When a new Zelda is released, it’s not simply an event. It’s a chance to savor the artful nature of one of the best game series ever made.
|THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: SPIRIT TRACKS
Nintendo for DS, Rated E10+ for Everyone 10 and Older
Replay Value: 9.0
Overall Score: 8.75
Pros: Drive a cool train. Save Zelda. Control Phantoms. Great soundtrack.
Cons: Hard to pull off some moves with the touch screen. Every player needs a game to play wirelessly.
The adventure begins with Link at the helm of an old steam-engine train. Passing through green countryside, you see Zelda is with him, sitting happily on the roof of the passenger car.
Once that movie is finished, you get to captain the train yourself all the way to the palace, where Zelda is waiting with your official engineer’s certificate. What fun! Just chase the animals off the track by blowing your whistle, and avoid other trains along the way.
You can explore the castle’s grounds. But stay away from the trees in the upper left corner—there’s a nasty swarm of bees in there. You’ll meet a variety of non-playable characters who will give you information.
LEARNING YOUR MISSION
As you accept the engineering certificate, Zelda hands you a secret letter with a special route to her room that bypasses her protectors. She needs your help because the Spirit Tracks, the routes the train takes through the kingdom, are disappearing. If we can go to the Tower of Spirits, she suggests, maybe we can find the answer to the mystery.
First, though, you need to strategize. How do you get Zelda past the many guards keeping her in the castle? Do this by leading Zelda away from anyone’s notice via the touch screen. Then you can distract the guards. Once this is done, tap the “Call” button and Zelda will come back to you.
But it’s a Zelda game, which means things won’t go that easily. As you head to the tower, Chancellor Cole, a meany with two strange hats, separates Zelda’s body from her spirit. Now, only her spirit can accompany you on your journey.
Once you arrive at the tower, a wise being tells you something startling: If all the Spirit Tracks disappear, the long-imprisoned Demon King will be freed from his shackles underneath the kingdom. And no one wants that.
CHALLENGE AFTER CHALLENGE
The difficulty ramps up quickly from here. Take driving the train, for example. At one point, you’re gritting your teeth as you try to avoid another train speeding at you.
Then, an angry mob of snowmen throw their heads at you as you try to pass. You have to launch cannonballs at them to complete the mission. If you thought being an engineer would be a peaceful experience, think again.
As you move through this lengthy but enjoyable journey, you’ll have help from cool Phantoms. Just power up your sword with one of the Tears of Light you find. Then tap the Phantom on the back. At that point, the spirit of Zelda will possess the ghost, and you’ll have full control of the character.
BEAUTY IN THE DETAILS
There’s much more here, too. You’ll also encounter various monsters, including one made of rocks that appears as you try to move the train through a tunnel. You’ll get to play the Spirit Flute by selecting a note and blowing into the microphone. Play a tune correctly, and some secrets of the kingdom will be yours.
Since this is a role-playing game, you’ll find tons of small things you’ll enjoy along the way. Various potions will make you briefly very powerful (and some might make you laugh). Collecting postcards from your travels hither and yon will eventually get you prizes.
You can soup up your train by trading in treasures you’ve collected at Linebeck Trading. Plus, you can use the force of Whirlwinds to solve some puzzles and force enemies back if they get too close. A boomerang helps defeat some smaller monsters, too. Link even has a bullwhip that can act like a grapple to help him across canyons.
Using the stylus to get around and do battle can be frustrating at times. Nintendo needed to tighten up these controls a little more to make the generally magical Zelda experience more precise.
The other annoying thing is that to play wirelessly in Battle mode with up to four players, each player has to own a copy of the game. It would be a lot better if only one person needed the game to play with friends.
These are small things, however. What the Nintendo team has done with Spirit Tracks is to add some new-fangled gameplay to a terrific series that’s a tried-and-true videogame tradition. It makes you want to play the upcoming Wii game (supposedly due at the end of the year)—right now.