One Damn Good Adventure Game and One of the Best Games on the DS
Those that have played The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass will be no stranger to the layout of The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks. Spirit Tracks takes the same formula of Phantom Hourglass and replaces it with a train instead of a boat and the Tower of Spirits instead of the Temple of the Ocean King. I guess this could be a good or bad thing, depending on your tastes, but I felt that Nintendo did make some small enough changes to twist it into a good thing. Those that have not played Phantom Hourglass should just know that this is one damn good Action-Adventure game and is definitely one of the best games on the Nintendo DS.
Going back to Phantom Hourglass, I personally was not very fond of the Temple of the Ocean King. I was never too excited about treading the same ground over-and-over again, but the thing that really annoyed me about it most was the time limit. Now, I'm not against time limits in my Zelda games or anything, heck Majora's Mask is one of my all time favorites, but for some reason or another I always dreaded going back to the Temple of the Ocean King in Phantom Hourglass. I distinctly remember going through it that one final time, to face Bellum, and praying that this was really the last and final time, as I just couldn't do it anymore. The time limit didn't make the game all that much harder, but it sure did make the game not fun to play, which always felt out of place in an game based on adventure and exploration.
Luckily, all my complaints about this topic have been quelled in Spirit Tracks. With the Tower of Spirits' particular mechanics, and especially with the removal of the time limit that was found in Phantom Hourglass, things are definitely on the right track (no pun intended). Unlike Phantom Hourglass, I enjoyed every bit of Spirit Tracks… including the Tower and all.
Although Spirit Tracks changed just enough, to make what I felt were welcomed changes, it also didn't go far enough with some. One of the major problems I had with Spirit Tracks was with the plot. Sure, this is a Zelda game and the story isn't first and foremost, but that didn't stop previous titles like The Minish Cap or Ocarina of Time from feeling more epic in scope. During the whole Spirit Tracks experience, I never once felt that I was on too epic of a quest. I felt that many of the inhabitants of Spirit Tracks' Hyrule were just straight oblivious to many facts. Like most of them never felt anything dire was happening to their world or that the main Tower (where everything is connected to) just broke apart and crazy magics are all spewing-out. Then there's also the disappearance of their main form of travel… but who cares, right?
As far as the game's dialog is concerned, it also had its share of issues. I even caught a character such as Zelda herself making ridiculous statements. One such example is when after you beat one of the Temples (I believe it was the second one) where she says, "Let's go back to Anjean and tell her that we've restored the Spirit Tracks here." (not an exact quote, but close). Why would she even say this? Anjean is freaking smack dab in the middle of the Tower, she's the one holding things together with all her magic and is sensitive to any changes such as this, and knows everything already… every time we do anything, she knows! Anyway, besides a few of the inconsistencies with the character dialog in this game, I will give Nintendo credit for making all the welcomed chatter between Zelda and Link. I just wish that they would have gone the extra mile and really made it into something special. The story of Spirit Tracks is not going to win any awards by far.
Regardless of the bland premise of Spirit Tracks, the gameplay is really where it's at! For a touch screen controlled game, it's super polished beyond pretty much any other game on the system. I never once really felt like I wasn't in control. It even felt better to play, to me, than Phantom Hourglass. The puzzle elements in Spirit Tracks are pretty good, if I do say so myself. They aren't too hard and aren't too easy either. They may take a few tries, but are always fair and solvable. Probably the only puzzle I didn't much agree with was the "Friendship Puzzle" just outside one of the Sanctuaries. The rest though, however, are top-notch. Each Temple's layouts and puzzle solving aspects are truly satisfying and done with a particular grace that is not found in many games these days.
The side quests and mini games in Spirit Tracks are also very nicely done! From target practice/shooting games, to whip racing, and to the battle royal (where you can re-fight old Dungeon Bosses!), they are all really fun and well thought-out. Also, in Spirit Tracks, I actually liked doing what some would consider "mundane tasks" in other games. These things include attaching a transport bed to the back of your train and shipping lumber and such to different destinations around Hyrule. Also, you can transport passengers, which really makes you focus on driving carefully. They can even get mad at you for not slowing down when you're supposed to or for not sounding the train's horn at certain junctures :p I found doing these kinds of things sort of fun, in a way. However, I will regress partially though, and say that I absolutely did not like the super gimmicky rabbit catching mini-game in any way, shape, or form.
Speaking of gimmicks, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks utilize nearly everything the hardware of the Nintendo DS has to offer, but does right by it for the most part. In many cases taking-on touch screen controls or using the microphone turns-out to be a bad idea, or just plain badly implemented, and thus tosses those kinds of games and mechanics into the "gimmicky" category; mostly just to check a box off of included features. Again, the rabbit catching mini-game is probably the only thing that goes into this category, in my opinion, but beyond that Spirit Tracks really polishes any and everything it has to offer and nothing else really feels this way, which is great!
In closing, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks does have a few bad points, including a not so great story, some spotty dialog, and that gimmicky (rather annoying) rabbit catching mini-game, but it does truly shines in nearly every single other aspect. I guess one other final thing you could dock some points on, is that Spirit Tracks does nothing to evolve itself from its predecessors. This statement could either be taken as a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your own personal tastes. I felt that this was a good thing, this time around, but I may not think so when the next Zelda game hits. I personally do feel like Nintendo should really step-it-up next time and maybe focus more on making the next Zelda outing truly epic in scope with the story, and perhaps even make that truly deserving Triple-AAA Zelda title. Regardless of its flaws, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is a great addition to the Zelda Franchise and is one of the best games on the Nintendo DS. It's right up there with games such as Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars and the recently released Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is a must buy for Action-Adventure, Exploration, and/or Puzzle Fans alike.