|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Nintendo||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Nintendo||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Dec. 7, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Maria Montoro
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker for the Nintendo GameCube drew mixed reactions amongst fans of the series. Players weren't sure about the new look and cartoonish style portrayed in the game. It still received critical acclaim for the most part, but it also caused some serious controversy. Luckily, not everything was lost for Nintendo, as they managed to find the perfect home for this new Zelda style: the Nintendo DS. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass was an undeniable success last year, and fans finally understood that cel-shaded Link was very fitting for the series, as long as it was reserved for the handheld.
Ready for the Holidays, Nintendo has just released The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, a wonderful addition to the long-lived video game franchise. The game manages to tell a whole new story within the typical Legend of Zelda formula, all the while exploring dozens of new environments and visiting new and old friends. Perhaps this game's biggest advantage versus Phantom Hourglass is that advancing through the plot is pretty much a breeze, with an engaging storyline that doesn't ever decline, and a fun gameplay style that stays away from some of the redundancies found in the first game. No more exploring and re-exploring the same area!
As you know, Link has given up on his boat, at least for a while, and Spirit Tracks introduces a brand new ride that will surely be useful for the quest - the train. At the beginning of the game he's certified as a locomotive engineer, which gives him the power to ride a train around and transport both cargo and people. Little did he know he'd spend the next few days riding around in search of lost rail maps and attempting to restore the vital Spirit Tracks!
It turns out that Zelda's main government official, Chancellor Cole, has gone bad on them. Actually, he was bad from the beginning; he knows the train tracks are actually shackles that contain the Demon King's spirit in the ground, and he's determined to let him out by getting rid of them. Zelda and Link set out to investigate the issue at the Tower of Spirits, and the evil chancellor manages to capture Zelda, planning to use her as a vessel to release the evil spirit. Luckily, she escapes her body and accompanies Link on his quest, proving to be more than just a fragile little Princess. In fact, she'll become a very useful partner, cooperating with Link while taking out enemies, avoiding obstacles, and more. She can even take over a great phantom armor in some sections of the game, becoming invulnerable to fire and many other things.
Though the Tower of Spirits is full of dungeons you'll have to explore in order to find map portions and other numerous treasures and collectibles, you'll never have to go back to the same place twice (unless you lose all your lives before clearing an area). There are 20+ stories full of dangerous foes, hidden chests, keys, switches, and locked rooms, and in most dungeon portions you'll plow through 5 or 6 floors at a time before finding the map pieces. This map search alternates with trips to different lands, where you'll attain the power to restore some of the missing train tracks.
Zelda players should be familiar with most of the gameplay elements found in Spirit Tracks. The mechanics haven't changed a whole lot, though there are a few interesting additions such as the train rides, where you don't just limit yourself to following the tracks; you also have to be watchful and use the horn to alert animals on the way, blast cannon balls to destroy rocks and other obstacles, kill incoming enemies, etc. One of the biggest gripes is, if you get hit enough times or don't manage to avoid the evil machines with which you'll be sharing the tracks, they'll make you start from the last station. Trains are not very fast to start with, and these little setbacks can become somewhat frustrating after a while. As you advance, you'll earn new train parts that will improve the experience, but it's still something I could have done without or I would have like to see cut in half.
Other additions include new inventory items to help out with the quest. Of course, you'll still get the all-powerful boomerang, but the Whirlwind, the Spirit Flute, and the Whip will also come in handy. The first two employ the DS microphone, which is also a significant innovation for the game. By blowing into the mic, you'll release a gust to help you move rotating switches, access hard-to-reach items, etc. The Spirit Flute will assist you in awakening spirits, requesting help from fairies, and a lot more. It's a very fun instrument to play, as you just have to hold the flute with the stylus, dragging it from side to side in order to play different notes. The only drag is sometimes the stylus gets in the way and doesn't let you play a clear note. Also, you may end up a bit exhausted from so much blowing into the mic! Alternative controls are always fun, but it'd be nice to provide a more standard mechanic just in case players are not getting into it, or to simply give us a rest.