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Rewind Review - The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

Spirit Tracks - despite sharing hardware and gameplay with Phantom Hourglass - is actually exponentially more enjoyable than its predecessor

Week 14 of the Legend of Zelda Rewind Review is here, and after briefly losing my sanity to The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, I can safely say that Spirit Tracks has revitalized my... spirits.

Bad puns aside, we all know the drill by now. As with all Rewind Reviews, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks will undergo a review process through the eyes of a modern critic. No nostalgia glasses, no excuses, no rationalizing hardware limitations, and no sparing myself from angry fans and readers. Nothing will excuse this game from anything that we - as modern gamers - would expect to see in the genre today.

So without further ado, let's board the Spirit Train and try to reclaim Zelda's body in The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks!

The Plot

Not too bad for a man over 100 years old, huh?

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks takes place 100 years after the events of Phantom Hourglass. The game starts out innocently enough with a picture slideshow of the events prior to Spirit Tracks. The story tells of the Spirits of Good who vanquished the Demon King under the land of New Hyrule, sealing him into the ground since they could not completely destroy him.

The story is then revealed to be told by the last survivor of the original settlers of New Hyrule, Nico, the last living member of Tetra's Pirates.

Shortly after the story, the newest iteration of Link gets woken up by Alfonzo, his train engineering instructor. Having fallen asleep during Nico's story, Link has become tardy for his graduation ceremony at Hyrule Castle. He quickly sets out to make it on time while simultaneously running his exam.

After receiving his graduation certificate, Zelda asks Link to take her with him to the Tower of Spirits to find out why the Spirit Tracks have been disappearing across Hyrule. The train crashes as one of the rails disappears from underneath the train, resulting in Link and company being thrown onto the ground. Alfonzo, Link, and Zelda are then attacked by Chancellor Cole and Byrne - servants of the Demon King - who kill Zelda and take her body away. 

It is soon revealed that the Spirit Tracks are actually responsible for sealing away the Demon King, and Link - as the only person able to see Zelda in her incorporeal form, for some reason - is now the only one capable of helping her destroy the Demon King once and for all.

The story is actually one of the more interesting ones in the Legend of Zelda series for a number of reasons. First of all, there is an actual reference to the Princess Zelda bloodline being directly related to one another through Tetra (right). Also, while Link is not confirmed to be a descendant of the Hero of Winds, it is hinted that his striking resemblance - as noted by Nico - to said hero might mean that he is blood-related in some way. It is also one of the few Legend of Zelda titles to have a final boss that never reappears in another title. The characters are also fairly colorful, sharing that same charm that The Wind Waker did.

Spirit Tracks is certainly a great improvement over Phantom Hourglass, and might be worth it for the story and its characters alone.

The Gameplay

The Beautiful:

While it is by far not the best improvement over Phantom Hourglass, one of the most endearing features of Spirit Tracks is the Spirit Train. Replacing Linebeck's Ship as the main method of transportation, the Spirit Train is much more functional than the ship as the pre-configured track layouts ensure that the player not only know where they are headed (via the top screen's map) but also that the cannon and other features can be readily used without having to readjust the directions every five seconds. This system is so much more efficient that I hardly noticed that I was in control at all unless I needed to change rails, move livestock, or blast enemy trains.

Another bonus is that Spirit Tracks does not pretend to be a regular Legend of Zelda game. Unlike Phantom HourglassSpirit Tracks's dungeons and items have all been designed to cater to the touch-screen controls. The boomerang returns with the same unique controls it had in Phantom Hourglass, while several new items have been included that are designed with touch-screens in mind.

The Whip (top left) allows Link to latch onto various obstacles, or to swing across gaps Wind Waker-style with a single tap. The Whirlwind can be directed with the stylus in a straight direction, allowing simple use. The last new item - the Sand Rod - utilizes the touch screen best, allowing Link to target any on-screen area and raise the sand level. Many of these items are reimagined in later Legend of Zelda titles, but only Spirit Tracks uses them in this way.

The Good:

One of the most interesting features of Spirit Tracks has nothing to do with the train or items at all. Instead, Phantom Zelda is actually one of the most innovative additions to the game - albeit one that can be quirky at times. Whenever Link encounters a Phantom he can stun it, allowing Princess Zelda's ghost to possess it. This opens up many new puzzles that function much better than the Command Melody from The Wind Waker since the two characters can be swapped between at any time via the button at the bottom-left of the screen.

Different Phantoms have different abilities depending on their color. Regular Phantoms act like regular enemies, allowing Zelda to traverse many traps that Link wouldn't be able to. Torch Phantoms have red armor and can use their flaming sword to solve many puzzles. Blue colored Warp Phantoms allow Zelda to warp to various Phantom Eye locations. Lastly, the Wrecker Phantoms are black armoured enemies that can break through cracked blocks and enemies.

The controls for Zelda are pretty simplistic, but they are nonetheless an interesting gameplay mechanic that I would love to see in a future Legend of Zelda title. The ability to freely position Zelda to have her distract or fight enemies, as well as solve puzzles is unique to this game and it works fairly well.

