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The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks Review

4
  • DS

Spirit Tracks is filled with good moments that tweak the series' standards in interesting ways.


Link, meet Zelda. 
Fact: Kids love trains. Fact: Link needs a way to get around. But don't take the rail-riding theme of The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks to mean that this is some watered-down experience for the younger set. There are plenty of tricky puzzles in place that should satisfy (and occasionally frustrate) Zelda fans of any age. Weirdly enough, the parts of the game that drag are usually the ones that involve you directly controlling a train.

Spirit Tracks is designed as a follow-up to the last DS release for the Zelda series, Phantom Hourglass. You'll see a few returning motifs, and the art style is similarly evolved from Wind Waker, but it's not really a direct sequel, as it again resets to new, young versions of Link and Zelda. The story has Link traveling the world as he attempts to stop the resurrection of Malladus, the demon king, but he won't do it alone. After the basic visit to the castle and requisite annoying stealth sequence, Zelda's body is stolen, and is to be used as a vessel for the returning antagonist. This leaves Zelda's spirit roaming free, in ghost form. So she tags along with Link for the duration of the game, popping out occasionally to provide some tips about what you're supposed to be doing.

Zelda also takes a more active role in some parts of the game. The basic flow of Spirit Tracks has you visiting the Tower of Spirits, a tall building in the center of the world, to get maps to the game's four quadrants. Once you've acquired the map, you can head out into one of the game's four realms, each with its own points of interest, including a temple. Those temples are very much done in the traditional Zelda style, with a new inventory item that you'll obviously use on that temple's boss. But the levels you'll take on in the tower have a very different feel to them, and focus much more on puzzle-solving than combat. In the tower, Zelda can possess Phantoms--which are large, ghostly sets of armor that roam the halls of the tower and effectively wipe you out in one hit, making careful play a requirement. Once in a suit of armor, you can directly control Zelda's ghost by tapping a circle at her feet and drawing a path for her to move along. The different suits she'll possess as you return to the tower every couple of hours give her slightly different abilities, which changes up how you'll forge ahead.

You'll need to restore the spirit tracks before you can ride on them. 
A series of train tracks connect all points in the world, and all of your overworld travel is done by train. It's not entirely unlike the boat travel in Phantom Hourglass, but being stuck to the tracks feels really confining. At times, it almost becomes a Pac-Man-like maze game, where you're trying to take paths that avoid indestructible enemy trains. But most of all, the train travel is sort of boring. You'll spend a lot of time just getting from one point to the next, and aside from a cannon, which you can use to fend off the occasional enemy attack or idly shoot at boulders in the hopes of uncovering some rupees, there isn't much to do. The rest of the game keeps up a pretty peppy pace, so chugging around the map really breaks up the flow of the game.

Though you can use the DS face buttons and triggers as handy shortcuts for some functions, Spirit Tracks is primarily played with the stylus. You'll tap enemies to attack, hold the stylus on the screen to move in different directions, and make helpful notes on maps. You'll also draw flight paths for boomerangs, and swipe or swirl on the screen to perform different sword moves. For the most part, the stylus control is great, and gives the entire game a sort of laid-back, simple feel. But in the few cases where the game starts demanding precision, all of that stylus control becomes something of a liability. Things like a boss fight where you have to quickly use the boomerang to bring fire to an icy enemy, or having to deflect incoming projectiles with well-timed sword swings were more frustrating than fun, because it's easy to see exactly what you need to do, it's just not always as easy to do it. Not to totally discount the nature of stylus controls, but if you could swing the sword by pushing a button and move yourself around with some sort of "directional pad," this wouldn't be an issue at all. Thankfully, most of the game is pretty forgiving with this sort of thing.

There are a lot of little side things to do in Spirit Tracks, like the occasional passenger who wants to get from one place to another, or the rabbit rescue guy, who gives you cash and bonuses for finding and delivering any wild rabbits you find while chugging around the world. You can even upgrade your train with sturdier cars, which is sort of handy during one late-game sequence. But I never ran into any situation that would have been much easier with a few extra heart containers, and only really died when I got extremely careless. Most of the challenge in Spirit Tracks comes from staring at maps and figuring out what, exactly, needs to be done to get from point A to point B.

