The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks Cover
Platforms Nintendo DS
Genre Low speed railroad adventure
Score 7  Clock score of 7
Buy from Amazon

This is a first for us, but this is our second full review of The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks on the First Hour. Paul first reviewed the game in early February and praised it for its stellar action and improved controls over Phantom Hourglass.  He did note some issues with the train in the game, and while most of my opinions will echo his, I would like to get my thoughts down before I move on to other games.

This is Nintendo's second attempt at going for an entirely stylus-driven Zelda experience.  I'm actually still a bit shocked that this works.  It's not perfect, but it is definitely not substantially worse than playing a console Zelda game, and in some ways works better than the old 2D games.  Paul said he noticed improvements in the control, but either it's been so long since I played Phantom Hourglass that I didn't notice, or... they didn't make any improvements.  I'm guessing the former as I was rarely frustrated with the game control-wise.

Just like to quickly mention how awesome it is that we got two Legend of Zelda games on the Nintendo DS, especially considering it was nearly three years after the system debuted that Phantom Hourglass finally landed.  It'd be great to see a third, but I imagine Nintendo will be refocusing their efforts on the DSi or 3DS at this point.  Hey, you can always hire Capcom to make more portable iterations.

We also have a first hour review of Spirit Tracks if you'd like to see how it begins.

What I loved: The DS and Wii have really let Nintendo's creative side shine the last few years, and I think they've particularly done an excellent job delivering high quality releases on the DS.  Spirit Tracks once again shows that there are some real geniuses locked up inside of Nintendo headquarters and somehow they keep thinking up new items, weapons, locations, dungeons, enemies, bosses, and instruments for Zelda games.

Pretty much ever since Ocarina of Time, music has been a focus of Zelda games, Spirit Tracks introduces the Spirit Flute, which takes advantage of the DS's microphone and some dexterous stylus controls.  Just blow into the mic to start playing notes and move the flute around with the stylus to blow into different reeds.  It actually felt like I was kinda sorta playing a real instrument.  Very cool!  There are some neat duets to perform, and while the game never really throws anything too difficult at you, it's still challenging enough to feel fun.

Legend of Zelda Spirit Tracks Link Spirit FluteBoss fights are the hallmark of Zelda games, and Spirit Tracks delivers.  Many of the bosses feature multiple phases and all of them require you to utilize the latest item you picked up to its fullest extent.  I had a ton of fun with most of them even though they were still pretty challenging.  Plus we get a truly epic boss fight at the end of the game, there are no less than three stages of the fight, and thankfully, the game saves in between battles.  I was actually feeling a bit down on the game until the final boss sequences.

Another Zelda staple are the weapons and items, and while it's a mixed bag of originality, they were still fun to use.  The boomerang is back with some added features of being able to spread around fire or ice, this of course, is the heart of a few puzzles and is a pretty fun tactic to employ.  The whip and... pinwheel I guess, are new, and while the whip is an excellent addition, the pinwheel is just sort of gimmicky (driven by you blowing into the mic).  While the game probably would have been worse off without it due to some of the cool puzzles built around it, I feel it needed some other neat feature to make it more useful.  But yeah, the whip is great, the idea swinging around like Indiana Jones actually made this game a must-play for Paul.

Can't forget ghost Zelda: creepy, yet delightfully unrefined.

What I liked: The controls are still all based on the stylus (you can still use the L and R buttons to help with wielding weapons) and it still works. There were still times where Link would dash off a cliff or not perform a spin attack when his life depended on it, but Spirit Tracks' difficulty is not so off the chart hard that it really matters a ton.  I really hope that with the 3DS they can tighten up the stylus controls a ton.

One of the biggest complaints I and a lot of other people had about Phantom Hourglass was the temple you had to return to over and over again, well Spirit Tracks more or less dumps this.  You still have to do the whole sneaking around stuff in a central tower, but this time you can skip the floors you already completed.  I'm not really sure how I feel about all this, the puzzles varied between genius and obnoxious, and half the time it felt like I was just getting really lucky with some of the more action-based puzzles.  The addition of your companion deepened a lot of the gameplay, and if anything, this sequence was executed better this time around.

