Thursday 31 December 2009

Game REVIEW: The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (DS)

Following on from 2007's Phantom Hourglass, Spirit Tracks takes us forward 100 years later, to the land of New Hyrule (the land in which Link and Tetra left in search of at the end of the 2002's Wind Waker for the Gamecube), here our hero Link seeks to become a rail engineer along the land's 'Spirit Tracks'. Following his graduation ceremony performed by Princess Zelda Link is asked by the Princess herself to escort her to the Spirit Tower in order to discover why the tracks are slowly disappearing. On the way they are attacked by the Chancellor of Hyrule Cole, who reveals himself as a horned demon. His intention is to free the Demon King Malladus, and requires Zelda's body in order for him to return. Zelda is kidnapped and Link is knocked unconscious, however when he wakes up he finds Zelda's spirit is dislodged from her body, and the two discover that they must travel New Hyrule to restore the Spirit Tracks and stop Malladus' return. Cue the staple Zelda epix quest and dungeons.

Obviously since this is a sequel Spirit Tracks follows the "Toon Link" style of both Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass. As a Zelda fan who believes this style is far superior to the more realistic games such as Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess I welcomed another installment to this type of Zelda game with open arms. Despite its 100 year jump into the future (meaning most of the original characters are dead - new Link, new Zelda etc.) there are plenty of throwbacks to the beginnings of the Toon Link saga, from sharing a house with pirate crew member Niko to Tetra appearing on a stained glass window in Hyrule castle. And just like there's a new Link and Zelda, Linebeck III is also present in the game (and is much like his grandfather).

The controls are almost exactly the same as the ones in Phantom Hourglass, except they've been tweaked so that movements such as rolling and sword spinning are far more fluid and easier to perform. Despite me not having this problem when playing Phantom Hourglass, I'm aware it was a concern for many players and its great to see that Nintendo have addressed it. Most of the puzzles are pretty similar, but a new addition comes in the form of a pan flute (adding to the heritage of musical instruments appearing in Zelda games). This is a great instrument choice as it fully utilises the DS' microphone capabilies, providing a whole new level of gameplay. New weapons come in the form of a fan (similar to the Deku leaf, minus the flight capabilities, in Wind Waker and again utilising the DS mic) and a snazzy new whip which replaces the standard grappling hook.

The biggest thing about this game though is that it is the first time (besides Smash Bros.) where Zelda is a playable character...well, sort of. Attacking Phantom Knights in the Spirit Temple results in Zelda being able to possess them, where she can assist in puzzles, distract enemies and walk through fire/spikes. With Zelda at your side at all times throughout the game, the Princess gets far better characterisation than she does in any other Zelda game, even making references such as how being a damsel in distress is a "family tradition".

The other new feature in Spirit Tracks is swapping the boring old boat (sailing in both Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass wasn't particuarly interesting) for a glossy new steam train. While the general idea is much the same as it was in Phantom Hourglass, there's just something more satisfying about being able to blow a train whistle as you travel.

With a host of dungeons, a great storyline, TRAINS and a ton of sidequests to keep you occupied once the main story is finished. Spirit Tracks is a game that won't disappoint newcomers and old school Zelda fans alike. I thought Phantom Hourglass was a great game, but this is really a cut above, and most certainly my favourite game of 2009.

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