Blow into the DS mic and you can play this sick pan flute. 
In addition to its lengthy single-player adventure, there's a multiplayer component to Spirit Tracks. The battle mode lets up to four local players (using only one copy of the game) run around small areas to collect force gems. Pit traps and roaming phantoms abound, and getting hit causes you to drop some of your gems. The player with the most gems when time expires wins. With no sword to swing, this barely feels like something connected to the Zelda universe, and it's a pretty dull experience, overall. The game also has tag mode, which lets you trade treasures with other nearby Spirit Tracks players while your DS is in sleep mode. The treasures are used to purchase train upgrades, so hunting down specific treasures is a key part of that process. Maybe your reality is different than mine, but I bet I could carry my DSi on me, in tag mode, for a full month and never encounter another player doing the same.

The audio is what you'd expect, with remixed takes on the franchise's anthemic soundtrack and plenty of yelps and shouts (but no speech) from Link. Visually, the game looks very similar to Phantom Hourglass, keeping to the Wind Waker style that served the previous game so well. Though Link is understandably silent, his eyes and mouth are able to convey a good range of emotions, from fear to joy to gritted determination. Artistically, the game looks fantastic. On the technical side, though, the game noticeably slows down when you're attacked while on your train. It makes an already slow process feel even slower.

Though parts of Spirit Tracks are a little disappointing, most of those low points are offset by its terrific puzzle design and a great, fun story that feels noticeably different from the standard "save the princess" saga that series fans are used to seeing. Plus you can blow the train whistle, at will, whenever you're on-board. That's gotta count for something, right? Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
55 Comments
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Posted by dbz1995

I would get this game if it was on something other than the DS.

Posted by Linkyshinks

Thanks Jeff.

Posted by Milkman

Seems about right,

Online
Posted by Mushir

Very nice review as usual. Having Zelda along side you seems like a nice change.

Posted by LethalKi11ler

I got this game too can't wait to start it :)

Posted by Bigandtasty

Nice review; sounds like a solid game. Makes me want a DS more, though the real argument for that is Bowser's Inside Story.

Posted by BenderUnit22

8.8??? WHAT??? :D 
 
Great review, although I haven't even played Phantom Hourglass yet.

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Posted by Darkstar614

I'm starting to wonder when the hell they're ever going to add multiple difficulty levels to Zelda games. The combat is always so easy for most gamers. I can understand they are trying to appeal to more people, but that doesn't mean there shouldn't be a mode that makes the combat somewhat challenging. 
 
TP was ridiculously easy, and from the sound of it, this seems like more of the same.

Posted by nanikore

It's out already? Ok. Here goes then, I guess: Meh.

Posted by Cerza

Hmmm so it doesn't suck. Maybe I'll pick it up... next year... when I have more money for games.

Posted by RHCPfan24

Great review Jeff!! I am pleased this game is actually good; this should be my next DS game.

Posted by Brendan

Nice review, Jeff.  This game is slated directly after Inside Story for me.

Posted by Kohe321

Awesome! I'm getting this for myself for christmas :D

Posted by Legend
@BenderUnit22 said:
" 8.8??? WHAT??? :D  "
LOL
Posted by RobotHamster

Awesome, i think im getting this for Christmas

Posted by MattBodega

" The basic flow of Spirit Tracks has you visiting the Tower of Spirits, a tall building in the center of the world, to get maps to the game's four quadrants. Once you've acquired the map, you can head out into one of the game's four realms, each with its own points of interest, including a temple."


Wow.....That sounds EXACTLY like Phantom Hourglass......but like.....EXACTLY. 
It's seems strange that this new game would continue with a gameplay system that was, if I remember correctly, the sole blemish that reviewers brought up in the game. I mean.....I still like Phantom Hourglass, and I'll probably get this game at some point but it's decisions like these that remind game players that Nintendo makes games in a glass bubble, and the Zelda franchise is in a bubble inside of this larger bubble
Posted by Death_Burnout
@BenderUnit22 said:
" 8.8??? WHAT??? :D   Great review, although I haven't even played Phantom Hourglass yet. "
Fuck you! you beat me to it!
 
