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The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

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The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

Image © Nintendo
It's necessary for Nintendo's green-garbed hero, Link, to be a ramblin' man. The forces of evil aren't often considerate enough to set up base in the neighborhood of the valiant. Though Link usually travels alone and on foot (or by horse, or boat), this time he has a killer set of wheels...and a friend.

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks for the Nintendo DS gives Link his own train to toy with, plus conquers some of the series' trickiest puzzles with the help of his oldest friend: Zelda, the Princess of Hyrule.

Publisher: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: E10+ for Mild Fantasy Violence
Genre: Adventure

The Basics: Meet Link. Again.

In Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, Link once again finds himself pit against some pretty bad dudes. The ancient Spirit Tracks, which supposedly protect the Kingdom of Hyrule from evil, have been disappearing all over the country. The Tower of Spirits, which imprisons an unspeakable demon, has fallen apart and is suspended in the sky, tumbling like strange dice. Worst of all, Princess Zelda's turncoat Chancellor separates her body and soul, leaving her as a transparent spirit.

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks takes place approximately 100 years after The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, and it appears Link has got the hang of operating vehicles. In Spirit Tracks, he begins the game as an apprentice train engineer, but when Zelda goes ghostly, he's called on to answer the call of his ancestors' blood and perform a little evil-busting on the side.

Gameplay: Something Old, Twice As New

Link's train is a welcome “steampunk” element in a series that normally sticks firmly to its roots in high fantasy. The train gets Link from point A to B, his most vital stops being towns, cities, and dungeons where he recovers Force Gems to revive more of the spirit tracks that keep evil at bay (and let him navigate the map). Link's train also provides an unexpected but welcome social element to the game: He ferries passengers often.

Princess Zelda actively helps Link on his quest for the first time in the series' 23-year history. While Link spends much of his adventure in dungeons searching for Force Gems, he must also climb the Spirit Tower in the center of Hyrule to retrieve rail maps. This is where Zelda is essential: she is able to possess “Phantoms”, the hulking metal guards that chuck out intruders. When Zelda slips into a Phantom suit, she helps solve puzzles by warping, enduring fire, and gaining the trust of the other Phantoms in the tower.

The Spirit Tower's cooperative gameplay is the core of some challenging puzzles. The Zelda series has faced criticism in recent years for relying on similar breeds of puzzles and tricks, but Spirit Tracks forces you to re-think what you thought you knew about Hyrule's brain teasers.

Link's train time will appeal to players who loved sailing in The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass.. Less patient players might find the train too slow, and they probably won't like being forced to stick to tracks in a world that's always encouraged open exploration.

Graphics and Sound: Groove With the Spirit

Spirit Tracks uses the “Toon Link” style that originated with Wind Waker, though the graphics use less cell-shading than the Gamecube title. The characters and enemies still look fantastic. They're expressive, and well-animated. Some of the foliage in Hyrule's countryside is less impressive, however, as the forests you sometimes ride through tend to look rather flat and lifeless. A notable exception is the Ocean Realm, which is home to a school of dolphins that frisk alongside Link as he drives across enormous bridges.

Spirit Tracks has one of the best soundtracks to hit the Nintendo DS. The overworld's main theme was composed to time beautifully with the chug-chug of Link's train wheels, but slows down and quiets whenever he stops. If Link halts in the middle of the Snow Realm, the wind whips around him. If he pauses in a forest, crickets whirr and the trees creak in the breeze.

Conclusion: All Aboard

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks patches up problems fans have not only with Phantom Hourglass, but with the series as of late. The puzzles are thought-provoking, and it's nice to see Princess Zelda lift herself off her royal duff for once to help Link with her rescue. Players can forge ahead and complete the game as quickly as possible, or they can meander, explore, and engage in dozens of side quests.

Some fans will undoubtedly be disappointed with the oft-slow train portions of the game, and admittedly, the tracks feel a little constraining early in the adventure. But as Link progresses and more paths unlock, you begin to realize that Spirit Tracks' depiction of Hyrule is every bit as sprawling and intriguing as the world you fell in love with 23 years ago.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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