The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks Cover
Platforms Nintendo DS
Genre Side-quest aplenty adventure
Score 8  Clock score of 8Graphics: 8
Sound: 8
Controls: 7
Gameplay: 8
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The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is the latest in the revered Legend of Zelda series. I doubt anyone needs an introduction to this series, so I won't give one.

Spirit Tracks is on the Nintendo DS, and is a direct sequel to 2007's Phantom Hourglass. The controls have remained mostly the same, with a few refinements that I'll get into later.

Spirit Tracks follows the story set out by Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass. It's now a hundred years later and everything is settled in the new land, with Zelda as the princess. Link is training to become an engineer (get it? Training?) when suddenly bad things happen and Link is the only one who can fix them. We've heard it all before, right? Maybe all except the train part. But this time, Zelda has had her body stolen, and she travels with Link in spirit form. She acts both as fairy companion a la Navi (although much less intrusive), and she doubles as a giant-sword-wielding, invincible suit of armor. Zelda can possess Phantoms and you can control her, in a new twist to the Zelda series. So for those of you clamoring for a playable Zelda character, this is as close as you can (and probably ever will) come.

Those are the two new hooks in this game: Train, and Phantom Zelda. No past and present, no light world/dark world, and no human/wolf. Just driving a train, and controlling what is basically a Darknut. The rest of the game plays out as normal, much like Phantom Hourglass. You solve puzzles, fight enemies, you beat dungeons, you do sidequests. And it's fun.

The controls have improved since Phantom Hourglass. It's hard to pinpoint but they feel more intuitive, more responsive. More like Link is doing what you intend for him to do. Does that mean you will never fight the controls? No. It's hard to consistently use the spin-attack, for instance. But rolling is easier, now that you just double tap where you want him to roll. You can now do it over and over if you like, and the fact that he gets dizzy after four rolls now actually means something.

Graphically, it's about the same as Phantom Hourglass. The view seems to be a little closer in, so Link and the enemies are a little bigger on the screen. It still looks awful in screenshots, great in gameplay. That's how most DS games are, due to the small screen.

The adventure is much longer than I anticipated, and every time I thought I was at the end, I'd get another dungeon to go through. The dungeons themselves are shorter than the sprawling labyrinths of the 3D Zelda games, but offer enough clever puzzles and interesting battles of their own, and get appropriately more difficult as the game goes on.

Legend Of Zelda Spirit Tracks Link Zelda Train Tower Art

Driving the train can get boring, and the sidequests mostly involve driving the train. although you can unlock warp gates as well as open up shortcuts in the tracks, it still takes a considerable amount of time to get from place to place. However, the end-game events utilize all the elements of the game in a way that makes it all worthwhile.

Some of the items return, such as the bombs, bow and boomerang, although the bombs are optional. A couple of the so-called new items have the same effect as items from previous games, just with a different animation and feel. This is not always bad, as one of the new items dramatically improves on its predecessor in look and feel (and Indiana Jones factor).

Nintendo has managed to find new clever ways to utilize the DS's "Developer's System" heritage. It uses the touchscreen for all input (there are a couple of button shortcuts you can use) and the ability to draw on the map returns. Only this time, it's actually useful. There is at least one puzzle in every dungeon and several more in the overworld that require you to write or draw on the map.

The newest Zelda instrument might just be the best yet; the Spirit Flute is played by blowing into the microphone. You move the magical pan pipes via the touchscreen to select which pipe to play, then blow gently across the top to bring forth the tone. It functions in much the same way as the ocarina from Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask, except that there are several puzzles that require you to play along with music that mix things up a bit.

It's all these things together that make The Legend of Zelda Spirit Tracks one of the best games I've played in a long time. Yes, when I first saw the announcement about the game at GDC 2009, I thought it was a joke, but now I know better and I want to make sure you do too. This may be the best DS game I've played.


Graphics: 8
Basically these are the best 3d graphics on the DS, and the cel-shaded style pioneered by Wind Waker is, as always, charming.

Sound: 8
Yes, it has the traditional Zelda sound effects, but the music is almost completely original (the classic overworld theme does not play at any point). Some of the music is merely adequate, but some of the themes, such as the music that plays when you're riding the train, and in particular the main title theme (which comes into play in a surprising way near the end) are right up there with the tunes from previous installments of the franchise.

Controls: 7
The touchscreen controls are much more accessible than the controller configuration for this game's console counterparts. It has also improved the responsiveness since Phantom Hourglass. Still, I found myself fighting with the controls more than a few times, accidentally running off a cliff when I was trying to equip a weapon or some such nonsense.

Gameplay: 8
The train section can get a little boring, but the dungeon action is stellar, the Phantom Zelda levels are fresh, and the sidequests are plentiful (although perhaps overly reliant on driving the train around).

Value: 9
Is this game worth buying and playing? A better question is: "Is this the best game on the DS?" The answer might not be yes, but the fact that I can even ask it tells me a lot. It's not a handheld Zelda game; it's a Zelda game.

Legend Of Zelda Spirit Tracks Link Zelda Phantom Train Art