Haha.
Posted by moelarrycurly

Nintendo has done it again; damn you Aunoma for making good games.

Posted by JJOR64

A 4 OUT OF 5!  YOUR WRONG DAMMIT, THIS GAME IS A 5 OUT OF 5!!!!!
 
That's what an angry Nintendo fanboy would say.  :P  I'm really looking forward to this game. Phantom Hourglass had some issues, but it was still a fun game.  It's a bummer that there is a dungeon you have to do over and over again, but at least there is no time limit so that makes me happy.  I'm just going to get it at Christmas time since I have no money.

Posted by spankingaddict

what the fuck!!! where's Brad?

Posted by wolf_blitzer85
@spankingaddict: That is quite odd since he was the one plastering the site with updates and whatnot. Maybe he needed Jeff's help beating the game ;)
Posted by Luke
Posted by supermike6

I'm really excited for this game. Not getting it for Christmas, it seems more like something to play next summer when things are getting boring.

Posted by CowsWithGuns

 Good review and glad to hear that it's not a complete copy of the first game. 

Posted by KuwabaraTheMan

Sounds pretty good. I can't wait to get my hands on this. I love the art style of the Wind Waker-esque games, and the game play seems like exactly what I want from a Zelda game.@Darkstar614 said:

" I'm starting to wonder when the hell they're ever going to add multiple difficulty levels to Zelda games. The combat is always so easy for most gamers. I can understand they are trying to appeal to more people, but that doesn't mean there shouldn't be a mode that makes the combat somewhat challenging.   TP was ridiculously easy, and from the sound of it, this seems like more of the same. "
Well, maybe this is just me, but I've never really felt like the combat is really an integral part of the Zelda experience, as far as challenge goes. At their core, Zelda games are puzzle/exploration games, and the difficulty arises from trying to figure out how to progress through the dungeons, where to go next, what the pattern to defeat the boss is, etc. The combat is never really difficult, but I don't think it's meant to be.
Posted by Drummerlp2000

aw man i want this game right now. I mean come on YOU CAN BLOW THE WHISTLE AT ANY FUCKING TIMEE! awesome.

Posted by Winternet

First of all: Wow. I thought Brad was going to review this game, since he was covering most of zelda stuff on giantbomb. And I thought Jeff kinda had distanced himself from zelda games since Twilight Princess. Did he played Phantom Hourglass?
Second: Nothin. I haven't read the review yet, so...

Posted by Winternet
@Death_Burnout said:
" @BenderUnit22 said:
" 8.8??? WHAT??? :D   Great review, although I haven't even played Phantom Hourglass yet. "
Fuck you! you beat me to it!  Haha. "
Haha. Remember when that happen? Oh, good times. The hilarious moments reading all those comments and forum topics.
Posted by Willy105

VIDEO REVIEW PLEASE.
 
This review didn't do much to help me decide to get it and if it was better than Phantom Hourglass.
 
Also, Jeff? Jeff!

JEFF!!!!!!!!!!!!

 
Posted by Osphere
@Legend said:
" @BenderUnit22 said:
" 8.8??? WHAT??? :D  "
LOL "
Was looking for that the moment I clicked the review lol
Posted by SaturdayNightSpecials

OH MY GOD ONLY 4 STARS
 
Good review, but I really wanted to hear more about how it compared to Phantom Hourglass. Specifically, I wanted to hear whether the Tower of Spirits was as big a pile of bullshit as the Temple of the Ocean King was. I understand it's not, but I wanted to hear it from a source I trust.
 
Hope to hear more on the Bombcast.

Posted by Bulby33

I laugh how you give Rhythm Heaven a 5, yet the best game on the DS gets a 4. 
 
Either way, good review. My EB Games still doesn't have it yet...

Posted by TooWalrus

Glad to hear that this game turned out pretty good. I own Phantom Hourglass, but only got through the first dungeon. Not because it was bad, but because I never really play my DS. Maybe I'll play through both of them in may, on that long plane ride...

Posted by RenegadeSaint

I'm really surprised that Jeff is the one reviewing this game.  He definitely gave it a fair shake and justified his score, but I was really expecting this to be a Brad or maybe even a Vinny review.

