DS

North America

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

by Neal Ronaghan - December 7, 2009, 5:38 pm PST
Total comments: 16

9

Say hello to Phantom Hourglass 2.0.

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is the follow-up to 2007's Phantom Hourglass, a title that introduced a new control scheme that took full advantage of the features of the Nintendo DS. You used the stylus to control Link as he solved puzzles and fought enemies. The game had a bit of a mixed reception, as both of our reviews of the first game pegged it as one of the weakest titles in the classic series. Spirit Tracks appears to benefit from those growing pains, and is a great follow-up to the first DS Zelda game; it fixes a lot of the nagging issues of its predecessor, while carving out its own unique path in the series lineage.

Story-wise, Spirit Tracks takes place about 100 years after Phantom Hourglass. A long time ago, there was an issue with an evil demon king (not Ganon) and the forces of good sealed him away using the titular tracks. Naturally, there's a villain trying to release the demon and destroy the world, and it's up to a young engineer - who eventually dons a familiar green tunic - to stop him. This time around, Link is accompanied by an ethereal version of Princess Zelda, who plays the role of snarky sidekick as popularized by Midna and Celia in previous games.

Link controls similarly to how he did in Phantom Hourglass, with one notable difference: he now rolls when you double-tap the touch screen. Other than that, you can tap or swipe at enemies to attack them, moving Link around by dragging the stylus around the screen. It's not without fault, as it gets a little cumbersome when you're in tense situations, but it's a good control scheme overall.

Our hero uses a train to get around the world, and the whole point of the game is to reinvigorate the Spirit Tracks, which are torn apart at the game's outset. The train traversal starts off slow, but as you progress more wrinkles are added. First you get a cannon to attack enemies, and then you learn that you can search for rabbits to return to an eccentric man in a rabbit suit (or an eccentric rabbit who looks like a man. I can't really tell), and about halfway through the game you learn that you can customize your train with different cars.

The train controls are easy and intuitive. You control the speed with a switch, tap on the screen to fire your cannon, and drag the stylus around the screen to change your view. Like the regular controls, sometimes the on-screen icons get in the way, but it doesn't happen often enough in the train segments to become a large issue.

The biggest downside with the train itself is that it restricts your exploration to certain areas. There are places to explore, but there isn't much to find and the rewards aren't too great. Still, the train is a nice way to navigate between areas, especially because of the fantastic mood-setting music that plays as you make your way through the overworld.

One of the biggest problems people had with Phantom Hourglass was the Temple of the Ocean King, a dungeon that players would have to repeat over and over again as they worked their way into its depths. The Tower of Spirits fills that role in Spirit Tracks, but there's a giant difference between the two: The Temple of the Ocean King was a source of frustration, while The Tower of Spirits is full of excellent brain-bending puzzles. You revisit the tower after every dungeon you complete, and each batch of floors is like a brand new dungeon.

There are effectively two parts to every trip to The Tower of Spirits. The first is when you initially enter a section, dodging powerful Phantoms as you collect three items to charge your sword. Then, you plunge your sword into the back of a Phantom and the ghostly Zelda takes control of it. That's when you get to experience the puzzles that make use of both characters, which are some of the best puzzles in the game and quite possibly the entire series. The only time when controlling Link and the Phantom simultaneously is difficult is when you're in tight quarters or fast-paced sections.

As for the dungeons outside of the temple, there are four main ones. This number might not seem like a lot, but combine them with the Tower of Spirits and the total of dungeons in the game increases considerably. Naturally, each dungeon gets more in-depth as you go along, and every dungeon is unique and challenging.

There is also a multiplayer mode for up to four players. Each player takes control of a swordless Link as they try to collect the most gems in a limited amount of time. While you aren't equipped with any weapons, you pick up bombs, set off traps that will open up holes in the floor, and corner your rivals in with the Phantoms, which patrol each of the six maps. It's a fun diversion, and a ranking system adds to it. The entire experience can be played using single-card multiplayer, with no apparent limitations other than guests not having a rank. Still, this mode would get more play if it were online.

Spirit Tracks is a superb game and one of the best DS games this year. The dungeons are top-tier, entertaining affairs, and the train is fun to ride around in as you journey through the interesting game world. Unfortunately, if you didn't care for Phantom Hourglass, then this game won't bring you back into the portable Zelda fold. If you had some issues with Phantom Hourglass but nonetheless enjoyed it, then this is game is meant for you, as it is a finely-tuned new adventure in the cel-shaded Zelda universe.

Score

Graphics Sound Control Gameplay Lastability Final
9 9 8 9 8 9
Graphics
9

It's clear, crisp, and beautiful. Spirit Tracks' graphics are some of the best on the system, and there's never any slowdown when the action gets heavy.

Sound
9

You will hear a lot of familiar tunes during your adventure, but they almost all have a suitable change made to them, such as the banjo-heavy train theme. The sound effects are classic Zelda through and through.

Control
8

While strides were made to improve the stylus-driven controls, there are still annoyances that permeate throughout. The on-screen icons make tense situations more difficult, and some of the weapons are difficult to use because of the touch screen. The Phantom, who is used in about half of the dungeons, is occasionally tough to navigate while you use Link. The controls work very well otherwise.

Gameplay
9

There's a good amount of variety in the game as you go from dungeons to train rides to dungeons co-starring the Phantom, with a lot more in between. The dungeons, especially in The Tower of the Spirits, are riddled with awesome puzzles, and the train rides are a mixture of fun and relaxation.

