Embarking on a rail-bound adventure through the kingdom of Hyrule, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks offers a unique twist to the iconic franchise, placing players in control of a train-conducting Link. While the game attempts to carve its own path within the Zelda universe, it falls short in certain aspects, leaving enthusiasts with a mixed experience. In this review, we dissect the game's key elements, from its combat mechanics to its distinctive narrative, assessing how it fits into the broader tapestry of the legendary series. So, hop aboard the Spirit Tracks as we navigate through dungeons, engage in touchscreen combat, and explore the highs and lows of this portable Zelda installment. Will it stand as a memorable entry or be relegated to the periphery of the series? Join us as we unravel the tracks and deliver the verdict on The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks.
Combat - 6
While some of the game's boss fights are unique and memorable, the core combat doesn't work all too well. The touchscreen controls work for dungeons and exploration, but combat feels unnecessarily clunky. Executing different attacks and combat rolling is often unresponsive, and using items in the heat of battle is clunky and rather unnecessary, making combat overly simple. My favorite part about this combat system would have to be the sections where Phantom Zelda enters Phantoms, and you can simultaneously attack with two characters, cornering enemies to dish out maximum damage. In the end, Spirit Tracks has a flawed yet sometimes fun combat system.
Story - 6.5
Zelda games usually have rather thin plots compared to RPGs, but Spirit Tracks has one of the more interesting narratives in the series. This game follows Linka and Zelda as they aim to restore the railroads around the kingdom of Hyrule and defeat the forces of evil. This makes for a unique Zelda experience that stays within the formula but tells a wholly unique story. Ultimately, this game has a very solid story for a Zelda game, but that's not saying all that much.
Music - 9.5
This game has some of my absolute favorite tracks in the series, even if some of the songs are pretty forgettable. The Train Travel theme, especially, is one of the best songs in the series, one of my favorite video game world map themes, and one of my favorite video game themes in general, and the main themes shouldn't be estimated, either. The music perfectly fits the atmosphere of the game and adds so much flavor and distinctness to the overall experience, but it barely can't quite match up to some of the other best soundtracks in the series.
Art & Graphics - 7
While I can't help but love this game's cutesy graphics, this looks dated, even by DS game standards. This game tries to take the gorgeous art style of Wind Waker and put it on the DS, but that waters it down and makes it look like a very average DS title, not a work of art like most previous Zelda games. But, it still does look respectable enough... this game doesn't look hideous or anything!
Dungeons - 7.5
While the puzzles involving Phantom Zelda in the Tower of Spirits are creative and tons of fun, after just beating the game (I know I jumped on the train late), I can't remember much. The dungeons themselves are some of the more basic and forgettable in the series. The puzzles are fun, but they don't get the mind going nearly as much as many other superior games in the series. Like with many aspects of this game, the dungeons are very solid but nothing extravagant.
Items - 7.5
This game has a rather simple and insignificant line-up of Zelda items, but yet again, they are still solid. Like in Phantom Hourglass, the boomerang is as fun as ever with touchscreen controls, and series standards like the Bombs make another appearance. Items like the Whirlwind and the Spirit Flute uniquely utilize the capabilities of the mic to create a unique item-using experience, even if they are inferior to similar items like The Minish Cap's Gust Jar and the Ocarina in Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask. The highlight for me was collecting various treasures that the player can use to customize and upgrade the Spirit Train—that was an awesome touch! All in all, this game has a respectable item line-up, even if it isn't breaking any new ground.
Theming - 9
I love the idea of Link controlling a train, even if it could have been more fleshed out. This was personally my favorite aspect of this game—the more minute and unspectacular moments where I was hunting for bunnies or hidden train strops around the world. I like the idea of the Spirit Tracks themselves as well, as it adds another layer of uniqueness instead of Link being a conductor for a normal, indistinguishable train. While I could call many things about this game a subpar Zelda experience, the train exploration was tons of fun and synergized perfectly with the touchscreen setup. Ultimately, while the execution of this game could've been better, Spirit Tracks had one of my favorite premises in the series.
Sidequests - 8
As I just hinted at, the random side content is part of what makes Spirit Tracks a special experience! I loved training with the guards, beating up enemy gauntlets, hunting for bunnies and treasures to upgrade my train, and, best of all, collecting tons of unique stamps hidden across the world. In the end, this game certainly had some entertaining sidequests, even though they weren't exactly top-tier.
Quality of Life - 6
This game has two main issues with it: the often clunky touchscreen controls and the offensive overreliance on the DS microphone. While these issues don't ruin the game for me as much as they do for many others, playing feels like quite a chore once you are several hours deep into the game. While the game has no severe bugs, issues, or blatant oversights, the control scheme is pretty egregious at times, securing Spirit Tracks a score of 6 in this category.
Fun Factor: 7
Overall Score: 74%
Letter Rating: A
The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is a very good game, even if I believe it is one of the weakest entries in the series. While this game felt like it had some serious, missed potential, it was great for what it was—a portable Zelda experience. While I still prefer Capcom's portable titles over this title, this game is still worth a playthrough for fans of the Zelda series.
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Primary Version: The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (DS)