Posted by bjorno

8.8/5

Posted by Boom_goes_the_dynamite

I am kind of surprised it got a 4 out of 5.  I was really expecting this game to be either horrible or way too similar to phantom hourglass.  Glad to hear its not, doesn't necessarily mean I'll get it anytime soon (if at all), but if I were to at some point get another DS game this would be it. 

Posted by fishmicmuffin

I've been playing it and I agree with Jeff's review so far. I wish there was a faster speed for the train... then it wouldn't be so boring going from place to place. On the plus side though, the music they play while you're on the train is amazing. It helps ease the pain of sitting there a  little bit.

Posted by Milkman
@LK said:
" I laugh how you give Rhythm Heaven a 5, yet the best game on the DS gets a 4.  Either way, good review. My EB Games still doesn't have it yet... "
Way to wear your stupidity on your sleeve. You say that this is the best game on the DS and then say you still have not bought it.
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Posted by Jayzilla

I'd like to see Link in the Wii game that is coming out soon to NOT have Link meeting Zelda for the first time. I would also like him to have the Master Sword, the boomerang, the grappling hook etc. all at the START of the game and for them to add a whole bunch of stuff on top of it.

Posted by Bulby33
@Milkman said:
" @LK said:
" I laugh how you give Rhythm Heaven a 5, yet the best game on the DS gets a 4.  Either way, good review. My EB Games still doesn't have it yet... "
Way to wear your stupidity on your sleeve. You say that this is the best game on the DS and then say you still have not bought it. "
Whoops, I worded that wrong. I meant one of the highest rating DS games.
Posted by Media_Master

Good to hear!

Posted by Nemesis

This game is fucking alright. It is what you fucking expect from a fucking Nintendo made Zelda fucking handheld fucking game. Fuck yeah, you communist pricks. Zelda fucks shit up... Capitalism style!
 
Shit, wrong game. I mean, darn it.

Posted by TheJollyRajah

Dude, Jeff's totally right. I think Zelda has been going downhill since Twilight Princess. It's no longer the legendary franchise it used to be, unfortunately.

Edited by Knives
@TheJollyRajah said:

" Dude, Jeff's totally right. I think Zelda has been going downhill since Twilight Princess. It's no longer the legendary franchise it used to be, unfortunately. "

Yes, because handheld Zelda has always been the pinnacle of the franchise. Better yet, have you even played the game? I thought PH was better than Minish Cap. So what now?
Posted by bennyboy
@Knives said:
" @TheJollyRajah said:

" Dude, Jeff's totally right. I think Zelda has been going downhill since Twilight Princess. It's no longer the legendary franchise it used to be, unfortunately. "

Yes, because handheld Zelda has always been the pinnacle of the franchise. Better yet, have you even played the game? I thought PH was better than Minish Cap. So what now? "
Wow, you sure showed him.
Posted by skrutop

My dad built a model train set in their basement.  It's an amazing piece of work. FACT!
 
I didn't really care for Phantom Hourglass, so I think I'll probably skip this game.

Posted by shinobishyguy
@TheJollyRajah said:
"Dude, Jeff's totally right. I think Zelda has been going downhill since Twilight Princess. It's no longer the legendary franchise it used to be, unfortunately. "

y'know people said the same thing about wind waker when it was first released. Funny how the hate bandwagon always changes like that.
Posted by Knives
@bennyboy said:
" @Knives said:
" @TheJollyRajah said:

" Dude, Jeff's totally right. I think Zelda has been going downhill since Twilight Princess. It's no longer the legendary franchise it used to be, unfortunately. "

Yes, because handheld Zelda has always been the pinnacle of the franchise. Better yet, have you even played the game? I thought PH was better than Minish Cap. So what now? "
Wow, you sure showed him. "
Yeah, I guess I did.
Posted by darkjester74

CHOO CHOO!!!
 
Nice review Jeff, thanks!  :)

Posted by Godwind

HOLY SHIT!!!!!!!!111!!!22321!!!!!! FOUR OUT 5 STARS!!!!!!!  THAT IS SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO BAD, I NEED TO TYPE IN CAPS WITH MY DOGMATIC FANBOY PERSONA!!!! OUTRAGE!!!!
 
Anyways, good review man.  I will be picking it up.

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