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The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

Strong Recommendation

The Good: Puzzles cater more towards solid design and challenging the player rather than showing off the touch screen, no repeating the same dungeon over and over again, musical instruments are back!

The Bad: The sailing has been replaced with a much more limited but just as annoying rail riding, textbook Zelda plot.

Spirit Tracks is the second Zelda installment on the DS and a sequel to Phantom Hourglass. It's a hundred years after Link and Tetra finally found land again and ditched those dreadful boats. Unfortunately, this land had magical train tracks all over it, so the boats have now been replaced with trains. The magical train tracks also serve the purpose of keeping the evil Malladus sealed away in his tin can. But, of course, someone comes along with a giant can opener of DOOM and is determined to release said evil unto the world. Princess Zelda is kidnapped so that said evil and possess her body and be reborn. And Link is unlucky guy who has to fix this mess. So basically the plot is just about every other Zelda game in existence. At least they're consistent.

The gameplay is pretty much exactly the same as in Phantom Hourglass. You touch the screen to move, attack, steer your train, advance dialogue, pick your nose, and blow your whistle. Your boat has been replaced with a train, so now instead of drawing your own path, you have to stick to the preset paths and while there are warps set into the tracks, they have fixed destinations so their usefulness is limited.

After you complete the normal dungeons, you're required to return to the central, “super” dungeon to unlock the next main dungeon only this time you don't have an annoying time limit and don't have to traipse through the same levels each time you return. In this central dungeon, you dodge phantoms but now it's possible to possess a phantom and let it do your bidding. This is possible because since Princess Zelda's body is needed for the dark god's return and thus indisposed, her spirit joins Link on his quest to prevent Malladus's return. You control the phantoms by drawing a path and they walk along it until it ends. When you just want to control the phantom, that works well enough, but on some occasions, mostly in battle when you're using both Link and the phantom, it can be annoying to have to stop Link and switch over to the phantom and draw it's path while Link sits there defenseless. It would have been nice if they had let you control Link using the d-pad while you draw the phantom's path so that you can avoid enemy attacks but this is Nintendo and he have to get as much mileage as we can out of our gimmicky consoles.

Although, to the game's credit much of the gimmicky gameplay and puzzles have been trimmed off for some better integrated ones. Gone away are the stupid count the trees and draw the number puzzles and in are the more traditional shoot the eye with an arrow and block-pushing on ice puzzles. And sometimes the puzzles can be devilishly hard. But once you figure it out, it is immensely satisfying, something that was very much missing from Phantom Hourglass. I was also happy to see the return of a musical instrument in the series, even though all of the songs you learn are pretty useless outside of very specific and rare situations.

Overall, Spirit Tracks is a vast improvement on Phantom Hourglass. The development team did a great job of fixing what was previously wrong and allowing the DS portion of Zelda to grow and mature. But I can easily see them falling into the trappings of formula. Perhaps it's time ditch the vehicle portions and just give Link back his horse.

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