Release Date: 12/7/2009
Available Exclusively On
Phantom Hourglass showed the world just exactly what the DS was capable of. It looked fantastic, used every single hardware feature, and had well-crafted puzzles and dungeons. Spirit Tracks continues that with trains, more clever puzzles, new weapons, and a longer game. Despite Spirit Tracks holding up to Zelda standards, it does have some flaws that hold it back a bit.
You start out like any other Zelda game near Hyrule Castle. You’re a train engineer and need to go to the graduation ceremony performed by Princess Zelda. Zelda gets captured by an evil guy and you have to save her. Typical Zelda and Nintendo stuff. The story is simple and not very interesting, but everyone loves Zelda for clever puzzles and dungeons. Spirit Tracks has plenty of those but before you dive into a dungeon you are introduced to driving a train. Like the seafaring adventure of Windwaker and Phantom Hourglass, Nintendo thought it would be nice to do something by land. You can draw your route on the touch screen and then you can adjust your speed. It’s kind of cool at first, especially when you get passengers because you need to follow all the road signs such as blowing your horn (done by pulling a string on the touch screen) and adjusting your speed. However, you aren’t just enjoying the scenery, you will get attacked on the tracks. The Spirit Train is equipped with a cannon to solve these issues and your train has health. You can also shoot rocks around you for health and rupees.
Once you get into a dungeon you are in the meat of the game. They start out pretty easy with simple puzzles, but they get extremely tough later on. The Phantoms are back from Hourglass — you need to collect 3 Tears of Light in the dungeon to be able to let Zelda possess them and help you out. Yes, Zelda accompanies you in ghost form. The dungeons are multi-leveled. You will need to ascend and descend floors to access new parts of other floors. This back and forth was very confusing in Hourglass but is a bit less so here. The dungeons also get bigger and more complex. Towards the 6th and final temple, I had to resort to a walkthrough because I was completely lost. Some puzzles are so obscure you will never figure them out. The various weapons you get are fun to use, but having to try all of them to figure something out can be frustrating.
Combat is also a bit frustrating. Sometimes the touch controls don’t do what you want. Using your whirlwind, bow, whip, sand wand, and the sword is not just for puzzle solving. Some enemies are only weak to the boomerang while others are weak to the whip. Some need multiple weapons to be defeated, but the menu system is annoying. Let me have a radial menu by holding the weapon icon, don’t make me go into a menu like I’m playing a SNES game. The same goes for platforming. Half the time I died because Link would jump where I didn’t want him to. The game just gets so hard and frustrating towards the end that some people may not finish it.
At least the boss fights are fun and clever. They make use of both screens and require fast reflexes and timing to defeat. These bosses are just a lot of fun and feel satisfying to fight. There’s another neat thing which is using the Spirit Flute to play songs. Once you complete a few dungeons you will start to notice repetition setting in and the game starts to feel stale. It mainly has to do with having to drive this train so damn much. You have to return the rails by finding rail maps in the spirit tower which are a whole new set of dungeons. In all, there are 16 dungeons which are about 10 too many. Not to mention all the monotonous and pointless side quests spread throughout the game like stamp collecting, rabbit hunting, errand running, etc. I passed all these up because getting around on the train is a major pain. You can warp to other parts of the realm but you still have to drive a long way to get there. It doesn’t help that there are enemy trains on the track and sometimes it’s hard to predict where they are going. You can’t reverse fast enough so if you get hit you end up starting at the beginning of the map again.
Despite the minor flaws in Spirit Tracks, it’s very enjoyable and charming to play. When you get into the dungeons and dive into them they feel very cleverly put together and are pretty fun to explore and solve. However, the length of the game isn’t fitted for portable play. Each dungeon takes over an hour to beat which isn’t set up for quick plays. Any Zelda fan will fall in love with Spirit Tracks, but the impatient won’t.