The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (Nintendo DS) Review

By Adam Riley 28.12.2009 31

Review for The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks on Nintendo DS

When Nintendo opted to bring The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess to the GameCube and Wii, the company had buckled under the weight of fans that eagerly wanted a more mature Zelda experience following the cel-shaded adventure, Wind Waker, which appeared on GameCube. However, in doing so, it risked alienating newcomers that actually preferred the younger-looking Link. As a result, Wind Waker's visual style was resurrected for Phantom Hourglass on the DS two years ago to appease any dissenters. After proving to be a rip-roaring success across the world, that model has been taken and built upon for a new portable outing in the form of The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks. Followers of the RPG series have definitely been eagerly awaiting the next entry, so expectations are certainly high.

Originally the plan for Spirit Tracks was that Zelda would not be a main feature in the game. However, given its status as being part of the long-running series, The Legend of Zelda, it is no surprise that the decision was reversed. This time round, players take control of a young wannabe-engineer, who must first learn to drive a train and then pass his engineering exam. Little does he know that soon Princess Zelda will have her body snatched away, the Spirit Tower will be devastated and the Spirit Tracks around the world will be almost completely wiped out, leaving him to pick up the pieces and save the day. All in a day's work, right?

Immediately players are thrown into controlling Link via use of the stylus and touch-screen for general movement and interaction with villagers, objects or items lying around. After becoming accustomed to using the touch-screen alone for all aspects of play, the first new mechanic is introduced, driving a train. As with Phantom Hourglass, where a route had to be physically drawn on an in-game map for the ship to sail to different locations, the same is true here when riding along the railway tracks. Players can also make notes on the actual maps themselves to prevent forgetting useful information or specific directions that need to be taken (the same goes for nearly all in-game maps; very useful for puzzle solving later down the line). Whilst travelling along there is the opportunity to change to an alternative set of tracks in order to head to another location (by manipulating sets of points at the appropriate time), defend the train against a variety of enemies that try to slow your progress (using weapons that can be attached to the train), carry passengers and freight items (adhering to the trackside signage to appease picky folk; tooting the horn when indicated, sticking to designated speed limits, stopping at stations smoothly, and so on), as well as even catching rabbits en-route that can be reared at a special ranch. There is definitely plenty to deal with en-route to new locations.

Screenshot for The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks on Nintendo DS

An aspect akin to its predecessor is how Spirit Tracks is a complete joy to look at, with vibrant colours bursting from the DS screens on a constant basis. Nintendo has taken the already existing game engine and tweaked it slightly to make this new title look almost as good as Wind Waker did on the GameCube. The similar-but-slightly modified aspects are not solely limited to the visual side either, with the soundtrack bringing back familiar tunes, but adding a whole slew of musical pieces that range from haunting to peaceful and even upbeat and catchy. No expense appears to have been spared on making the presentation levels as high as is expected of a mainline Nintendo release and Spirit Tracks pushes the DS hardware considerably.

There are several new elements, other than the train riding, thrown in for good measure. Whilst the standard dungeon crawling and puzzle solving elements and grand-scale boss fights are all present and correct, a few extras have been slipped in to augment the overall experience. Old school Zelda fans will be pleased to find that Link must traverse the world to reach dungeons (set to backgrounds featured in most other Zelda games - forest, snow and fire settings, to name just a few) filled with the tried-and-tested slew of pesky enemies, moving-block puzzles, locked doors with keys hidden elsewhere, and switch-hitting shenanigans. Those that were enamoured with Phantom Hourglass will also be overjoyed that the boomerang item makes a comeback (with its route drawn out using the stylus), as well as patterns needing to be uncovered by making clever use of the map noting ability and then copying said pattern onto special doors to open up new paths.

Screenshot for The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks on Nintendo DS

In order to stop this feeling a tad too familiar, however, there are a few new extras such as the ability to blow into the microphone to send a whirlwind flying out ahead of Link (blowing out flames, stunning enemies, carrying items over gaping holes, and so on), or using a whip to grab hold of wooden protrusions so Link can swing across gaping chasms, and even a musical instrument – pretty much a set of panpipes that can be played simply by blowing into the microphone whilst moving it from side-to-side to change notes as required (special tunes are learned throughout the game for uncovering items, healing Link and so on).

