All aboard for Spirit Tracks! Link is off on a quest to save Zelda once more, but this time it’s just her body. After the evil top hat midget, Cole (also starring in Gears Of War), Zelda becomes a spirit and must work with Link on a quest to save the world!
Spirit Tracks carries over the formula from the last game, Phantom Hourglass. Everything is controlled via the stylus and the top screen contains a map, which can be dropped down onto the bottom for some doodling. It worked well in Phantom Hourglass, and it works even better here thanks to refinements of control.
With the power of the pen you will move, attack, whip, draw, shoot, talk and command a train. It is truly remarkable what can be achieved with just touch screen controls and without the troubles of control confusion. Not once did Link do something I didn’t desire for him to do and the only time controls trouble me was through the blowing. Playing on the 3DS, you kind of have to move your mouth close and low, as if ready to give CPR. I had no troubles on the DS.Blowing isn’t common anyway, used for the fun wind pipe segments and one of the items. Some people have a … talent for these bits.
Outside of the improved gameplay, we have the new travel mechanism. The train, the goddamn train. The areas you explore are reached by plotting a route on the rails. You can speed up, slow down and reverse, touching enemies to shoot cannons their way. Camera control is used by moving the stylus anywhere outside of the train, and it all works well. Chugging alone taking in the beautiful scenery and humming the fantastic theme tune, it is a pleasant ride.
But this pleasant ride turns into a hellish chore as the game progress. Being on rails, it isn’t particularly fun to make repeated long journeys and you will be making them. Later in the game, trains pop up which kill you in one on collision and most of the side quests involve traveling from one location to the next. Takes time, isn’t fun, skipped most of the side content because of it. If the world was smaller, or there were instant warp points (Here you have to earn warp points by completing side quests and these warp points tend to involve minutes of travel to get to). Instead these train rides are the ones you just can’t wait to get off. You can try and overlook this one problem amongst the many greats, but it takes up so much of the adventure, it just drains the soul. The boat in Phantom Hourglass worked far better with freedom of path selection, a smaller world and less back tracking.
A shame really that the train kills a lot of the joy in Spirit Tracks. Visuals and animation are some of the best on the DS, painting a bright bold world with an engaging tale. Dungeons are some of the smartest in the series, and controlling Zelda in a giant suit of armour while sneaking about brings some new twists to the series. Even the throw away multiplayer offers some fun, as four Links compete for the most gems in certain arenas, power ups and sneaking about required. Spirit Tracks is still a great game, but the core novel concept attempts to create a train wreck.