Legend of Zelda: Spirit TracksESRB:
Platform: Nintendo DS , DSI
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Single player campaign
Mutiplayer via DS Download Play only (one cartridge only required)
Two years removed from the last DS adventure Phantom Hourglass, Zelda makes its return to Nintendo’s portable platform in Spirit Tracks. Released December 7th, it comes just in time for the holiday season too. Spirit Tracks borrows slightly from Phantom Hourglass but feels fresh enough to be worthy of being under the Christmas tree for a lucky gamer young or old.
Spirit Track features the cel-shaded art style that was first introduced in the Wind Waker on the GameCube. This graphic style works well on the DS and personally I think it is a perfect fit for the platform. Heck, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was introduced with the DS in mind. It allows for a colourful palette, accented emotions from the characters (mostly because of their large eyes I think), and perhaps minimizes any of the DS’s graphical shortcomings. Sure, there’s some significant pop-up during the train portions of the game and some bland textures now and then, but neither of those two things made me think any less of the game’s visuals. When a game plays as well as I feel this one does, these sorts of things are easily overlooked.
The quality of presentation and attention to detail are realized in Spirit Tracks’ sound as well. This is an area where I find most DS games fall short but Spirit Tracks did not disappoint. No, there’s no voice acting but I can live with that. The music is simple but effective and more importantly it does not grate on the player and it does not get repetitive sounding the longer you play the game (at least not to me it didn’t). I think that’s important in games like this that have a bit longer than normal play time (Prof. Layton I am looking squarely in your direction!). Overall, the sound in the Spirit Tracks is excellent for a DS game.
Situated in a land introduced to players at the end of the last Zelda adventure on DS, the story very generally revolves around Link (you the player) trying to restore train tracks which are disappearing across the land. These tracks just happen to moonlight as a sort of grid that keeps the Demon King Malladus trapped. Without the Spirit Tracks, Malladus will be able to escape and take over the land. That is a bad thing. The plot isn’t the most robust one I’ve ever seen but the idea of train tracks acting as the lattice to imprison the bad guy is actually kind of cool to me.
Spirit Tracks is controlled largely with the use of the stylus and pointing where you want Link to move. You will also use gestures such as taps, double taps, and circles to perform actions and combat. The movement is smooth enough and feels nice and tight. The combat, however, is a little bit less accurate. This can be a little frustrating as it leads to an unnecessary loss of health, or loss of life, but it wasn’t so bad that it frustrated me, just more of annoyance so to speak.
Gameplay breaks down into two core parts: the first is traditional Zelda gameplay sections where you move Link around and explore areas and dungeons while the second is best described as a transportation section where you use a train to get from area to area. The adventure gameplay is classic Zelda with some fun and innovative DS twists such as blowing into the mic to simulate playing the flute or utilizing special tools. These sorts of things may sound gimmicky, and they certainly aren’t all that original, but Nintendo just has a way of making them a little bit cooler though in how they tie so naturally into the gameplay. It is this attention to detail that really helps to make Nintendo games stand apart from their competition. In terms of the second aspect of the gameplay, I wasn’t sure about the whole train thing at first as moving from town to town was tedious. I found myself wondering “what was the point of it”. It wasn’t until extra elements to these train sections were introduced that it all started to make sense and the train portions of the game became far more engaging.
Overall, the story was engaging enough to keep me interested throughout and every time I felt the gameplay might be getting a little sterile something new was added in to keep things fresh. This pacing is near perfect and I think is demonstration of Nintendo’s talent for making immersive games.
It took me a little bit to get into the Zelda Spirit Tracks, but as I progressed I really started to enjoy the game. It doesn’t stray too far from the Zelda formula but that is not a bad thing by any means. Don’t let some minor quibbles prevent you from playing this very enjoyable chapter of the Zelda series as Nintendo effectively brings together several gameplay ideas together to form a great game overall.