On top of this, Link receives a little help from the disembodied spirit of Princess Zelda. At certain stages of the adventure she can jump into large armour-plated Phantoms that are controlled by drawing out a path on the touch-screen with the stylus. She can then be used to distract other Phantoms that would otherwise despatch Link with one hefty blow, block flames so a path can be navigated across safely, or even carry Link across lava by walking through it with the little green Hylian Hero sat atop the Phantom’s shield held above its head. Having a helping hand does not necessarily make progression a complete breeze, instead allowing the development team to craft some rather sneaky puzzles, with a few requiring the Phantom and Link to switch places regularly using teleportation around a floor. Considerable thought has gone into making the whole game feel considerably like past Zelda titles, whilst working hard to ensure there is plenty of new content that fits smoothly into the adventure, and the effort certainly has paid off with the balance being very pleasing indeed.

Screenshot for The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks on Nintendo DS

There will be some that find the constant travelling around via train, whilst more enjoyable than going by boat, rather a tiresome process, especially when traversing long distances. However, Nintendo has tried to alleviate such issues by including shortcuts and warp points that open up further into the adventure, thus bypassing the initial ennui inflicted by moving around the world on the slow steam train. Additionally, there are plenty of enemy encounters to keep people on their toes, as well as the interesting inclusion of passengers joining you en-route to different places. With passengers on-board, special care must be taken to change speed at certain marker points, blow the horn when required and generally be at their beck and call in order to ensure total customer satisfaction. So the problem of travelling seeming like a chore at the start of the game is assuaged not too far into the adventure.

Another potential bug-bear for many will be the constant use of the microphone. Whilst Nintendo has cleverly integrated use of the in-built DS microphone to let players blow mini cyclones around (for stunning enemies, wafting away piles of leaves and even helping to solve puzzles, such as launching bombs across gaping chasms to blow-up far away blocks) and play the various useful musical pieces accrued throughout the journey on Link’s panpipes, it brings up the small matter of players having to regularly huff and puff away. This proves both tiresome at times, as well as quite embarrassing whilst playing in public locations. Also, should you be in a noisy area, the game will think you are constantly blowing into the mic to play the instrument or use the cyclone item, making specific sections of the game unplayable in busy public areas.

Finally, moving on from the minor negative issues, there is a little something extra for those that have up to three friends with Nintendo DS systems (only one game cartridge is needed, thankfully). Nintendo has included a four-player competitive mode where friends and family can battle it out as one of four coloured Link characters to collect as many Force Gems as possible, tripping each other up in the thick of the action by using lightning jolts, pitfalls and more. Additionally, valuable treasure items can be wirelessly traded with others to complete the in-game collection. This is one of the most complete Zelda packages available and whilst it distances itself from the realistic visuals of Twilight Princess, Majora's Mask and Ocarina of Time, it certainly does not mean this is inferior to those classic adventure romps in any sense of the word.

Screenshot for The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks on Nintendo DS

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

Nintendo struck gold with Phantom Hourglass, but this new Zelda adventure builds upon that strong foundation considerably to deliver one of the best outings in the long-running series so far. It may not be completely flawless, but The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is definitely one of the DS 'must own' titles of 2009.

Developer

Nintendo

Publisher

Nintendo

Genre

Action Adventure

Players

4

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10 (15 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

I finished the game over the holidays. It was great, and the ending was epic. But yes i wish the train would go just a little bit faster.

( Edited 28.12.2009 01:10 by Ike )

Yeah it really got me frustrated at first. Once I started making good use of the warp points, though, it didn't seem quite as bad, thankfully. Certainly a step up from sailing, I thought...

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

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Ike said:
I finished the game over the holidays. It was great, and the ending was epic. But yes i wish the train would go just a little bit faster.
Completely agree. I wish it was more customizable with speeds it could do and stuff...

Generally loved every minute of the game though. To me this is Nintendo's real GOTY, NSMBW is small time. Smilie

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It really seemed to easy to sink a good few hours at a time into this without it being a chore (once I got over the train riding stuff, of course). That's definitely the sign of a good game, when time flies by without even realising.

As for the comment I put in about playing in public locations being hard, what I tried to do was use it to my advantage. If I needed to play a certain tune on the panpipes, I'd cover the mic and then uncover it when required so the background noise made it play the right note! Smilie

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

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I really don't know why people refer to Zelda as an RPG. It's an action-adventure game. There are no parties or EXP, and the inventory/equipment system bears only a very loose resemblance to that of traditional RPGs. Sure, you play as a character and go through a story, but in that sense it's no more an RPG than nearly any other game with any sort of storyline whatsoever. If you think the fact that you can explore a large, interconnected world makes it an RPG, then what do you call games like Metroid, Ninja Gaiden, or even Silent Hill? They're all action adventure games, it's just that some (such as Zelda) lean more toward "adventure" than "action".

