The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is a fun and satisfying journey. The game corrects pacing issues found in the previous series entry and contains some interesting story and game play twists.
In this latest foray into the Wind Waker mythology, descendants of Link and Tetra must embrace their destiny as Hyrule, once again, faces imminent danger. We join Link on the day he’s to graduate from his engineer apprenticeship. After the certificate ceremony is conducted by Princess Zelda, she expresses concern over the disappearance of the spirit (train) tracks that link the villages of the kingdom. At her request, Link escorts her to the Tower of Spirits so that she might investigate this strange situation. Zelda is betrayed by her chancellor, who attacks them while traveling to the tower and then viciously separates her body from her spirit. The two-hatted bureaucrat intends to use her body as a vessel for the return of the demon lord, Malladus. To reunite the princess with her physical body and save Hyrule, both Link and Zelda must defeat all in their path and restore the spirit tracks.
The story is more-or-less what you’ve come to expect of the “Legend of Zelda” franchise. It’s the execution of the familiar tale and some refreshing twists that make it stand out. Zelda, through her ability to possess phantoms, plays a much more active role than in previous games. She’s absolutely adorable in her feistiness. It doesn’t take long to grow attached her character. It would be nice to see her play an even more critical role in some future iteration of the series.
The graphics of the Zelda series are usually what other games are measured against, and Spirit Tracks continues that trend. Every shot in the cut scenes is dynamic and well-framed. They do a great job of creating the illusion that Hyrule expands well beyond what you see in the game. Everything in the dungeons can be made out easily. The only thing that could have been improved is the time it takes items in the distance (e.g. rocks, trees, sometimes enemies) to appear into view while traveling the overworld on your train.
Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass used a ship as your mode of transportation between lands. That allowed for a lot more freedom. In Spirit Tracks your train can move forward with a choice of two speeds and in reverse. You can also shift tracks by using a handle that shifts left and right. There’s a whistle that is used to momentarily stun certain enemies and open portals that transport you to an entirely different area of the map. You don’t obtain the cannon to combat enemies immediately, and there aren’t enough enemies to keep you on your toes until much later in the game. Trains are awesome. I won’t deny that. But within the context of this game, you’re confined to a track and that’s inherently less interesting than being able to go wherever you’d like.
The game is controlled largely using your stylus, the left shoulder button, and the right directional button. The stylus is used to move around, select items, direct Zelda, and talk to other characters. The left shoulder button allows you quick access to your active secondary item (e.g. boomerang, bow and arrow or snake whip). The right directional button allows pulls up the menu that allows you to switch your secondary item while briefly pausing the game. The controls are responsive and consistent throughout.
The dungeons are more varied than those of Phantom Hourglass and feel like they take less time to complete even when they’re actually longer. You’re still subjected to a two-tier quest for each step towards completing the game. You must first complete a series of puzzles in the Tower of Spirits. You’ll be rewarded with a rail map that will restore some of spirit tracks and reveal the location of the next temple. Upon completing another series of puzzles and defeating a major boss you move closer to having all of the tools and experience you need to take on Malladus.
The boss fights are just plain fun. There’s a good mix of bosses you’ll beat on the first try and those that will give you a run for your money. You’ll go through all of the emotions you should with a boss fight: Marveling at the sheer size of the creature that your tiny hero is about to face. Feeling tension as you survey your enemy and try to figure out how you’ll use your newly acquired weapon to help defeat it. Excitement as you make the hit that confirms the monster’s weakness. And finally, relief and satisfaction as you bring it to its knees.
The music in the game maintains the level of quality established in previous games. There’s nothing as memorable as, let’s say, Epona’s song from Ocarina of Time, but all of the compositions fit within the series and they’re bridged by themes you’re familiar with.
While some of the side quests might require the assist of a game guide, the majority are completely solvable using the power of the human mind. Mini-games that are necessary to acquire items like additional hearts and upgrades to your bomb bag or quiver can be beaten within a few tries. That’s fantastic. When playing a Zelda game, I like go into the final boss battle well prepared. Speaking of which (if you count your entrance into the Dark Realm as part of the final boss battle) there are a good seven stages to get through before you’re rewarded with the games ending. That could potentially be overwhelming, but it’s so satisfying when you pull it off.
Needless to say, I was very satisfied with the gaming experience the game provided. Strong graphics. Likeable characters. Challenging dungeons. Rewarding boss battles. It’s a strong entry in the Legend of Zelda series and well worth your time.