The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
  • Genre:
    • Action Adventure
  • Platform:
    • Nintendo DS
  • Developer:
    • Nintendo
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    • US 12/07/2009
    • UK 12/11/2009
    • JP 12/23/2009
Score: 70%

This review was published on 12/27/2009.

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is the indirect (or direct, depending on how you want to look at it) sequel to Phantom Hourglass, a touch-based DS iteration of Zelda. If you don't know already, the "Spirit Tracks" referred to in the title has to do with tracks that trains ride across. Yes, that's right; whereas Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass revolved around sailing the high seas on a boat, Spirit Tracks revolves around conducting trains. Come to think of it, I can't remember any trains in previous Zelda games, even in passive roles. So this is not only the first Zelda game where you conduct a train, but the first Zelda game to feature trains period. Well, enough with the pleasantries. Let's get right to it.

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Things start off with Link wearing an incredibly out-of-place conductor's outfit. Apparently, the Link in this world of Zelda has been training all his life to be a train conductor. The final step in achieving this is going to Hyrule Castle and receiving the blessings of princess Zelda, by way of a certificate. Obviously, Link doesn't lead a humble life as a mere train conductor for the entirety of the game; Zelda secretly gives him a letter invitation to her private quarters. I suppose at this point, Link feels that he's about to get extremely lucky. He doesn't, and you're sent off to another quest to save Hyrule. And of course, Link ditches his conductor's outfit to dawn the familiar green clothes of old, complete with sword and shield.

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It's a little unusual for a Zelda plot, but the princess herself will accompany you on your quest. At least, she does so in spirit form. Her body was stolen away by the bad guys, you see. She can still aid you as a spirit, because she's a magical princess or something. That's right; Zelda will fulfill Navi's role as the annoying sparkly ball to guide Link on his quest. Nintendo attempted to give Zelda a more comical personality this time around, revealing a side to the princess fans have never seen before. A side fans probably never wanted to see. In other words, she's a spoiled brat.

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Like Phantom Hourglass, there is a main dungeon that you need to advance in throughout the game. Well, it's more like a tower than a dungeon, but it's a similar concept. You still have your typical Zelda dungeons of old, but in order to gain access to them, you need "Rail Maps," which will allow you to travel to new places via train. In order to collect these rail maps, you must progress higher into the aforementioned tower. That means you'll be visiting this tower often. A little annoying, I tend to find, as the rules for this area of the game differ from the typical Zelda dungeon in ways I'm not terribly fond of. For instance, you need to work together with Zelda to avoid these huge knight enemies. They're known as "Phantoms," the very same from Phantom Hourglass.

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Speaking of Phantoms, Zelda can possess them to add their terrible might to your arsenal. This feels really cool at first, but unfortunately, you must indirectly control Zelda in order to solve many puzzles. Controlling Zelda is one of this game's biggest downfalls, as it's extremely annoying. See, controlling Link is simpler, as you merely hold a direction to move him. For Zelda, you must draw a path for her. She can follow you automatically, but that auto-follow will rarely solve a puzzle for you, so you're going to be drawing paths for her most of the time. So, you know, you have the typical problems in games that require you to cooperate with an NPC. It's kind of like an escort mission that doesn't end until you exit the tower. Cue in the getting stuck behind walls, getting lost, falling down sand pits, etc. You can't even leave a single floor of the tower without making sure she's right behind you. It's hard to notice how annoying this can get early on in the game, but by the mid-point, you'll be infuriated. I know I was.

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Now obviously, the big selling point behind this particular Zelda game is the choo-choo train. In Spirit Tracks, you have an enormous land mass that you cannot traverse on by foot, and so you must ride your trusty train. I doubt that this is something Zelda fans have been waiting for. I think the folks at Nintendo have been running out of ideas when it comes to the Zelda franchise, and so they wracked their brains until the concept of trains entered the picture. Actually, knowing Nintendo, I don't doubt that someone over there has a fascination for trains and then decided to incorporate it into the latest Zelda. Miyamoto certainly has a reputation for doing that, after all.

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When you first begin the portion of the game where you can drive the train, you're not given many options in where to go. As you know, a train can only travel on tracks, and the game initially starts off with very little of those. You also don't start off with a means to defend yourself from foes, aside from the train whistle, which scares off small monsters. So at this time, the train segments are nothing more than you staring at the screen, waiting until your arrival. Of course, once you earn your cannon and start restoring the tracks, you have more options on what you can do. Still not very many options, mind you, but at least you get to do something. Like, for instance, you plot out the path you want to take on a map before actually driving, so the train will automatically make the appropriate turns. And the cannon lets you blast bombs at wherever on the screen you tap, much like the boat's cannon in Phantom Hourglass. You'll randomly encounter fiends on your drive-through of any given area, so the cannon will see frequent use.

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What I hate are the demon trains; other trains that sometimes drive about on their own in an area. If the course you plot happens to intersect one of these other trains, you explode. That means you die and get to see the Game Over screen. There's no way to destroy these trains; shooting them with your cannon will only slow them down temporarily. On top of that, they're much faster than you are, and will remain like that for the entire game, as there is no way to increase your speed beyond your initial specs. I found this to be exceedingly annoying and more than a little unfair. You don't exactly have that much control over your train, and you don't know the full path these other trains will take. You'll plot a path, then realize you're on your way to hit one of these other trains and you need to make last-minute alterations... except, you can't always do that. It's very easy to get yourself cornered by two of these trains at once. For the most part, once you have a lot of tracks open, you can completely circumvent these trains by taking the longer routes. The problem with taking longer routes is that they take longer. They take a lot longer.

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I want to talk about the side quests a little bit. I don't normally like to do that, since a game probably shouldn't be chastised or praised for optional content, but... what we have here, is some ridiculous tomfoolery. It's always been somewhat entertaining and rewarding to hunt for optional stuff in Zelda games. That is, until Spirit Tracks. Almost every single side quest in this game revolves around you transporting NPCs on your train, from one territory to another. What I don't get is why they are all experts on operating a train? There are signs scattered throughout the land, and you need to do something special at each sign in order to keep your passengers pleased. For example, when you see a whistle sign, you need to sound your train whistle. If you don't, your passenger will get upset. Upset that passenger enough, and he or she will run away from your train, forcing you to repeat the quest. That's not all; sometimes, your passenger won't even tell you where they want to go. They'll give you a cryptic hint and leave you to it. There was this one boy that I ferried for half the game because I couldn't figure out where he wanted to go. And if all these things weren't cruel enough to the player as is, some quests require you to transport goods, like chickens, lumber, iron, etc. If you get hit by enemies, the amount you're transporting will go down. Know what happens if you don't transport enough on your first trip? That's right; you'll have to make another trip. What ticked me off is that there's one quest where you simply can't transport enough on your first trip, because there's a limit on how much you can carry, and you need more than that. The train trips are excruciating as is; the optional quests merely make them worse.

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I have to say, I found Spirit Tracks to be disappointing. And that's pretty bad, because I had relatively low expectations for it. This and Phantom Hourglass are a definite low-point for the series. Most of this game's problems stem from the train and the reoccurring dungeon; two innovations that were better off when they didn't exist. That's not even mentioning the fact that, really, a Zelda game shouldn't be controlled entirely with the touch-screen. I know I'm coming off as being too harsh on a game that's not really that bad, but considering the legendary status of the Zelda series, I think it's deserved. Nintendo's just not on the right track.

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