When the newest entry in the beloved Zelda series was announced earlier this year, people were both excited and skeptical. How well would a train in the Zeldaverse go over with fans? Would the gameplay be a replay of Phantom Hourglass, with its infamously numerous trips through the Temple of the Ocean King?
Now that the game has arrived stateside, I can safely assure you that Team Zelda took a gamble or two, and the results are refreshingly fabulous!
But before we depart aboard the Zelda Express, let me warn you that there are going to be spoilers in here, so if you want to be surprised, click away now.
Still with me? Come aboard…
The story this time is a refreshing twist on the well worn “save the princess” routine–and for the first time in Zelda history, Zelda actually gets to go with Link on his quest, in a way.
Set 100 years after Phantom Hourglass, we are first told of a battle between good and evil. While the spirits of good were unable to defeat the demon king, they did manage to imprison him inside a Tower of Spirits. The chains manifest themselves in the world in the form of railroad tracks. When we meet up with Link (who is being told the aforementioned story above), he is a budding engineer about to receive his engineer’s certification. Upon receiving said certification, Zelda slips him a note to meet her in her chamber. There, she tells Link about the Spirit Tracks (the chains holding the demon king) disappearing, and how she needs to get to the Tower of Spirits. After a harrowing encounter that leads to Zelda appearing to be kidnapped, her spirit returns to Link–and so the two of them set out to rescue Zelda’s body, restore the Spirit Tracks, and stop the demon king’s return. It’s a blend of old and new with a fair amount of twists and turns along the way that will delight newcomers and veterans alike
The graphics here are retouched a little from Phantom Hourglass, and it really shows here–there isn’t any lag or blockiness to be found, and the cel-shaded style makes for a number of humorous expressions that add to the characters’ personalities (and give the player a giggle or two)
Many of the songs from Phantom Hourglass return, as do the Zelda theme (if only for a few seconds) the “got item” stinger, and the secret noise, but there are also some new songs as well–the overworld theme being my personal favorite.
Link also trades his ocarina for a new instrument this time around–a set of panpipes named the Spirit Flute. Along the way, you will learn a number of helpful songs that do everything from awaken sleeping beings to healing you in a dungeon, akin to Ocarina of Time. In addition, magical melodies are also the key to restoring the lost Spirit Tracks, and Link has to play along with the guardians of the different realms of Hyrule to create new Spirit Tracks, thereby granting him new ways to travel.
How you play the Spirit Flute is both a stroke of genius and a little frustrating the first time you do it. To play, you use the stylus to select the pipe you want to play, and blow into the mic to blow across it (just like real panpipes) On paper, it sounds easy, but with a little practice, it’s easy and enjoyable. (it helps if you tongue each note into the mic, I’ve found.) Despite this, the soundtrack is very pleasing to listen to, and follows in the Zelda tradition of wonderful music.
Like Phantom Hourglass, the stylus is used for all aspects of moving and attacking–just tap something to attack it, talk to it, or interact with it in some way. New to the party is the increased mic support–both for the Spirit Flute (mentioned before) and several other items.
Since you are traveling with Zelda’s spirit, she can help you by possessing a Phantom (those huge armored enemies from Phantom Hourglass) and taking control of it. This results in a number of new and interesting puzzles that require teamwork to complete, making for a refreshing experience all around.
Final Word: Very Good
Despite a few minor control issues, Spirit Tracks is a worthy addition to the Zelda story that also gives a risky but much needed breath of fresh air to the series. Fans and newcomers will not be disappointed.