All in all, the game's puzzles are pretty fun, though a lot feel rehashed from Phantom Hourglass.

What I didn't like: Controversy ahead!  I didn't like the train!

Had to get that out there.  The train is your only way of transportation between dungeons, towns, and other random plots of land, and it just didn't do it for me.  I loved the sailing in Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass, and riding a train just seems like a giant step backward.  When sailing, you had infinite freedom to go anywhere, explore islands from every angle, or even just chill out and drop anchor. In Spirit Tracks though, and pardon the gigantic, intentional pun, but being on rails sucks.  Where's the freedom?  You just draw what tracks you want to take and the game does it.  There's no challenge except to fend off bad guys or dodge the really obnoxious devil trains that are just looping around.

Legend of Zelda Spirit Tracks Link TrainPretty much all you do on a train ride is shoot your cannon at some crap to collect rupees and listen for the music to warn you when there's going to be a short encounter against some baddies.  When the bad guys arrive, shoot at them a bunch and hope you don't run out of train hearts.  The worst of the enemies are the snowmen, which pop out of the snow and throw their heads at you.  These guys did quite a few numbers on me, and combined with the slow speed of the train, most rides were agonizing.

I also felt like I needed a wider-angled camera or something as I was always panning it around left and right looking for stuff.  I'm guessing we'll never return to the tracks again for a Zelda game, and I honestly wouldn't mind.  What happened to the days of A Link to the Past where you just hoofed it around the overworld and when you finally got far enough in the game you could teleport exactly where you needed to go?

The game's excuse for side quests are just fetch and deliver quests using the train.  I like to do the side stuff to get away from the game's normal grind, not do it even more.  The game tells you to deliver some ice half-way across the world before it melts, but oh yeah, make sure you go slow around curves and pull your train whistle at the right times or your passenger will get upset! Lame.

Spirit Tracks' graphics are also really disappointing.  It was really obvious while riding on the train that most parts of the scenery were just flat objects propped up in a 3D world.  The rest of the game looked fine when running around and fighting, but for some reason things just fell apart while on the train.  I honestly feel this was another step back from Phantom Hourglass. Mind blowing, I know.

My final point: Please Nintendo, the bow and arrow is incredibly overdone in Zelda games. Drop it already! Also stop making the light arrows the ultimate weapon.  How does the Triforce essentially get dropped from the series but yet light arrows are still hanging around way past their due?


Gameplay: 8

You can still do all the cool stuff like write on the maps to take notes and the Spirit Flute is good fun, and somehow the stylus-driven gameplay still works well enough.  Ignoring the train ride sequences, this game is a beautiful specimen of excellent control.

Fun Factor: 6
Whip-swinging action and great boss fights are offset by the train riding.  I actually got so sick of it that I stopped playing the game for two months, and when I finally returned I just went ahead and beat the game without riding the train anymore.  I will admit I actually enjoyed doing the side quests for about an hour, until I realized there were no decent rewards for doing them.  Once I got my sweet engineer's outfit for Link back, I stopped.

Graphics and Sound: 7
I feel like this is another step back for the series on the DS, as I believe the game actually looks worse than Phantom Hourglass while traveling.  If not worse, then definitely not an improvement.  Musically, Nintendo comes through again with some great tracks.

Story: 6
Nintendo actually got a little ballsy and let Zelda out of the cage to do something.  But the final boss is still kind of a disappointment story-wise, though at least they're not pulling a Zant.

Overall: 7
A bit of a disappointment in my book, but overall, Spirit Tracks is still a good game. While riding the train could grow tedious, everything else was classic Zelda and very fun.  The game takes advantage of every aspect of the Nintendo DS and it shows.  While I can't argue that this is a must-play game, if you've got the time, you might as well give it a shot.