Not memorable but not bad either.
Spirit Tracks is not known for being the best Zelda game around, this little fact made me pretty cautious about how to approach this Zelda game. Some people tend to overestimate Zelda games, they have them in some kind of pedestal of games that should only be released if they will somehow change the way we see games as a whole. Not every Zelda game is meant to be breathtaking.
The first DS game wasn’t anything spectacular and this one is no exception. The puzzles are somewhat interesting all around, growing in difficulty as the game progresses to a point where it becomes quite a challenge. The best aspect of this game are the puzzles, quite ingenious use of the DS capabilities. Everything else is simply derivative. That’s not necessarily a bad thing so to say.
Story-wise every Zelda game is pretty boring, some of them might be slightly above average but the true nature of Zelda is sticking to clichés. In this one you train to become an engineer and drive trains around. Link is caught up in a series of events during his granting ceremony as an engineer in Zelda’s castle, the ceremony held by the princess herself. What needs to go wrong goes wrong and Zelda ends up losing her body.
Somehow this is hailed as a direct sequel to Phantom Hourglass. I wouldn’t know, both plots seem pretty bland and forgettable, let alone the complete madness that is Zelda overall plot, nothing really makes sense so we’ll leave it at that. Long story short there are four Spirits of Good that seem to imprison the mighty evil spirit and somehow they don’t work anymore. Zelda’s spirit and Link must travel the land to restore the force of the central Tower of Spirits to bring forth peace and prosperity once more.
The symbiosis between Zelda and Link if fenomenal. As a delicate princess wearing a dress she wouldn’t be of much help, but in spirit form she can embody certain baddies and carry out their abilities. Unfortunately she’s still afraid of rats so that pretty much covers her weakness. The princess is not a constant partner in action but when she comes in she allows for pretty nifty puzzles.
The worst aspect of this game has got to be the musical instrument. Much like Ocarina was the instrument for the Nintendo 64’s releases, this one present the Spirit Flute — which might be the single most detesting piece of video-game gameplay items ever. Choose the flute and start blowing into the DS’s mic to play it, control the notes via the touch screen. Doing both at the same time is clumsy, completely ineffective.
Playing most songs is easy enough, and it hardly demands you to, but every time you complete a temple you must synchronize one specific song with the representative of the Spirit Tower. Some of these songs are so unwieldy that you’re better off just tapping the touch screen and blowing air like crazy. It’s that bad.
Driving around in a train is even more boring than Phantom Hourglass’s boat. Wind Waker was awesome because it gave you freedom and the overworld was interesting enough. Phantom Hourglass just felt contrived, limited. The train mechanics are easy and won’t get in the way, just the long distances traveled and slow-ish speed might get in the way… of fun.
Everything about the overworld is cut down to the bare minimum. The towns are small, nothing much diverse to do except the usual inter-temple affairs. When a new quest is put forth it’s hard to keep track of what was asked and your own progress through them. They should have worked on that, not really an RPG quest book but at least something to remind us of what we’re doing since not always the quests are possible at that moment and when you advance you completely forget about them.
As I’ve said this game is meant to be taken as a primitive Zelda experience, at least that’s how I see it. The temples offer significant challenge to keep the player busy during the 20-30 hour campaign. There’s nothing excessive brilliant about it but except for the amazingly bad idea for a musical instrument, there’s nothing really bad about it. Sure it’s not the best Zelda game around, but it’s a fun ride if you don’t expect it to blow your mind.