The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks Review

It’s Zelda. So that means a ton of care and hard work was put into this game. It means the narrative is solid and it fits right in line with the rest of the franchise. It’s also a handheld installment so, while there is a new instrument to learn, it doesn’t radically alter the Zelda formula here. That is by no means a complaint.

Like a few other Zelda games before it, Spirit Tracks has a musical component to it. Not nearly as obscure an instrument as an ocarina, in Spirit Tracks you play a pan flute.

My problem with the flute in Spirit Tracks is not its usability but rather lack of integration. For such deep playability it feels tacked on. There are songs you play in duet and songs you learn and can play throughout the game… kind of. You learn a song to shine light, but you only use it twice in the game. You learn a song to call birds, but I think I only used it once. I just felt the flute was underused.

So, we’ve covered the flute. Lets just jump right on the elephant in the room. There’s a train, and you want to know about it. Does this technological leap pull you out of the game? No. Actually, it’s similar to the sailboat in Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass. Those games contained the illusion of scope. Sure the ocean was vast, but there was only stuff to do on the islands, and they were spread out.

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In Spirit Tracks you can only stop at stations around the world. If the stations are like islands (and they very much mimic the islands from Phantom Hourglass in size) then the train is just a more direct way of transporting yourself to your destination. No worrying about facing the right direction; you’re already on rails.

The controls are similar to those of Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. You touch the screen in the direction you want to move to guide your hero (lets call him Link from now on). To attack with your sword you slash the screen and to do a spin attack you draw a circle. As much as I prefer using the face buttons in games, as I have for decades, the touch controls tended not to bother me most of the time in Spirit Tracks.

Even with the sometimes-strange controls, the puzzles and the sheer fun I was having with the game were what kept me playing. Spirit Tracks has this unique component of needing to control Link and Zelda when you are in the Spirit Tower (a place you return to throughout the game to discover more train tracks). Zelda is a heavily armed behemoth and you can either have her stick by Link or you can draw a line and she will walk that path attacking anything that gets in her way. It’s a really solid puzzle mechanic that only works if you have a touch screen. It might have been improved if it was handled the way the combat in The World Ends With You was handled, where Link would be controlled by the touch screen and Zelda moved with the D pad. Maybe.

Moving Zelda to far away places was fine, but once you needed to navigate short distances it became troublesome to switch to from Link to Zelda, draw a short line, switch back to Link, move him to follow her, etc. It gets tedious. Luckily the designers knew that and it doesn’t come up very often.

I’m being very critical here. Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks did so many things well it’s hard not to include it on any list of top games from 2009. The gameplay as a whole was very solid. The story was told well, and while the villains weren’t as fleshed out as I would have liked, the world and its secondary characters were. Helping the secondary characters was a driving force for my Link. Taking the time to help the characters made the world in Spirit Tracks more real.

What’s a Zelda game without side quests? Spirit Tracks‘ unique method of transport serves as a vehicle (pun intended!) for your side quests. There is a Gorgon who wants to go to Castle Town, a boy who wants to fly, and a photographer who is constantly getting lost, just to name a few. You transport people around the world and get stuff in return. But you’re driving a train and a train can carry more than just people. You can also haul lumber to build a fence, ice to put out a fire, and chickens… to do whatever it is that chickens do. Hauling people and materials is a logical addition to this game. It is the perfect blending of an old formula with the mechanics of this specific game.

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The same can be said for the puzzles. Yes, you’ll get new items and have to use them to solve the dungeon you are in. That’s how Zelda works. But knowing how it works by no means makes it easy. The later trips to the Spirit Tower really make you have to think about how you are going to progress and bring two people along with you. There are some places Link can go that Zelda can’t follow, and vice versa. It makes the dungeons more about solving the dungeon you are in than battling your way through. It all just works together.

I feel that’s where we are in the current state of games in the Legend of Zelda franchise. We are past the stage of trying to re-invent the formula. Nintendo knows what works, and they know what we want. Instead, everything is just being refined and tweaked. The weapons added help create better puzzles. The touch screen enables you to control two characters. The train directly influences the types of side quests. Everything works, and it feels like Zelda.

My one sentence wrap up would be ‘play it.’ Luckily I am not restricted to one sentence, so I’ll continue by saying it’s a perfectly solid representation of Zelda. The puzzles are not easy, despite the cartoon appearance of the main character (anyone who played Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass knows this to be true), the characters are interesting, the controls work well, and the story is adequate. So what are you waiting for? Play it.


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Author: Creighton DeSimone View all posts by

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