The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks Review

By Phil Theobald - Posted Dec 07, 2009

As the follow-up to the first Zelda adventure on the DS, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks has a lot to live up to. Although it was a great game, Phantom Hourglass had some fairly noticeable flaws that required attention in this sequel. Thankfully, this new adventure proves itself worthy of the Zelda name.

The Pros
  • Terrific dungeon design
  • Clever puzzles utilizing the Phantom
  • Lengthy adventure with plenty of side quests
The Cons
  • Stylus control can be imprecise
  • Train segments grow tiresome
  • Lame multiplayer mode

As the follow-up to the first Zelda adventure on the DS, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks has a lot to live up to. Although it was a great game, Phantom Hourglass had some fairly noticeable flaws that required attention in this sequel. Thankfully, this new adventure proves itself worthy of the Zelda name.

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
 
All Aboard
 
Early on in Spirit Tracks, our hero Link travels to a large tower. Through the narrative, it becomes apparent that the structure is an integral part of the story and Link will be returning to this puzzle-filled location multiple times throughout the game. This realization is bound to bring back painful memories of the Temple of the Ocean King, the horribly dull dungeon that Link was forced to replay ad nauseam in the game's predecessor, Phantom Hourglass. This unfavorable comparison is not helped by the return appearance of the lumbering Phantom knights and the glowing Safe Zones (where the Phantoms can't detect your presence) within the tower. Luckily, better game design prevails here, as Spirit Tracks does not require you to repeat floors in order to reach new levels of this central dungeon.
 
Spirit Tracks is quite obviously a sequel to Phantom Hourglass in that the two games share many similarities. The graphics, for example, are practically identical between the two. This is fine, however, since they're darn nice-looking games. The DS's limited 3D capabilities work quite well with the cartoony, Wind Waker inspired visuals. Vehicular travel is again a large part of the game, and you'll be spending plenty of time tooling around Hyrule in your train, blasting enemies with its cannon and tracking down hidden locales. One of the more interesting additions to this sequel is that Princess Zelda plays a much bigger role this time around as she accompanies Link on his journey. Without giving away any spoilers, Zelda's presence definitely adds to the gameplay and having her along for the ride results in some amusing dialogue sequences.
 
There may be some disappointment over the fact that there are fewer traditional dungeons in Spirit Tracks than in other Zelda titles, but this actually works to the game's advantage. Instead of falling into the standard Zelda formula (go to dungeon, get new item, defeat boss with said item, move on to next dungeon), the Hyrule of Spirit Tracks feels more like a fleshed-out world filled with multiple towns to visit and new people to meet. There are also ample side quests that serve to open up even more areas to explore.

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
 
Of course, that's not to take anything away from the game's dungeons, which are exceptionally well-designed. Sure, they still rely on solving puzzles with, say, the boomerang that you found inside it, but with fewer overall dungeons, there is more opportunity for the game to make effective use of the items outside of their respective dungeons.
 
Commuters be warned--this is one of those games that requires you to blow into the DS's microphone to activate certain items. If you don't want to look like a goof creating miniature tornadoes with the Whirlwind item, you'd best finish the first dungeon in the privacy of your own home instead of on the bus. Still, the microphone controlled Spirit Flute is actually pretty fun to play.
 
Although the dungeons are suitably tricky and enjoyable, special mention should be made to the aforementioned Tower of Spirits. It is where the player experiences the game's much publicized gimmick of controlling one of the Phantom knights in conjunction with Link to help solve puzzles. The abilities of the Phantoms allows for some ingenious (and occasionally quite devious) traps that are very rewarding once you solve them. Without the repetitive nature and obnoxious time limit of Phantom Hourglass's Temple of the Ocean King, this multi-story keep is a place that you'll actually look forward to returning to as you play.

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Potential Derailment
 
Controlling both Link and the Phantom, however, does tend to highlight one of the game's problems--the forced stylus control. Sure, the stylus works fine when you want to aim an arrow or trace a path for your boomerang to follow, and there are no problems when you're simply wandering around a town, but unless you have an extremely steady hand, you're bound to take some hits thanks to the controls. When in the Tower of Spirits for instance, it's all too easy to make Link take a few steps into harm's way when swapping control back from the Phantom. Don't be surprised if you end up incurring more damage from accidentally falling into pits or lava than from the enemies that inhabit the dungeons.
 
That said, the touch screen controls are great when you're plotting a course for your train to follow. Simply trace the route you wish to follow on your map and then the train steers itself. This allows you to keep your eyes open for random enemy encounters, evil trains hell-bent on a collision course, and, um, bunny rabbits (for one of the many side quests). At first, traveling by train is a treat. The jaunty music, the steady chug of the steam engine and the always-ready-to-be-blown train whistle create a fantastic adventurous vibe. Like the boat in Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass, though, constantly chugging around the world quickly grows tiresome. Even with the occasional warp gates that dot the landscape, you'll soon wish that there was a faster way to get to the other side of the world.
 
On top of all of that, Nintendo even crammed in a multiplayer battle game to flesh out the package. Up to four people compete in a handful of tiny arenas to see who can collect the most gems within a certain amount of time. The players have no weapons when the match begins, so you must rely on the offensive tools within the arena (bombs, trap doors, occasional power-ups, computer-controlled Phantoms) to attack your opponents and make them drop their gems. With no real customization options and no online support, the matches grow stale almost immediately. The mode does support Download Play, so you only need one cartridge between the four players, but you'll probably only bother playing it once or twice.

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

Choo-Choo-Choose It
 
Despite a few small things -- a bland multiplayer mode, excessive train use, and occasionally spotty controls -- it is not enough to significantly distract from the overall experience. The main quest and challenging dungeons will keep you engaged despite those minor quibbles. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is a terrific entry in the Zelda series and a definite improvement over Phantom Hourglass. Spirit Tracks is a great way to close out the year.