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Spirit Tracks April 18, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Reviews, Video Games.
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The Legend of Zelda: Spirit TracksThere’s a part of me that just wanted to hate The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks.

Having been a fan of both Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass, there was a voice in the back of my head saying it was time to give this iteration of the series a rest. The premise behind the first two games that set the stage for seafaring made a lot of sense; yet taking that a step further and adopting trains as the motif for this installment seemed a stretch. Not that I wouldn’t play it — hey, this is Zelda! — but I suppose I was looking for something to dislike about Spirit Tracks from the start.

It never came, and I’m glad for it. Sure, there are parts I didn’t much care for and other parts that could stand improvement. But overall, Spirit Tracks lives up to the Zelda tradition, and by the end I was already quite content to let loose on the whistle in Link’s personal locomotive.

For the most part, it’s the typical Zelda game: a kingdom in danger, the princess kidnapped, the legendary hero come to save the day. As expected, though, all these elements are cast in a new light: the kingdom is threatened by the Dark Lord Malladus, who had formerly been imprisoned by means of the magical Spirit Tracks (railways) that run across the land; minions of Malladus have kidnapped the princess’ body in order to resurrect the Dark Lord; the princess’ spirit seeks the help of the legendary hero, who in this case also happens to be a train engineer.

Only in the context of Zelda could anything like that make the least modicum of sense — and actually work.

There are two things I appreciated a lot in Spirit Tracks. First is the fact that Zelda does accompany Link through most of the journey (hint: she’s in the boxart; and no, that’s not really a spoiler). Granted, you only get to use her as a playable character in a certain area on the map, and the control scheme could use much improvement, but solving puzzles designed for both Link and Zelda each time adds a lot of fun to the gameplay — especially in that final Boss battle (oh yeah).

Second, typical for the series, some of the Boss battles in Spirit Tracks are quite inspired and downright impressive for the Nintendo DS. Clearly, though, these came at the cost of scaling down the difficulty in order to allow players to figure out exactly what to do. Given that the game is meant to for a handheld platform and targeted (presumably) to a much younger demographic, it’s an imperfect if acceptable trade-off mitigated by the Eureka moment when one figures it all out (thereafter going along for the ride).

Ultimately, I must say that the small part of me that wanted to hate Spirit Tracks was won over, though I’m still not overly thrilled with the railway motif. Having said that, I have this strange feeling I’ll miss letting loose on the train whistle soon enough in spite of myself. In fact, I think I already do.

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