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Zelda: Spirit Tracks Review

Genres: Adventure
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Review Date: 13-1-2010
Review Platform: DS
Review Region: AU Available In Australia
Est Playtime: 18+ hrs
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Review By: Bradley Beeck

On the day of his graduation as a train engineer Link travels to Hyrule Castle to meet Princess Zelda and formally receive his qualifications. Once there Princess Zelda asks Link to help her get to the Spirit Tower. The railway lines – Spirit Tracks – have been disappearing all over Hyrule. Disaster strikes as the pair arrive at their destination and Princess Zelda is dispossessed of her body. Zelda, now a roaming spirit, and Link must restore the lost Spirit Tracks and restore Zelda’s body before an ancient evil is freed. Note: This is chronologically connected with Phantom Hourglass in a few unimportant ways.

zelda_spirit_tracks018Let me get this out of the way: Spirit Tracks is better than Phantom Hourglass. It’s very similar to that incarnation of Zelda but it does everything better. The key difference is the puzzle solving which is much more sophisticated and thus more satisfying. It also just feels better; Phantom Hourglass had something of mean streak to it because your two companions didn’t get along. This time you’re accompanied by Princess Zelda herself and Link forms a genuine partnership with her.

zelda_spirit_tracks041You’ve probably already read the game description pined above this review and so you already know that Zelda dies. That’s not a spoiler because it was revealed in a preview trailer and happens at the beginning of the game. She’s now a spirit and the thrust of the game is to get her body back before it is used to unleash an imprisoned evil. This unfolds in the same way as every other Zelda game – going to temples, solving puzzles and defeating bosses. However this time around Zelda, in spirit form, helps you through the puzzles by possessing Phantoms. Some Phantoms are immune to fire or turn into wrecking balls and Link can ride on top of some Phantoms. You’re going to need these abilities, as well as the new items you find, because the temples are much harder than their Phantom Hourglass counterparts. They’re more complex with multiple elements used in combination. For example you might use Phantom Zelda to hold something up while you shoot an arrow at it, which in turn shoots the arrow at a switch. It’s this sophistication that makes the game a lot of fun to play. There’s a slight problem with controlling Phantom Zelda during puzzles/battles and that is timing. You draw a path for her to follow but there’s no way of triggering this at a specified point, you just have to juggles Link and Phantom Zelda at the same time.

zelda_spirit_tracks007Each of the game’s temples is joined together by railway tracks – Spirit Tracks – which Link’s train travels along. This part of the game is the weakest aspect because it’s really just busy work. You’re not actually doing anything useful while you’re travelling. Sure there are rabbits – akin to Golden Skulltulas – to find and enemies to shoot at but you’re still just passing time to actually get somewhere. It’s not too bad for most of the game and it’s not until you start doing the side quests that have you criss-crossing the land that it’s get monotonous. I hope in future Zeldas they go back to a truly explorable open area like Hyrule Field in Ocarina of Time.

zelda_spirit_tracks022Speaking of the Ocarina of Time another musical instrument – the Spirit Flute – makes an appearance in Spirit Tracks. And because this is a DS game it requires blowing into the microphone to play a note as you slide the instrument along. That sounds fine on paper but I had huge trouble actually getting the thing to recognize my breath and play songs correctly. I eventually discovered there was an optimal distance I had to hold the DS away from me for it to work. I would have much preferred to just press buttons to activate notes. The Flute is used minimally aside from the duets you have to play with certain characters to unlock more railway line.

zelda_spirit_tracks040Spirit Tracks is another game in the Wind Walker style - cartoony and 3D. Things look pretty good for the DS with mountains, oceans and the Spirit Tower visible in the distance. It’s neat of them to also have the state of the Spirit Tower reflect your progress in the game. Uncharacteristically for a Nintendo developed game there’s a bad slow down that always happens when you’re attacked by three tanks when travelling in the train. The Zelda style music returns and it’s pretty good as usual. I liked the remix of Zelda’s theme and the Spirit Flute songs are catchy although not as much as the Ocarina of Time’s ditties.

The increased puzzle complexity over Phantom Hourglass and the inclusion of Princess Zelda as a partner make Spirit Tracks a winner. There’s real satisfaction in completing the temples although getting to them via the train can be tedious. The train sections are easily the weakest part of the game as you’re never doing anything of real importance and there’s little freedom being on rails. Ultimately Spirit Tracks is another great installment in the Zelda series.