ROFLCOPTER (guest) 28.12.2009#6

i bought the game a few days ago, and its really fun. but like some other people, i think the train should go faster cuz i was waiting for hours just to get ti another place. (lol)

Wow I must finish my copy ASAP! Good job on the review!

gatotsu911 said:
I really don't know why people refer to Zelda as an RPG. It's an action-adventure game. There are no parties or EXP, and the inventory/equipment system bears only a very loose resemblance to that of traditional RPGs. Sure, you play as a character and go through a story, but in that sense it's no more an RPG than nearly any other game with any sort of storyline whatsoever. If you think the fact that you can explore a large, interconnected world makes it an RPG, then what do you call games like Metroid, Ninja Gaiden, or even Silent Hill? They're all action adventure games, it's just that some (such as Zelda) lean more toward "adventure" than "action".

RPG: Role Playing Game, you don't need EXP pts or parties for it to be classified as such, character evolution could be achieved in many ways, for example: you complete a dungeon, you get a weapon, sometimes even customizing it. Basically as you character advances in the game he gets stronger not only through attributes but with equipment too. But yes it's fundamentally a Story Driven Action Adventure.

But that's the problem Andrezao, every character gets stronger in their games, but this doesn't make it an RPG does it?

The RPG genre gets its name from Roleplay, games like Dungeons 'n' Dragons. Honestly? I see very little similarity between Zelda and DnD, no stats, no classes, no Beholders. Smilie

Zelda is an Action Adventure game if you ask me. It's an Action Adventure if you ask Wikipedia aswell. (And Nintendo's site....)

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SuperLink said:
The RPG genre gets its name from Roleplay, games like Dungeons 'n' Dragons.

Well, if you go down the 'role-play' route, the Link in this game is an engineer playing the role of a hero Smilie

I'm surprised the biggest topic of discussion about this game is that it's more of an Action Adventure than a RPG! Smilie

What are people's thoughts on using the microphone so much in the game? Or the inclusion of Zelda taking over a Phantom to help with puzzles?

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

UNITE714: Weekly Prayers | Bible Verses

SuperLink said:
But that\'s the problem Andrezao, every character gets stronger in their games, but this doesn\'t make it an RPG does it?

The RPG genre gets its name from Roleplay, games like Dungeons \'n\' Dragons. Honestly? I see very little similarity between Zelda and DnD, no stats, no classes, no Beholders. Smilie

Zelda is an Action Adventure game if you ask me. It\'s an Action Adventure if you ask Wikipedia aswell. (And Nintendo\'s site....)

If that was the case, a lot of games could be a lot of different things, how you classify them is how the game translate that criteria in the game and Zelda is many genres mixed together, specially if you take OoT. For Example, Resident Evil could be an action or Adventure game too. But because of it\'s setting it\'s a horror game. Zelda would be considered for me as and Action Adventure with RPG elements, classing up, stats, party is not just the things that make a game RPG.

In Zelda you play as Link, and the Character develops as you advance in the game, weather it\'s more knowledge gain or abilities/weapons unlocked after passing though an obstacle. Damn I am sick of debating this shit, we had to do a 5000 word essay on game genres and classifications for my Game Artistry course this year. Me and my mate got 94% at least. But damn it gets confusing because there\'s just so many arguments that could classify or not a game under a genre.

Btw Adam, I liked the inclusion of the mic since the first game, really clever! Also, Having Zelda as a phantom was a blast because she still had her personality (damn those rats lol) whilst being in a massive armor. I also agree on train ride> sailing! Although, if the boat went faster and there were more places to see it would prob make it better. Can\'t wait til link flies a plane! D:

( Edited 28.12.2009 13:50 by Andrezao )

Andrezao said:
If that was the case, a lot of games could be a lot of different things, how you classify them is how the game translate that criteria in the game and Zelda is many genres mixed together, specially if you take OoT. For Example, Resident Evil could be an action or Adventure game too. But because of it's setting it's a horror game. Zelda would be considered for me as and Action Adventure with RPG elements, classing up, stats, party is not just the things that make a game RPG.

When it comes to Resident Evil... it really did used to be more of a survival horror than an Action Adventure, but since RE4 it's been more of that. Yes, tons and tons of games have RPG elements, but this doesn't make it an RPG and not an Action Adventure. Which it is. It's not even debatable, really, Nintendo have all their listings of Zelda games under "Action Adventure", not RPG.

In Zelda you play as Link, and the Character develops as you advance in the game, weather it's more knowledge gain or abilities/weapons unlocked after passing though an obstacle.

Since when has knowledge gain featured in a Zelda title? You unlock items in and weapons in almost every game, this doesn't make every game an RPG, it just means they have elements of one.

