglass did, from using the microphone to use the Whirlwind to drawing a path on the touch-screen your boomerang to follow. Needless to say Spirit Tracks features some of the most interesting and innovative puzzles in the entire series. They're also quite challenging, without becoming frustrating like many of the puzzles in Phantom Hourglass did. The overall design of the dungeons is much better as well, the Fire and Sand Temples particularly standout for being innovative and fun to play, the latter of which features one of the most situational, yet amazingly creative items in the whole franchise.

Attack it's weak point for massive damage!

One of the more interesting features in Spirit Tracks is that Zelda is capable of possessing Phantoms. When exploring the Tower of Spirits you’ll have to avoid these indestructible knights whilst attempting to gather Tears of Light which enable Link to harm them. Once you’ve gathered the lights scattered about the area, you can strike a Phantom in the back to stun it, and then Zelda can take it over. From there you can also control the now possessed Phantom and use it to assist in various situations. This leads to a rather unique mechanic, you can either have Zelda follow Link about using the ‘Call’ function or you can direct her by drawing paths with the stylus. The things you’ll have to use Zelda for are incredibly varied, from having her ferry you across lava, block flamethrowers so Link can pass, and even fight alongside Link against various enemies. This starts off simple but as the game goes on and new types of Phantom are introduced you’ll discover that it leads to some of the most interesting puzzles in the entire series, and for the most part it’s really enjoyable. However the speed at which the Zelda moves does become somewhat irritating at points, but as a whole the ‘Phantom Mechanic’ as I’m going to dub it is a brilliant addition to the game. And for those of you wondering, you visit the Tower six times throughout the game, however unlike the horrendous dungeon in Phantom Hourglass you do not have to go through the whole dungeon again, nor is there a time limit.

The Phantom is plays a huge role in The Tower of Spirits.

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is a fantastic game which gets somewhat slow at times, but overall it’s truly superb. With a surprisingly good storyline, fantastic presentation and really fun and immersing gameplay coupled with challenging and innovative puzzles, Spirit Tracks is a top quality experience if you can deal with the somewhat dull segments throughout the game. Easily among the best games on Nintendo’s handheld system and arguably one of the best games released this whole year; Spirit Tracks is a must-have title.

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0 thumbs!
InsanityS Jan 3, 10
That's a nice review of Spirit Tracks and you've nailed a lot of what I would agree with. I think you're giving too much praise to that train though. I certainly would not consider it better than the boats of WW and PH. Direct route travelling and better warp systems make travelling around in them less of a chore. But it's your opinion I guess.

The one thing I will say is that you've overkilled the story section of your review. Providing a summary of the backstory is fine but you've given a full detailed breakdown of the prologue spanning several paragraphs. Too factual and too much. Keep it brief and let the player discover all the intricate details themselves.
0 thumbs!
Ech0ez Jan 6, 10
Direct route travelling was irrelevent in Wind Waker because of the sheer size of the Great Sea. Although the warp points I do agree with. Looking back I think in the initial hype I did praise the train a bit too much.

And yeah, I thought I went a bit overkill on the story. I was going to cut a fair bit of it out originally, but couldn't really cut it to a point I was happy with. Condencing my writing is a rather large weak spot for me, whether it be reviewing, writing articles, ect. I just fail at failing to over-elaborate XD
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