Stoking the engine.
Before embarking on the latest Zelda adventure, one must clear both minds and thoughts of any predisposed ideals of what a Zelda game should be, and reach a zen-like state of clarity. You must let go of your concepts of how one should play a game bearing such a name and prepare for a enlightening new vision. Yes folks, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is a not your mother’s 8-Bit type of adventure. It’s something new and different.
[image1]Not that it doesn’t have everything one would hope for or expect from such a long running, popular franchise. But if I could paraphrase one of my favorite Tarantino films for a moment,”They got the same stuff there that they got over here, only there it’s just a little different.”
You’ve still got boomerangs, dungeons, bombs, arrows, a Princess Zelda and some octorocks (or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof) but this doesn’t play out in the same way, so to speak. For starters, you’re a Thomas the Train lovin’ engineer elf boy this time around, a distant relative of the same Link from the Wind Waker game. You don’t play an ocarina, you play a pan flute. And the princess is not trapped in a castle, so to speak.
Spirit Tracks not only follows Wind Waker in spirit, but also in looks. It’s the cutesy, cartoony world of Hyrule for this adventure. And some people are going to love that and some are going to not be as pleased. Me? I’m not such a fan of the Chibi cuddlyness, but even I have to admit that this game looks bright and runs smoother than some games that I’ve played on the PSP. Whether or not you’re into it from an art school standpoint, this is still one of the best looking games out for the DS right now.
Gameplay-wise, Nintendo has taken some interesting risks, some of which pay off big time and others that become mundane after too much repetition. The one that seems to work best is the companionship of a Spirit Zelda throughout your journey.
[image2]Certain levels will have you controlling both Link and a giant armored guardian possessing Zelda. Maybe it’s just me, but the whole leading around a girl angle and solving level-based puzzles thing gave me a healthy dose of Ico nostalgia. And while the puzzles do make for some of the most intriguing and frustrating-but-in-a-good-way moments, at the same time they’re not without their own problems.
The stylus-only control system, while key to every single aspect of gameplay, much like it’s Wii counterpart, is a captive of its own physical limitations. Controlling two characters at one time, sometimes not even on the screen together, can become a tad bothersome, especially when touching anywhere on-screen, other than on the princess herself, gives you control of Link. I feel into quite a few pits of fire thanks to that one.
The other major twist is the all the traveling along the train tracks you do. Rail riding plays like a violent version of Pokemon Snap, where instead of taking photos of cute little creatures, you blow them up with cannonballs. Much like the sailing in Wind Waker, it gets old after a bit. Not everything you’ll do as a conductor is boring, but I could imagine being on a car trip, playing my DS, and reaching my real life destination before Link gets to the one in the game. Obviously this is a bit of an exaggeration, but delivering cargo and keeping passengers happy by offering them a smooth ride sounds about as fun as it actually is. Which could be a lot…if you’re dream is to be a ticket taker on Amtrak.
[image3]Cruising around like a tiny Ringo Starr or George Carlin may not be the best game mechanic ever and definitely plays more towards Japan’s odd fascination with trains (what isn’t Japan obsessed with?), but it’s worth having the patience to see them through because what I would consider the real meat and potatoes is well worth the time put in on the tracks.
Dungeon levels are clever, but usually not so clever as to hinder progress and definitely succeed in making you feel smart and accomplished in certain places. Some may have you putting the DS down and walking away for a while, but you’ll feel like you deserve a cookie or a gold star when you finally figure it out.
For everything that you may or not like about the angle that Spirit Tracks takes with the The Legend of Zelda franchise, you’d still have to admit that, while perhaps not the most essential title in the long series featuring the pointy eared protagonist, it’s still a fun time and very well executed game. If you’re looking for something to play on the road while on vacation, or hiding away from society in a bomb shelter until Christmas blows over, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks makes as good a companion as a Ghost Princess. Hmmm…Ghost Princess…I wonder if Disney would buy that movie…