Link is back in a new adventure in the style of Windwaker and Phantom Hourglass for the Nintendo DS. In this installment of the LoZ series, Link is a young apprentice train engineer. Stretching across the land are the Spirit Tracks. No one knows where the tracks came from, only that they are useful for getting around. These tracks are linked to the mysterious Tower of Spirits. On graduation day, Link learns from Princess Zelda that the Spirit Tracks are disappearing. When investigating, the baddies get the better of Link and Zelda, leaving her as a spirit and the Tower of Spirits in pieces.
Inside the Tower of Spirits, you meet the Lokomo Anjean, the guardian of the Tower. Zelda’s body has been taken to be a vessel for the Demon King, a being imprisoned in the earth. The Spirit Tracks are his chains and the Tower is the lock. Link is charged with connecting the Tower of Spirits with the four temples of the land to power up the Spirit Tracks, rebuild the Tower, and reclaim Princess Zelda’s body. Link takes on the challenge with spirit Zelda joining him in his quest.
Zelda may be a spirit, but she is able to help Link by possessing the armored Phantoms patrolling the Tower of Spirits. When in possession of a Phantom you can control Zelda with the stylus, using her to hold down switches, confuse other Phantoms, battle enemies, carry Link on her shield, and perform other tasks that use both characters. I find it refreshing to see Zelda get in on the action, even if it is limited to the Tower of Spirits. She does travel everywhere with Link though and comments and talks about various things. I enjoyed seeing this interaction as it is rarely present in other LoZ games.
As with previous LoZ installments Link travels the world battling baddies, delving into dungeons and temples, and searching for various items to aid in his quest. Like Phantom Hourglass, Link travels over-world in a vehicle; this time the vehicle is a train. The various temple and town stopping points are covered on foot. Exploring the tracks is encouraged as you find new stopping points and other places to investigate.
Like its predecessor, Spirit Tracks can be played using only the stylus to swing Link’s sword, use unique items and transverse the tracks. There is even additional interaction with the DS microphone, requiring you to blow at it to activate a couple items, such as the Whirlwind and the Spirit Flute. Thankfully you don’t have to be extremely close to the microphone to use these items. It can be somewhat awkward to play the game with these items in public as you are blowing at the DS rather than using only the stylus.
As mentioned above, over-world travel is done via the Spirit Train and the tracks. At first there are not many tracks available, but as you find Rail Maps and complete the temples to power up the Tower of Spirits, more of the tracks appear, allowing new areas to be explored. The train can be controlled with a gauge on the right of the touch screen. The train can go forward at a normal or faster speed, break, and reverse. There is also a cord to pull to blow the train’s whistle, clearing animals from the tracks or activating certain items. You can also draw a train route by using the stylus on the Spirit Tracks map, or manually control the train at junctions by flipping the track switch. As you progress in the game, Link will carry passengers, transport cargo, gain a canon to attack enemies, and upgrade the train.
When exploring a town or a temple, as stated above, you use the stylus to move Link around, attack enemies and investigate the environment. Special items, like bombs and the boomerang can be chosen through the menu button on the bottom right of the touch screen. The item is then put in the upper right of the screen where you tap it to use it. At times the touch system is a bit trying, because when Link uses a secondary item he becomes stationary and can’t move until the item is used or the item is tapped again. This can sometimes make boss battles a bit hectic since Link can’t move and use the secondary item at the same time, leading to getting hit or miss hitting the boss.
Spirit Tracks also has a centralized dungeon in the Tower of Spirits. Unlike Phantom Hourglass though, you will not have to transverse the same areas of the dungeon over and over again to get to the new section. Every new section is a new floor of the tower to explore. All that’s required is to climb the stairs up to the next area to retrieve the next Rail Map piece. For those of you who hated revisiting the central dungeon in Phantom Hourglass, you can appreciate this new change.
Graphics and Sound
Spirit Tracks follows in the same vein as Phantom Hourglass and Windwaker. The graphics are 3-D cel-shaded, giving a similar animated comic appearance as its predecessors. These graphics give a charm and simple elegance to the world. The distinctive graphics are also beneficial on the DS with its smaller screens. The illustrative quality makes people and items distinctive and easier to differentiate on the smaller screen. The animations are nice and fluid and there is use of the dual screens to show off larger boss fights, by putting the boss on both screens. This helps make the upper screen not just be used for displaying the map of the area. The stylized maps are also great, because it makes the notes and hints you put on them easier to see. I would have preferred if there was a little more gutter space on the maps to write a few words, rather than plastering stuff over your map.
The music of Spirit Tracks fits well with this Zelda title. It is reminiscent of both Windwaker and Phantom Hourglass, with upbeat and jaunty tunes while on the train and the appropriate mood for temple investigating. While the music is satisfactory, it doesn’t give off the same charm as the music and melodies in say Ocarina of Time or Link to the Past. It is pleasant to listen to though and will not distract from your game playing experience.
The sound in Spirit Tracks gets the job done. The standard sword swings, enemy hits, and Link yells are all appropriate and nothing new. The fun part though with this new installment is with the Spirit Train. Like any good train, it is equipped with a whistle and it is fun to sound the whistle. The whistle has that distinct train whistle sound, so you can do the short-followed-by-long sound blasts. The traveling sounds the train makes are perfect as well and you really do wince to the sound of grinding metal when throwing an emergency reverse-brake.
Overall, I’m thoroughly enjoying playing Spirit Tracks. I regret not playing this game sooner. Yes, it is your classic LoZ game, but with the stylus controls, being able to play with Zelda, having your own train, and the portability of the DS it makes it hard to put down. Hard enough in fact that I’ve burned through the first three temples and am making my way to the fourth temple in just a few hours of playing. I’ve enjoyed crossing the over-world on the train and I’ve had fun in the temples, learning how to use classic items like the boomerang to do new tricks or new items like the whip to give a twist to the old hook shot. I also enjoyed some of the new challenges and puzzles this installment has. I’ve had to ponder and experiment a bit over a few puzzles; a thing that I haven’t had to do awhile in a Zelda title, so that was refreshing. I also like the dual character aspect when controlling Zelda in the Tower of Spirits. It gives an interesting twist to the usual solo Link and the awaiting in the background Zelda.
One complaint I have in newer LoZ titles is all the collecting side quests that get tiring. Collecting heart container pieces and maybe one other thing was fine, but combining that with rabbits, train stamps, force gems, treasures, and the item exchange quest, it can get old fast. While it isn’t necessary to complete the game, I can sometimes become addicted to collecting everything in a title and I might have to play a bit more to get it done. So if you haven’t picked up this title yet for your DS I highly suggest you do. I haven’t had this much fun with a game title in a long time.
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