Toot toot! The ZELDA train is here with a new game. So what’s new in Spirit Tracks? Set 100 years after Phantom Hourglass, Link has a keen interest in trains. Apart from that, Spirit Tracks doesn’t deviate too much from the classic Zelda formula, but it does offer a very streamlined Zelda experience in an inviting new world.
The biggest new element is the train used to explore the overworld. The train journeys along a set path while you look around the world with the stylus. There’s more variety here than endless water; your train is equipped to go places no train should go. You’ll travel through snow, forests, across deserts, over water, and much more. Since this is the only way to travel the overworld, it can get repetitive at times, but Nintendo has done a great job filling the world with things to look at and shoot, and the train adds more to the experience than it takes away.
The dungeons in this game are the most well designed in a Zelda game yet. The puzzles are very clever, the game uses every item to the fullest and many puzzles require ‘outside the box’ thinking. There are new items that introduce a few new gameplay ideas that keep things fresh, and the amount of ways you can co-operate with Zelda opens up a lot of possibilities. There’s no filler in these dungeons, it’s nonstop gameplay and it will test you even if you’re a Zelda veteran.
This game sees the return of a specialised musical instrument, which has been absent in the series since Wind Waker. The Spirit Flute is played by sliding it left and right with the touch screen while blowing into it using the DS microphone. There’s a bit more challenge in this than simply pressing timed buttons, but the DS picks up your wind quite comfortably and its rewarding when you get the hang of it. The feeling of being out of breath is countered by an awesome song at the end.
The game’s soundtrack is absolutely top notch and up there with the best Zelda games. There’s a nice unique theme going here that mixes VERY catchy tunes with a soft-haunting vibe reminiscent of Majora’s Mask. The result is superb and you can tell the composers had lots of inspiration flowing with this title. The music very much takes on its own style and doesn’t rely too much on borrowing themes from past Zelda games.
Like sidequests? Spirit Tracks is full of them. Every town has people with their own different troubles and ideas, and you’ll end up travelling around the world putting the pieces together. This is made more fun by the array of interesting characters you’ll meet throughout the game. There’s standard rewards for completing sidequests, but I mostly found myself doing them just to see the characters reactions rather than win a prize.
Another nice subtle touch I like in this game is the way Link (or YOU) is portrayed. Depending on how you answer questions, you can be seen as a wussy naive boy or a proper hero from the outset. Zelda also reveals more of her personality here than she has in any other Zelda game. She actually HAS a personality this time, or maybe it was always there and she’s finally opening up? Instead of standing back and leaving the job to Link, she gets worked up and joins the adventure herself, dropping lots of bubbly comments along the way. Link and Zelda make a great team, who would’ve thought?
Spirit Tracks takes almost every Zelda element and improves on it, then wraps it up in a new package filled with wonder and joy. The game has a very special “flavour” that makes the journey one to experience and remember.