Nintendo DS Review: The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks breaks away from the shackles of familiar Zelda elements by including new gameplay moments. Riding Hyrule’s new technological wonder, the train, and using Zelda’s spirit prowess to defeat enemies are some of best features of this new Phantom Hourglass sequel.
The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks--Overview
Whenever a new Zelda game hits the console, the focus is mainly on gameplay. When die-hard Zelda fans relish and enjoy every move Link makes, reviewers rant about familiar gameplay formula adopted by any new Zelda title. However, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks tries to be distinct from other Zelda games, and offers various new diversions never seen on any Zelda game before. Comparisons might be made with Phantom Hourglass, but the inclusion of certain gameplay elements makes Spirit Tracks a much better game than its DS precursor.
Sprit Tracks is the direct sequel to the 2007 Zelda title, Phantom Hourglass. The adventure takes place in the land of Hyrule about a century later. The characters in Spirit Tracks are shown as descendants of Phantom Hourglass characters, including princess Zelda, who’s referred to as the granddaughter of Tetra (Zelda) from the previous Zelda DS title. The game begins with princess Zelda warning young Link about Chancellor Cole’s evil plans to liberate Malladus from the Tower of Spirits. Before they try to stop his evil intentions, Chancellor Cole frees the demon king and uses Zelda’s body to resurrect Malladus. Now, it is all up to young Link to stop the evil rise of the demon king and liberate Zelda’s body from Malladus. Zelda’s spirit help’s Link succeed in his goals by helping him throughout the game.
The refreshing twist in the story is the “death" of Zelda, a great addition never seen in any Zelda game. Moreover, the princess’ spirit becomes Link’s companion throughout the game, controlling dead guards and using them to battle various bosses and obstructions in the game. The title “Spirit Tracks" is in fact a network of railway tracks on the land of Hyrule. These tracks are nothing but chains that used to bind the evil Malladus in the Tower of Spirits. Now, the inhabitants of Hyrule use them as tracks to drive trains—their latest innovation in Hyrule. The train as the medium of transportation is again a diversion from previous Zelda games, which had horses and boats to navigate the continent. The boat was the main travel option in Phantom of Hourglass, but the inclusion of a land transport system in Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is certainly a refreshing change.
You will find a nice blend of tricky puzzles, excellent combat and some fun train rides. In fact, riding the train on spirit tracks is quite an engager. The trips can be fun and interesting when you navigate your train from one destination to the other and blow the train’s horn occasionally to scare away livestock off the tracks. To defend from enemy attacks, you can switch tracks or use the cannon. But, make sure you stay away from enemy demon trains. If your train bumps onto an enemy train, you will have to repeat the train trip back from where you began. This can be very boring and frustrating as the enemies keep on bumping every now and then, which makes travel quite repetitive. To avoid the boring repetitions, always consult your in-game map and switch lines before colliding with demon trains.
Besides fun train trips, another unique aspect of The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is the inclusion of Zelda phantoms, which are ever ready help Link explore the Tower, attack enemies and carry key items and weapons. To use them, the player has to kill any armed soldier and use Zelda’s spirit to convert them into phantoms. Using the DS’s stylus, you can assign paths for phantoms to explore the tower or order them to attack enemies. Each phantom has its own abilities and can be used tactfully to combat enemies and solve puzzles. What’s more, the Zelda phantoms can also be used in tricky boss battles to find and attack weak spots of the enemy.
Besides combat, the puzzles are logic-based and easy, but can be a bit tricky in final levels. Finding dungeon keys is the real challenge and to achieve this, the player has to cleverly switch between Link and Zelda phantoms to quickly find the dungeon keys or a new weapon. This will help you go past one level and confront a challenging boss level.
Side Quests and Replayability
If you think 14 hours of gameplay is not enough for your long trip to grandma’s house, then wait till to play those cute side quests. There are plenty of mini quests with unlockables, including hidden chests and secrets to track down, and the in-game train trip itself has several side quests including moving stray animals and bunnies to a sanctuary, transporting goods from one town to the other etc. These quests help you earn bonuses, weapons and several hidden goodies.
The DS microphone also has a nice role to play in unlocking hidden content. Using the Mic, you can play a mini spirit flute game to unveil hidden chests. Playing the “spirits flute" can be difficult as you will need to hit the right notes by sliding pipes and blowing the microphone. The flute game of The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks will remind you of a similar flute-based mini-game played in Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 64/Wii), hence there’s nothing unique about this inclusion. At times, playing the flute repetitively can be frustrating boring, especially if you don’t hit the right notes. Except the flute game, other mini-games in Spirit Tracks do not attract boredom and guarantees hours and hours of play value.
Graphics & Sound
The visuals have a pleasant cartoony feel to it, but there’s no marked improvement in level design and characters when compared to Phantom of Hourglass. Except excellent lighting effects, there’s no substantial change in the game. You may also experience slight framerate problems on your DS when Link encounters several enemies at a time. However, the Hyrule continent looks very colorful and has depth and detail.
The audio in The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is melodious and charming. The sounds made by the train’s horn (toot-toot) will certainly bring back the 8-year old child in you. There’s no dialogue except the familiar squealing and grunting sounds made by Link. The sound effects are vintage Zelda. Just open a hidden chest and you will hear the classic victory sound played in previous Zelda games.
The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is not just another Zelda adventure. The additional gameplay moments, including the task-rich train journey and controlling Zelda phantoms to defeat enemies, makes Spirit Tracks rise above every Zelda game built for the DS and other video game consoles. Whether you are a first-time player or a Zelda veteran, you will love to play Spirit Tracks and enjoy its mini-games.