It hasn’t been too long since Phantom Hourglass released on the DS, but Nintendo has decided to give us gamers a second dose of the famous hero with The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks. The game follows the same basic formula of Phantom Hourglass and previous Zelda titles, but there are definitely a few things that set it apart and make it another great adventure.
Spirit Tracks opens up like previous Zelda titles with a bit of back-story and introduction of the world and its characters. A long time ago, the Demon King Malladus tried to take over the world, but the spirits of good, after a long battle, managed to subdue the beast and trap him under the Tower of Spirits. Now, Zelda’s Chancellor, Cole, is plotting to resurrect the Demon King using the princess’ own body and Link must stop him, and save Zelda and Hyrule, yet again.
The game takes place around 50 years after Phantom Hourglass, as one character makes a cameo, and relatives of others are present, so while this is a new Link and Zelda, it is still in the same time frame, although that isn’t very important. What is worthy of note, is how similar Spirit Tracks is to Phantom Hourglass, in terms of gameplay. As it is on the same platform, the controls and look and feel of the game are nearly identical to Phantom Hourglass. You still control Link via the touch screen, which works as well as it did previously, although it doesn’t allow for using weapons and moving at the same time, which is disappointing. So you have to trace the boomerang’s path while standing still, etc, but this was also true of the last game.
Your ship and sea have been traded in for a train and tracks. While this doesn’t allow for free range movement, as you are limited to the predefined tracks, there is still ample to explore and look at while traveling, and the game rewards you for doing so. So, while you are bound to your tracks, you can shoot boulders with your cannon to earn some extra rupees, and even find some bunnies, which is one of the more noticeable and entertaining side quests. There are ten rabbits scattered in each of the five regions of the game, and if you collect them all, first by finding them and then by using a net to capture them, you receive a few rewards, some more valuable and cool than others.
Also, enemies will attack you, so you must defend yourself, and there are certain obstacles that must be avoided, so careful planning and quick thinking are needed when riding the tracks. There are lots of forks and paths to take, and choosing a path is very simple. You can draw a route first to make these decisions automatically, but you can always change your mind on the fly and choose to take a different path. You start out with a rather limited set of tracks to ride, but as you progress, you unlock new regions to explore, and more and more tracks will reappear as you complete side quests and help citizens of the land, so there is a good incentive to explore and talk to people.
Similarly to Phantom Hourglass again, you can upgrade your train with various parts and cars. You can’t really add on to your train, but instead exchange parts. This is done by visiting a relative of that smarmy Linebeck and trading him trinkets you find during your travels for the train cars. These don’t really add anything to the game, per say, but they can be fun to collect and exchange if you want to give your ride a new look.
Aside from riding the lines, which is still too slow in my opinion, even though there are numerous teleportation spots, you have the main game still, which includes the dungeon crawling, boss whomping, and puzzle solving that you’ve enjoyed for forever. There are a lot of things that you will find familiar, like some of the enemies and overall artwork and look, just like Phantom Hourglass. Luckily though, there are some new weapons and items in the game, and some pretty cool gameplay mechanics I was surprised about. One new weapon is the whip, which is pretty cool to just look at and whip random things. It lends itself well as a tool, but not so much a weapon. There are other mechanics though, like the ability to freeze water by boomeranging a cold flame to make a path, which I found particularly surprising, inventive, and neat. I think you could use ice arrows to freeze water in a 3D Zelda game of some sort, but it just seemed special here.
There are five dungeons to explore, plus another in the Tower of Spirits. Within these, the bosses are pretty well designed and the fights use the weapons well. None of them are particularly difficult, which is unfortunate, but the tactics used are inventive and fun, and there are even some cool, true 3D moments. The Tower of the Spirits acts as Spirit Tracks’ Temple of the Ocean King, out of Phantom Hourglass. You have to return to this tower numerous times in your journey to unlock new sections of the track so you can visit new regions and dungeons. Fortunately, you don’t have to go through the same areas multiple times, as new floors are unlocked, and there is a stair case that allows you to bypass previous sections. Also, there is no time limit, so you don’t have to be bothered with that either.
As Zelda’s spirit is traveling with you on your journey to save the land and her body, she lends a hand, even though a bit unwilling at first. She has the ability to inhabit the bodies of phantoms. So, like in Phantom Hourglass, you can also control a phantom, and do things like jump on his shield to get through fire pits and the like. There are various types of phantoms, each with their own abilities, so there is about one section of the game where this becomes important, but obviously, the different uses are important in their own way. The mechanic works just about as well as in the previous title, but I found Zelda’s AI to be pretty terrible. She would have trouble finding you when you called her to your side, and would even go through sand pits, which she can’t cross, causing her to sink, when there was a perfectly good bridge two steps to her right. It was very bothersome.
Overall, Spirit Tracks is another great entry in the series. While it is very similar to the look and feel of Phantom Hourglass, there is still plenty of new content to enjoy, and any true fan won’t think twice about picking this one up. The main adventure is fun and enjoyable, and the side quests are engaging as well, so you will find yourself searching for those rabbits and looking for the stamp booths, and talking to people to unlock more tracks and find new stations to visit. There is plenty to do in the game, and while it goes fast at the beginning, it has a decent length. Like most Zelda games, it isn’t that difficult, so veterans can complete it with relative ease, but it’s still a good adventure and with the new mechanics, makes for a fun ride. (Oh, and there's some battle mode too, but I never tried it...only local though it would seem.)
Overall Score: 8.8/10