majormitch's The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (Nintendo DS) review

Peaks and valleys

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is a strange concoction. One one hand, this is a Zelda game through and through, complete with all the things we've come to know and love about the franchise. On the other hand, it has some more subtle things going on that clearly make this game different from the norm. The result is a haphazard collection of ideas that manage to hit all sorts of highs and lows, making this a game that should be enjoyed by the Zelda faithful, but probably won't be a great showcase for those who aren't.
Spirit Tracks' biggest strength is the same strength that defines any good Zelda game- the dungeons. Every dungeon in the game is filled with great monsters and puzzles, and it all gels in a way that feels right. The items you acquire are put to extremely good use within the dungeons, and the game gets a ton of mileage off of its comparatively smaller set of equipment. I have to give a shout out to my favorite new item, the Sand Wand, which allowed for some really neat puzzles. In addition to the stellar dungeon design, I also feel that Spirit Tracks deserves a nod for its narrative. In short, this is one of the few Zelda games that actually tries to give Link and Zelda any amount of personality, and the resulting narrative wraps up in a wholly satisfying way. Finally, the touch screen controls that were introduced in Phantom Hourglass return, and work just as well here.
Unfortunately, amidst all the positive qualities of Spirit Tracks lie a ton of little annoyances. While controlling Link on his own is pretty smooth, I found controlling both Link and Zelda simultaneously to be a chore. Switching back and forth is disorienting, and Zelda's movement usually isn't as precise as I would want. Even worse, however, is the Spirit Flute- blowing in the DS microphone has never worked before, and it's similarly broken here. It's incredibly fickle in its recognition, and forced me to needlessly try the simplest sections over and over again. Past the weird interface stuff, Spirit Tracks has some larger problems as well. Primarily, the pacing is just a mess, mostly because of the train sequences. Riding the train around the overworld is just boring, and kills any sense of flow the game's dungeons try to build. Also, some of the later sections of the Tower of Spirits can drag a bit, and there are even a few parts of the game that don't give much direction on where to go. This led to aimless wandering on the train, which is about as dull as it gets.

While none of these gripes are noteworthy on their own, they all culminate in between the game's excellent main dungeons to create some pretty unexciting and/or frustrating moments. As a result, Spirit Tracks constantly toggles back and forth between some pretty extreme highs and lows. Zelda stalwarts should find it worth trudging through the lows to reach the highs, but anyone else would probably be better off seeking a more consistently entertaining experience.
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