The Legend of Zelda Spirit Tracks - Nintendo DS

I told a friend of mine I was playing through Spirit Tracks. They asked how it was and I told them. They didn’t say anything and then asked what my favourite Legend of Zelda game is. I told them and only then did they say “Ah ok. Maybe I’ll check this one out then”. I later had a very similar conversation with someone else.

It’s a little odd that two separate people wouldn’t trust my opinion on this new Zelda game until they knew my thoughts on the past games. Is this a common occurrence that I’ve just never experienced? Is it like an unwritten rule? Well to be on the safe side, here you go everyone:

Favourite 2D Zelda – Link to the Past
Favourite 3D Zelda – Ocarina of Time

Alright, now that you know that I guess it’s ok for you to click onwards and see what I thought of the latest entry in the long-running series.

I played but never completed Phantom Hourglass. Not because I didn’t like it, I quite enjoyed it actually. The touch controls could have easily come off as gimmicky but they were put to great use and really brought something unique to the experience. I know a lot of people were divided on the controls, and remain so with this game, but I highly enjoyed them and am glad to see the same control scheme brought back in Spirit Tracks as well.

The gameplay will be instantly familiar to all of you who played Phantom Hourglass. Spirit Tracks even follows a similar structure. You do a section of a large overworld dungeon (here the Tower of Spirits, Temple of the Ocean King in Phantom Hourglass), and then complete a few smaller tasks, which will lead to a regular dungeon. In that dungeon you will obtain a new item, which you will subsequently use on the boss of the dungeon. Rinse and repeat. It’s the same way most Zelda games work and while it may soon be time for a change (which the next Wii game is supposedly bringing, come on Link with a gun!), the formula still works well here.

While the same overall structure as Phantom Hourglass may be in place here, Spirit Tracks does a lot of things very differently, and in some cases much better. Let’s start with the Tower of Spirits itself. The Temple of the Ocean King in Phantom Hourglass was a wee bit of a pain. Every time you revisited the place you had to go through the same areas again and again to get to the new stuff. I dreaded going back there each and every time. The Tower of Spirits doesn’t go that route and although you have to revisit it multiple times, you never have to progress though the same levels of it once they are complete. To me this is one of the best changes they could have made because the Temple of the Ocean King sucked a great deal of the fun out of PH.

Unfortunately not all of the changes made here are for the better.  The most disappointing is actually one of the most hyped up new features – the train itself. I was not all that impressed with these sequences. A lot of people didn’t like navigating the boat in previous titles but I never minded it. I certainly enjoyed it more than the train. At least in the boat you had a sense of exploration as you traveled through a large world full of places you could sail off to. Here you are on a pre-determined path that makes for a very linear trip. Yes you can plan your route but once that’s been done you’re just watching a train drive in a straight line. Eventually you do get a cannon that allows you to take down enemies and there are enemy trains to avoid along the tracks, but the whole thing grows tiresome quickly.

I also wasn’t a huge fan of the new instrument – the Spirit Flute. The concept itself is great. You physically move the flute around and blow into the DS mic to play the correct notes. It’s a great idea but I found the execution lacking. Many times I would play the requested note sequence but it would not count. The game is also really bad at telling you what you are doing wrong. For the most part I would just keep trying and hope that it would let me continue. I still couldn’t tell you what I did to actually pass these parts.

Also while on the subject of blowing into the DS mic, you seem to do that an awful lot in this game. I’ve never been a huge fan of the blow heavy games (with microphones, cocaine filled games I have no qualms with). Why? Because I can’t play them in public! I can sure, but I don’t want to be that weird guy who keeps blowing into his machine and then cursing at it because it isn’t reading his blowing correctly. I don’t think anybody wants to be that guy.

Those are my big complaints. Thankfully anything that doesn’t involve blowing into a flute or riding in a straight line is fantastic! It’s vintage Zelda fun all the way. Ok maybe the story is a little underwhelming but everything else is great!

To go back to the Tower of Spirits, these sections were some of my favourite in the game. Here Link and Zelda actually work together as a team. Zelda’s spirit (long story…well no short story but still not typing it) possesses these Knight looking things called Phantoms. Now you can guide her around as well and use her to help Link navigate the Tower, such as having her stand in front of a blast of flames so you can walk safely by. These puzzles start to get very brain-hurty in the later sections, but they always remain thoroughly satisfying.

It’s not just the Tower of Spirits though; all of the dungeons are well designed. They are just tricky enough that you don’t get frustrated. The puzzles I mean, the game itself is actually quite easy. The boss fights are a hell of a lot fun too, making great use of the tools/controls.

Despite my initial complaints, Spirit Tracks is still a very solid title. Solid dungeon design, great controls, epic music (as usual) and well-done puzzles help to overcome the lackluster train sequences and that &%$%^$% flute. Zelda fans certainly won’t be disappointed and non-Zelda fans…well that’s not a thing so we don’t have to worry about them.