The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
When was the last time you could sit down with a game, play for an hour, and feel content with your achievements enough to come back later and play for another hour? This may be true of titles designed for short bursts of playtime, but the gaming community has been starved for a truly authentic casual adventure game that is fun to play and easy to pick up. Luckily, Nintendo has satisfied that hunger with the release of The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks for the DS. Let’s just dive right into this by going ahead and saying that Spirit Tracks blew all expectations out of the water. This is one truly enjoyable adventure, and not since Twilight Princess has such a delightfully honest presentation of the standard Zelda adventure been seen, with extra perks that do a lot to add to the experience. Exploration, dungeon crawling, boss battling, puzzle solving, weapon finding, princess saving goodness is all here and is packaged with a story that doesn’t disappoint.
It’s true that I went into Spirit Tracks not knowing what to expect. Far from the biggest supporter of the DS’ previous installment of Phantom Hourglass, when it came time to walk the road of Link’s new quest, I was still partially haunted by overly-long boat rides and sporadic touch-screen controls. Needless to say, all of Phantom Hourglass’s issues have been addressed and corrected – no longer does traveling from one town to another take the better half of a day, the horrid experience of replaying through the same central dungeon after every boss is defeated has been sent packing, and the touch-screen controls (though still leaving one yearning for a classic D-pad control scheme), are sharp and responsive.
It’s pleasing to find that Link’s sea-faring ship has been sent adrift in lieu of a funky train, bound to a series of rails that are used not only to travel from dungeon to dungeon, but also to seal away a malevolent being bent on covering the world in a blanket of darkness. It’s beyond understanding, why time after time, the denizens of these stories are content living in a land where an overwhelmingly malicious being exists next door, hoping to inflict suffering and misery on the inhabitants, as people like these set the stage for all of the world’s mischief makers. And so it goes that a select sect of no-good doers succeed at destroying all of the tracks leading to the tower that our demonic neighbor resides in, and it falls on Link to restore the tracks by defeating the guardian of each dungeon.
The key element of previous Zelda games that has been delightfully tweaked in this latest installment is the presence of a princess in need of rescuing. It goes without saying that although our savior-in-green is famous for his varying weapon proficiencies and puzzle-solving skills, Link would be nothing without a damsel in distress, and Spirit Tracks very quickly dispels a common element of past games by – get ready for it – killing Zelda (so to speak). As the title credits roll and our naïve young hero ventures forth into the world, Zelda is very “aggressively” forced from her body, and is forced to wander the world unseen as a ghost. As you would imagine, Link is “miraculously” the only one who can see Zelda, and so as a duo the two march forward into the now partially suspended tower (yes, segments of the tower are suspended in space) in order to find a way to bring all of the other floors back down to earth. You’ll learn very quickly that without the aid of the ghostly princess, dungeon progression would be an impossible task, and Nintendo has done a masterful job of integrating the touch-screen as a means of controlling Zelda after her spirit has infiltrated one of the many varying types of armors that can be used to overcome obstacles within the tower. As you progress to the end of each floor, you will restore a portion of the tracks leading to a new dungeon, which you will then need to clear to bring a new floor of the tower down from the sky. Rinse and repeat.
Although the method for saving the world seems standard, Spirit Tracks is loaded to the brim with features that make it absurdly entertaining to play and satisfying to complete. Travel between dungeons using the train brings a large number of opportunities forward, including transporting passengers, traveling to exotic locations to collect stamps, collecting rabbits to unlock heart containers, and planning your routes to avoid other trains. In fact, it’s safe to say that every basic element of Link’s adventure that you would expect to see has one or two hidden surprises to be discovered. Each newly discovered dungeon will require the player to play a tune on Link’s flute, which is operated by sliding the stylus along the touch screen and blowing into the microphone. The same flute can be used to play songs that will unearth treasure or summon birds to carry Link to hidden places. It’s little goodies like these that make every step of this new adventure feel rewarding and compelling to take.
This time around using the touch-screen is an entirely pleasant experience, especially after having discovered a new weapon in a given dungeon and then confronting one of the many epic new bosses, some of which span both of the DS’ two screens. Puzzle solving, boss battling, item using, rolling, slashing, everything works in tandem with the touch-screen, and all of it feels fluid and free, far from it’s predecessor’s stiff and frustrating feel. With the help of Zelda’s ghostly abilities and Nintendo’s reworked approach to the touch-screen, Spirit Tracks is a colorful and rewarding adventure to take, and is absolutely cut from the same cloth that those legendary Zelda handheld games of the past were. If you own a DS, and you agree that touching is good, then The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is for you, and anyone looking to embark on a casual quest that looks and feels good will feel right at home here.