Lastability
8

The main game definitely closes in on 20 hours, maybe more, especially if you experiment with the train customization and other side quests. The multiplayer adds a bit of legs, but only if you have friends with DS systems.

Final
9

Spirit Tracks might not be the best Zelda game ever, but it's a definite improvement over its DS predecessor. It has spectacular dungeon design, a great travel mechanic, and improved controls. The controls remain as the only real sore spot, as they still have a few nagging issues.

Summary

Pros
  • Phantom controls work well
  • Single-card multiplayer
  • Superb dungeon design
  • Train is a good addition
Cons
  • A little light on exploration
  • Some lingering control issues
Review Page 2: Conclusion

Talkback

kraken613December 08, 2009

Ok, after this I am going to do out and buy this hopefully tomorrow.

Great review Neal as always!

EasyCureDecember 08, 2009

but..but.. i just bought the metroid prime trilogy.. when will i play this!?

AVDecember 08, 2009

I listened to Nintendo World Report when they gave PH a negative score, and I will listen to them when a game gets a high score. I already emailed my sister a trailer for the game and told her how nice it was that it came out before Christmas. I fully expect to get this game this holiday.


I have faith in the reviews of Nintendo world report.

I hope I let none of you down with my review.

I'd like to note an addendum: Zach, you probably won't like this game. I reread your PH review before I wrote this, and I don't think it has enough Wind Waker-y stuff to bring you back to this style of game.

The multi isn't online? That's conspicuous given that Phantom Hourglass had online.

Nope, no online.  You get four players, but lose online.  Nintendo giveth, Nintendo taketh away.

PeachylalaDecember 08, 2009

Never used the online mode in PH, so no big loss to me.

I still think that Phantom Hourglass was one of the most enjoyable Zeldas I'd played in a long time. *holds torch for PH*

I'm getting this one too, and I'm happy to hear that it's good after that really lackluster trailer they used to reveal it. I'm still surprised that this Zelda wasn't on my radar until recently. Has Nintendo been advertising this one?

PeachylalaDecember 08, 2009

@ Kairon: I completely agree with that.


The Ocean King Temple is not that hard to get through. Note taking is a must, and I could easily breeze through it.


And Nintendo has had some videos on the Nintendo Channel.

YankeeDecember 08, 2009

Quote from: Kairon

I still think that Phantom Hourglass was one of the most enjoyable Zeldas I'd played in a long time. *holds torch for PH*

I'm getting this one too, and I'm happy to hear that it's good after that really lackluster trailer they used to reveal it. I'm still surprised that this Zelda wasn't on my radar until recently. Has Nintendo been advertising this one?

I also agree. People bash that game way too much, and its always exaggerated. After reading reviews and people on other forums, I am not at all surprised that the same people are still hating even after the positive reviews.


And as a side note, the main song in the game (the one from the trailer) is too good!

Hmmm... I'm glad to hear the dungeon design was improved. I can't recall a single dungeon in Phantom Hourglass outside of the Ocean King's evil house...they all felt like sort-of-long cave sequences. Is the soundtrack improved? You rate it highly, but I didn't read much in this review that supports your 9. Does this game at least have different songs for each dungeon?

NWR_pap64Pedro Hernandez, Contributing WriterDecember 08, 2009

Question: If I haven't played Phantom Hourglass can I play Spirit Tracks? It looks like it has no connection to the previous game, and since this seems to be getting better reviews overall I rather try this one.

Kairon: Yes, they are advertising the game. One commercial has a kid boarding a subway train, then his whole surroundings turn into the Zelda universe, complete with appearances by Zelda, Link and other characters. Its pretty cool.

Quote from: TheYoungerPlumber

Does this game at least have different songs for each dungeon?

Sadly, no.

I know that's a pretty big deal to you, but to me it's more of a small blemish. I'm generally a sucker for Zelda music with any kind of off-beat twang, which this one serves up with the train music that features a banjo and a whistle.

Mop it upDecember 08, 2009

If the dungeon theme is as great as the one in Zelda II The Adventure of Link then I wouldn't mind if it had just one music track for all dungeons. Unfortunately Zelda games don't usually have a good soundtrack.

PH's lost connection to Wind Waker bothered me because, for God's sake, it was a sequel to THE WIND WAKER. I'm more accepting of a new storyline that has nothing to do with that, though. Having said that, after reading this review, Spirit Tracks sounds very similar to PH in the dungeons (avoiding Phantoms, Tower of Spirits) and the overworld exploration (largely automated).

What this REALLY sounds like is the kind of Zelda I dislike: a dungeon-crawler, where the overworld exploration does equal it.

greybrickNathan Mustafa, Staff AlumnusDecember 22, 2009

I just couldn't get past the controls in PH. I have been told that I am getting Spirit Tracks for christmas by a friend and I certainly won't refuse it, but I must admit I am not looking forward to the massive hand-strain that PH induced for me.

(Update)
I am really enjoying this game much more than PH. Either the controls have gotten better or the actual content of the game is engaging me much more than PH could.

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The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks Box Art

Genre Adventure
Developer Nintendo
Players1
Controllers

Worldwide Releases

na: The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
Release Dec 07, 2009
PublisherNintendo
RatingEveryone 10+
jpn: Zelda no Densetsu Daichi no Kiteki
Release Dec 23, 2009
PublisherNintendo
RatingAll Ages
eu: The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
Release Dec 11, 2009
PublisherNintendo
Rating7+
aus: he Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
Release Dec 10, 2009
PublisherNintendo
RatingGeneral
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