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The Legend Of Zelda: Spirit Tracks Review

Game Review: Legend Of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
Release: December 7th, 2009
Genre: Action/RPG
Developer: Nintendo
Available Platforms: Nintendo DS
Players: 1, up to 4  Multiplayer
MSRP: $34.99
ESRB Rating: E
Website: Legend of  Zelda: Spirit Tracks

When Nintendo first brought Link and Zelda to us on the DS via The Phantom Hourglass, many felt let down by the title’s unrefined control scheme and severe repetition. Has Nintendo ironed out the wrinkles with their second outing, Spirit Tracks?

The short answer is yes, with a “but.” In many ways, Spirit Tracks is the game Nintendo should have released their first time out with Zelda on the DS: it’s an easily-accessible story with only superfluous ties to past titles, and puts all of the DS functions to great use. Conversely, when Spirit Tracks takes two steps forward, it follows by taking several steps back in ways that will leave you saying “why’d they do that?”  While these flaws will lead to severe aggravation early on, the sheer charm and pitch-perfect presentation of the game will carry you through until you have your bearings.

This time out, the game opens with Link working to become a train conductor. He’s finished his training, and all that’s left for him to do is attend a ceremony in Castle Town where he’ll receive his official title. A conspiracy slowly unravels when the ceremony is put on hold, and Link comes face to face with Zelda the end result being great portions of the land’s tracks vanishing, and Zelda’s spirit being separated from her body. Thus begins Link (with Zelda in tow, and playable- for the first time in the series’ history) quest to restore the tracks, and discover the Bow of Light- the only weapon that can stop the Demon King Malladus, orchestrator of these events.

Spirit Tracks is divided up between performing small tasks for the locals from town to town, opening new parts of the map by way of going floor by floor through the Spirit Tower (the center of the world, and where most of the story unravels), and exploring dungeons. All of these things are stitched together by the tracks themselves, as you travel from location to location while in full control of the train you ride (including whistle). All movements and actions are controlled, as in the Phantom Hourglass, with the stylus and touch-screen. Your musical instrument this time around is a spirit flute, and several puzzles (mostly in the Spirit Tower) require using Zelda to posses enemies, leading you to have to juggle between the two characters in real time.

Without any hyperbole, what’s great about Spirit Tracks is that it’s a new Zelda game. If you’re of a certain age group, or if you’re a long-time RPG fan, you’re more than likely already playing this game. The warmth and familiarity that comes with most Zelda titles may be reviled by some who accuse the series of being stale, but there’s an undeniable anticipation that comes with the days leading up to a Zelda release. Yes, everything about the title may be predictable, but nostalgia and appreciation can take a game, or in this case, franchise, a long way. While everything about this title may hardly ever rise above adequate and serviceable, it still dominates most of the other action-RPG’s on the system.

Here comes that “but” I mentioned earlier. In comparison to Phantom Hourglass, the game succeeds in getting rid of having to return to the same dungeon over and over. However, in comparison to all the games that preceded it, Spirit Tracks fails in one of the most fundamental ways that’s key to a Zelda title: exploration. By confining all travel in the game to riding the tracks, there’s no room to just head off in a random direction, and see what’s out there. As a result, Spirit Tracks ends up being one of the most linear Zelda games in a long time. The second biggest problem with the title is one that’s carried over from Phantom- the controls. Once again, by placing all the movement and action controls on the touch-screen, Nintendo is asking a lot from both the player, and the DS itself. Many times you’ll find yourself moving somewhere when you meant to swipe your sword, jumping off a cliff when you meant to walk closer, and so on. Including mini games that utilize the touch-screen in a game this complex is fine, alas Chinatown Wars, but to map everything to it only leads to confusion and frustration way too many times in a title of this caliber.

In the end, Spirit Tracks is a solid gaming experience held down from being a close-to-perfect title by two substantial issues that could have been easily rectified before it’s release. You’ll enjoy this most recent outing with Link, although maybe not as much as you have past entries.

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