Damn I am sick of debating this shit, we had to do a 5000 word essay on game genres and classifications for my Game Artistry course this year. Me and my mate got 94% at least. But damn it gets confusing because there's just so many arguments that could classify or not a game under a genre.

That's cool, why don't you just go ahead and let Nintendo know that they gave Zelda the wrong genre? Infact if you think Wikipedia's definitions are wrong as well they'd love to discuss that with you in depth.

jesusraz said:
What are people's thoughts on using the microphone so much in the game? Or the inclusion of Zelda taking over a Phantom to help with puzzles?

I actually don't remember the mic usage in PH even though Aonuma said he thought he did everything he could with it... I thought some of the Spirit Pipe tunes got very frustrating to play when the mic kept on glitching out and didn't know whether I was blowing or not...
As for the Phantom mechanic, it was awesome and made for the best puzzles in the series, I'd love to see it return.

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1st, I didn't say it was, I clearly stated that: "But yes it's fundamentally a Story Driven Action Adventure." All I'm saying it's not wrong to say it's an RPG either and yes essentially all games that you play as a character and there is character development is a bit of an RPG, but then common sense kicks in, like I stated RE and such. BUT Zelda is a tricky one, because it has quite a bit of RPG elements weather it's obvious or not is another thing.

Don't take it badly as I said it is an action adventure game but, if it's regarded as an RPG, it's not wrong either.
"That's cool, why don't you just go ahead and let Nintendo know that they gave Zelda the wrong genre? Infact if you think Wikipedia's definitions are wrong as well they'd love to discuss that with you in depth."

If you read my 1st comment there would be no need to say this, I didn't say it as being cocky as you prob taken it, rather saying it's an annoying topic to discuss and very confusing, but rewarding to get good marks.Smilie

My mistake, I didn't mean to flip a lid, I just interpreted your post in the wrong way.

That said Zelda isn't nearly as story driven as many other Action Adventure titles out there.

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No worries, it happens Smilie

Abour story Certainly not as much, but there is a evolution with the story, where you go, what you do has to somewhat follow an order, which adds to the story, but it's not as story driven as other noticeable titles.

SuperLink said:

I actually don't remember the mic usage in PH even though Aonuma said he thought he did everything he could with it... I thought some of the Spirit Pipe tunes got very frustrating to play when the mic kept on glitching out and didn't know whether I was blowing or not...

I don't remember the mic being used in PH either. I thought it was a new addition for ST? When it worked perfectly I thought it was actually a really smart addition. There's a part with ghosts floating around and they need to be stunned first, so blowing out a torch will lure them into an area of darkness, then using the boomerang it can be re-ignited before Link swoops in to slash them. Great stuff Smilie

As for the Phantom mechanic, it was awesome and made for the best puzzles in the series, I'd love to see it return.

It definitely added a nice new dynamic. I especially liked the areas where the 'warp' points to swap the Phantom and Link around, as well as those pesky floating eye blobs that needed to be used to make the Phantom magically appear in different locations.

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

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I'm sorry whats "GOTY?"

Lucas said:
I'm sorry whats "GOTY?"

Game of the Year.
NSMBW would be Nintendo's DOTY (Disappointment of the Year) (oh yes I did)

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It depends whether you're just sticking to one territory or including worldwide releases here. Another Code: R is right up there for me, as is Sin & Punishment 2 and Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story Smilie

Spirit Tracks may well be in my Top 5, though.

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

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You guys sure are passionate about game classifications. But what I wanted to know is whether the game has a satisfying ending/final battle. That was my only disappointment with PH (other than the length of the game). I actually enjoyed the Ocean King Temple.

I know what you mean - PH kind of ended with a 'pfft' rather than a massively intense, palm-sweatingly difficult battle.

Spirit Tracks wasn't overly taxing, but sure as hell felt far more satisfying than PH when the credits started rolling.

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

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I loved ST's ending. One of the best Zelda endings there is imo. Final boss music is amazing.

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E.T. (guest) 29.12.2009#22

does every one need the wallk through book or should i even buy it.

There were one or two moments where I could have done with checking a guide to save a bit of time (to get the review done quicker), but personally I don't feel it warrants buying a walkthrough book.

Anyway, if you need help, there's a very thorough guide over on http://www.gamefaqs.com and that's free Smilie

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

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Don't use a guide if you can possibly help it. The great thing about amazing puzzles is completing them yourself.

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The only reason I resort to using them at times is because I need to rush through games for review purposes. Kind of spoils the fun for me, though Smilie

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

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