The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks Review for Nintendo DS

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks Review for Nintendo DS

Will Blow You Away

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.

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks screenshot

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.

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks screenshot

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.

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks screenshot

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.

Treasures and collectibles are similar to the ones found in Phantom Hourglass, but this time you’ll be able to trade them for train parts. You’ll also get a Stamp Book you’ll use to collect stamps throughout the game. Additionally, there’s a weird side quest that will have you catching bunnies while in your missions. Altogether, these side quests are not extremely exciting, but it helps you fulfill those ulterior completionist’s motives and extend the adventure. If you were to ignore the side missions, you could probably end the game in about 20 hours, but we all know most Zelda fans like to squeeze their games till the last drop!

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks screenshot

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks looks just as great as Phantom Hourglass, with comical character design and fantastically rendered 3D environments and characters, full of details and vibrant colors. The textures are still a little iffy, but there isn’t much more that can be done with the DS when it comes to graphics. Luckily, the music really helps to complement the brilliant presentation. It’s like a console game in a little package. Every section of the game is accompanied with great tunes, some borrowed from previous games, and some new. Like everyone knows, Zelda soundtracks never disappoint!

As far as controls, don’t expect major changes from Phantom Hourglass. That game already had near perfect controls, so why change them? Still, it surprises me that everything is done with the stylus. You just tap and hold where you want to go, and Link will get there; tap the enemies, and Link will attack them; draw a circle, and he’ll do a spin-attack – everything is simple and accessible, yet I would like to have the alternative to use the D-pad to control Link. Maybe that would just mess things up, but I kind of miss the classic control style. On the other hand, the stylus just seems to offer the most intuitive controls, plus you can draw on maps and write down reminders for the ongoing quest – very useful indeed.

Spirit Tracks also includes a local multiplayer battle mode for up to four players. Players have to fight for the Force Gems that drop on the stage while avoiding enemies, obstacles, and their own adversaries. The player who collects more gems will be the winner. This MP mode is simple and lighthearted, but it can also be a blast! Wi-Fi play would have been great too, but I’m not complaining.

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks screenshot

All in all, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is a great package and also one of the best portable games available this holiday season. It’s not quite as lengthy or extensive as a Zelda game for the Wii, but it certainly includes all those elements Zelda fans are looking for: lots of dungeon crawling, puzzles, good storyline, charming visuals, etc. Best of all, you can take it with you on your next trip and even play it with a friend. If you’re a Zelda follower, you simply can’t miss this game, and if you’re not, just make sure you’re okay with investing time exploring, talking to characters, and solving puzzles, as that’s what the series is all about.

Dazzling Wind Waker-style environment and character design really stand out on the DS. The only thing that could be improved is some of the textures. 4.6 Control
Very accessible stylus-based controls. However, additional D-pad controls to move Link wouldn’t hurt. 4.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The game is filled with wonderful, console-quality tunes that you can only find in games of this caliber. Zelda soundtracks never disappoint! 5.0

Play Value
Zelda fans cannot miss this new installment in the series. It contains a great story and awfully fun gameplay with plenty of dungeons, puzzles, special items, and lands to explore. In addition, there’s a fun, lighthearted local multiplayer mode that only requires one game cartridge.

4.6 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • For the first time in the 23-year history of The Legend of Zelda series, Princess Zelda is leaving the villainous clutches of the underworld behind and joining the adventure with Link. In The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, the spirit of Zelda accompanies Link on his quest to save Hyrule. Directly affecting gameplay like never before, Zelda’s spirit can take control of hulking suits of armor known as Phantoms, allowing the player to direct both Link and these new allies as they battle enemies, solve puzzles and uncover secrets.
  • When Link conducts the train, players enjoy a satisfying combination of action and real-time puzzle solving as they determine which track to take and how to best manipulate their speed. When on the train, Link must plot the best route to the end of the line around ever-moving obstacles. While en route, Link might need to fire an onboard cannon at enemies who attack the train or sound the whistle to scare animals off the tracks.
  • Link uses a variety of new items and weapons, including the Whirlwind, which players activate by blowing into the microphone of the Nintendo DS or Nintendo DSi system.
  • As with The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, players can draw notes on the in-game maps using thestylus on the touch screen.
  • Up to four players can compete in a new multiplayer mode via a local wireless connection with one game card. In this mode, players explore six unique areas in search of valuable Force Gems. Players must also avoid patrolling Phantoms, while setting off traps and using hidden abilities to foil their opponents.

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