Legend Of Zelda: Spirit Tracks Review
Here we are, nearly 25 years after the first Legend of Zelda was released, and the series still stands as one of the best-loved and consistently brilliant franchises around. The second DS Zelda title (and fifteenth overall), Spirit Tracks, continues the tradition of colourful worlds, engaging characters and innovative puzzles the series has become known for.
It’s rare for any game in the series to directly refer to another one, but Spirit Tracks is related to the first DS adventure Phantom Hourglass, which was itself a sequel of sorts to the GameCube title, Wind Waker. Set about 100 years after the events of Phantom Hourglass, Spirit Tracks takes place in the new Kingdom of Hyrule (founded by Link and Tetra at the end of PH), where the present-day Link is about to become a train engineer. The tracks the trains run on were actually laid across the land by spirits to shackle a nasty (is there any other kind?) Demon King, hell-bent on destroying the world. But these ‘spirit tracks’ are slowly disappearing, thanks to an impish Chancellor and his metal-armed ninja henchman, who want to resurrect the Demon King to play the lead role in their new Broadway musical or something to that effect. Once again it’s up to Link to put a stop to their nefarious deeds, leading to his quest to fetch, you-guessed it, several ancient objects scattered across the land which have the power to repel all evil.
The story may be conventional Zelda-fare, but this game does try mixing some new ideas into the pot. Firstly, near the beginning of the game, Princess Zelda shuffles off her mortal coil and spends the rest of the game as ghost. She can still come in handy though – in certain dungeons she can possess the body of spirit guardians (un-dead knights similar to those found in Phantom Hourglass’ central dungeon) and can then be controlled via the stylus. Some of the best puzzles in the game revolve around switching between Link and Zelda and using their separate abilities (Link’s weaponry, Zelda’s indestructible armour) to progress. It’s a great new feature that’s nicely implemented.
Secondly, Link gets a brand-new mode of transport to travel around Hyrule – his very own train. When it was first introduced, Link’s new choo-choo was met with derision from a small, yet vocal, group of Zelda fans who argued it was too contemporary to be a part of the Zelda universe. As it happens, the train itself fits into Hyrule’s colourful world almost as well as the boats from Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass, and journeys across the expansive overworld are pretty damn relaxing to begin with. But it’s also, by its very nature, a very linear mode of transport. Given the amount of back-tracking contained in every Zelda game the scenery, beautiful though it is, it can quickly become tiresome. Then there are the demon trains that randomly patrol the tracks, which can make some journeys incredibly long-winded as the game forces you to take an extra long route to avoid them. Warp spots are available but still, this remains one of the game’s weaker elements.
Elsewhere, the gameplay is just as addictive as ever with some excellent puzzles to solve in the game’s many dungeons. Like Phantom Hourglass before it, Spirit Tracks also puts the DS features to good use. Notes can be made on the map via the touch screen and the DS mic controls some of Link’s new items – the brilliant whirlwind thingamyjig and the underused spirit pipes (the best new item since the Ocarina). Several of Phantom Hourglass’ faults have been rectified too – Spirit Tracks is definitely longer (possibly because of the train rides) and the central dungeon, hated by many in PH, has been rejigged to reduce unnecessary back-tracking.
Spirit Tracks presentation is also a high point. Using the same engine as Phantom Hourglass, the characters and worlds are absolutely gorgeous, among the best 3D graphics on the DS in fact, and the music (especially the overworld track) is some of the best of the series.
Whether this edges past Phantom Hourglass will come down to personal opinion, as there’s very little to separate the two in terms of length, difficulty and fun. It’s certainly a worthy successor and one of the best games on DS despite some flaws in its design.