The Legend of Zelda franchise is a mysterious beast – ostensibly one of Nintendo’s crown jewels, it’s been through a number of perplexing changes in the past few years, and there’s arguably not a single sequel that can stand up to the 1986 NES original. The latest entry for the Nintendo DS, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, continues that tradition – for everything this game does right, it does something else horribly wrong.
First, the basics – the game is a spiritual sequel to the previous DS title, Phantom Hourglass, and employs the same non-traditional stylus control method, which is still not all that great. The imprecision of stylus control often leads Link to places you’d rather he stay out of, and why the option for traditional controls wasn’t included boggles the mind. The controls have been tightened a smidge, but they’re still not on a par with the console versions.
Link, as usual, explores dungeons, finds tools, solves puzzles and defeats bosses during his quest. But where Spirit Tracks falls the flattest is the overworld segments – instead of being free-roaming exploration-focused gameplay, traditionally the series’ biggest strength, they put Link on board a train from Point A to Point B. This eats up time without adding fun – a big no-no in my book. In addition, the repetitive central area from Phantom Hourglass is back, and while this time it’s enlivened by the addition of Zelda as a playable companion, it’s still kind of an ass-backwards way to structure a game.
Oh, did I forget to mention that? You play as Zelda in this one – sort of. You’re accompanied by the ghost of the titular Princess, and she’s got a few interesting abilities that can help you on your adventure, most notably by possessing defeated enemies and using their special powers. You control Zelda by drawing a route for her to follow on the screen, and you can control Link while she’s moving. This opens up a whole world of great puzzles, and this interaction is the game’s strongest element.
Overall, Spirit Tracks has all of the hallmarks of a triple-A game, with oodles of Nintendo’s trademark polish, but some questionable design decisions conspire to bring the whole package down.