This feature also marks the first time that Princess Zelda acted as a playable character in a main series title.

The Downright Hideous:

While I can't find anything in particular to complain about aside from the sometimes inaccurate touch-screen controls, there is one feature that truly bothered me beyond compare. This feature is the use of the microphone.

As if the touch screen controls for this flute weren't hassle enough, the game has you blow into the microphone constantly. While this feature is cute while playing the Spirit Flute, it's annoying beyond all compare when using the Whirlwind. This is a feature that does not only ruin the portability of the game - unless you're the type that likes looking like an idiot blowing into his DS - but it also makes the game downright frustrating at times.

Your Nintendo DS wants you to blow it down there... In its microphone hole...

If your blowing doesn't get read on time in duets it can cause an issue. If you blow into the Whirlwind and it doesn't read in time you can take damage. If you want to do anything with either the Whirlwind or the Spirit Flute you must pray that the microphone works! This should never be part of a game - ever. Microphones are not a reliable source of controls. You would think the industry would have learned this by now!

The Presentation

I'm not entirely sure what Nintendo did, but Spirit Tracks looks a lot more visually impressive than Phantom Hourglass did. In fact, everyone actually looks more like they did in The Wind Waker than they did in the game that acted as a direct sequel.

My guess at the moment is that they increased the polygon count. This is perhaps my safest bet since Link's hair is no longer glued to his forehead, and the model and texture quality (while not particularly impressive) is much better than in the previous game. It certainly pushes the Nintendo DS's capabilities to its limits, and so I must commend them for that. However, I still do not believe this game has aged well at all since the poor texture quality and models still hurt the game slightly.

As for the music, almost the entire soundtrack has been made specifically for this game. It relies heavily on synthesized flute and harp sounds that are not particularly bad. In fact, most of the music is rather upbeat and pleasant to listen to. However, I stand by my position that I had with Phantom Hourglass: this could sound a lot better on stronger hardware.

Here's the soundtrack for your own listening pleasure:

The Verdict

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is one of the most enjoyable handheld titles I have played - excluding the times where I begged my microphone to obey me. Aside from the one severe flaw, the game brings a lot of innovation and interesting puzzles that could not possibly be played out on other hardware. For this I applaud Spirit Tracks despite being at first skeptical of having a locomotive of any sort in a Legend of Zelda title.

For interesting gameplay, a fun story, and decent presentation, I give The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks an 8/10. Improvements that could have been made include the removal of microphone support, better visual and audio presentation, and perhaps a more reliable control scheme than touch controls if at all possible without damaging the integral gameplay elements.

This marks the end of Week 14 of my Legend of Zelda Rewind Review. There are only 2 more games left to go, and then it will be only a matter of time before Twilight Princess HD and Zelda Wii U come to grace us with their presence!

What do you guys think about The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks? Did you enjoy this game? Did you share a similar experiences with the microphone controls? Is there anything I might have missed that you feel necessary to mention? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

 

Reviews in this Series:

Our Rating
8
Spirit Tracks - despite sharing hardware and gameplay with Phantom Hourglass - is actually exponentially more enjoyable than its predecessor
Reviewed On: DS
Published Nov. 17th 2015
  • tobes325
    Contributor
    I thoroughly enjoyed Spirit Tracks over its predecessor - it was a better game by far in my opinion and I enjoyed reading your review! Definitely agree with you about the microphone though, everytime I had to learn a new song on the (spirit flute was it?!) I literally dreaded it because it was so inconsistent! Lol. Other than that I loved the story, the train and the game as a whole!
  • David Fisher
    Featured Columnist
    Like I said in the review, the main complaint is the microphone's inconsistency. My presentation grade only counts for 2 points, gameplay is 7, and story is 1. Should help understand future reviews! :D
  • Poog_8811
    I remember saving this game to play on a 14 hour flight about 4 years back. Was super excited to play it and then the noise of the engines made it unplayable when i got to the sections that needed the mic.

    That said, sweet game. Just dont try to play it on a plane!
  • David Fisher
    Featured Columnist
    I'll be sure to add this game to my no-fly list, alongside Counter Strike and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.
  • Nutronic
    Contributor
    Have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this article. While I feel that Wind Waker is the best Zelda title to this day simply based on its premise and very engaging combat; I feel that a console port of this game would give it a run for it's money. Great music, strong gameplay, and freaking Zelda is playable! This game was so good I enjoyed watching a full play through over an entire week. I think it's a must for any true Zelda fan or anyone who's gotten tired of the old format but still enjoys the core of what makes a Zelda game great.
  • David Fisher
    Featured Columnist
    Hello Nutronic! Thank you for reading and enjoying my article!

    I definitely agree that this game had a lot of promise. Had this game been released on the 3DS instead of the DS, I imagine that this would have done a lot better than it did (as with Phantom Hourglass) without suffering nearly as much criticism as it did from fans. It has a great premise, it's just held back by the hardware.

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