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Looking Back: The Legend of Zelda - Spirit Tracks

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is an action/adventure game developed by Nintendo. Released on the DS in 2009, it serves as the direct sequel to Phantom Hourglass although it takes place 100 years later. The title's only current available release is via the Wii U eShop. 

Spirit Tracks came out for DS well over a decade ago and I only finally got to beat it. Even though I owned the game upon its release, I played it on-and-off over a couple of years until I ended up losing my copy in 2011. Thinking it was gone for good, my run came to a halt until my girlfriend found my lost copy in late 2020, with all my data in-tact. After so many years I finally booted up the game once more and finished what I started all those years ago.

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks features the touch-screen controls featured in its predecessor, Phantom Hourglass. However, by taking advantage of these controls, Spirit Tracks offers a unique experience in terms of puzzle-solving. Despite a few bothersome setbacks, though, it manages to get the job done. While I wouldn't say off the bat that Spirit Tracks is anything mind blowing, it offered a number of memorable and wholesome scenes in its storyline. Along with an unforgettable soundtrack, Spirit Tracks featured a number of highlights that would surely please any Zelda fan.

Taking place over 100 years after the events of The Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass, Spirit Tracks takes place in New Hyrule. This new land was claimed by Link, Zelda, and their friends. 100 years later, the descendent of Zelda and the reincarnation of Link meet in this new world together.

Spirit Tracks takes a dose of technology and adds it into the world of New Hyrule. The Lokomo race and the villain, Cole, all share their names with the train theme of the game. After becoming a train conductor, the story transitions into Link helping Zelda trying to get her body back. All the while she can possess metal suits of armor. If you're an avid anime fan, you might be familiar with this tale.

As the demon, Cole, attempts to revive his lord and master, Malladus, he steals Zelda's body. Now as a wandering spirit, Zelda aids Link in his quest. The two things I love about Spirit Tracks' tale is that Zelda is accompanying Link for the first time in the series. I would dare say she is the best assistant after Midna and much more likable than Navi from Ocarina of Time. Princess Zelda's assistance offers a new dimension to her characterization such as being brave in the face of danger. You will surely love her banter with Link and other characters.

The ending in this game also stands as a shining point. However you enjoy this game, the ending is the cherry on top and one of the best in the series. It offers a sense of closure for all characters and some heartwarming scenes with Link and Zelda. You will surely love the artwork scenes in the credits as well!

Following Phantom Hourglass, Spirit Tracks relies exclusively on touch-screen movement and sword combat. Using the stylus, you'll guide Link. Your shoulder buttons will assist you in using Link's many weapons such as the Whip, Bow, Boomerang, and so forth. New to the game includes the Spirit Flute, a pan flute which you can use the built-in mic to blow into and play songs with.

I enjoyed the dungeons and found them to be creative with the use of Link's Sand Wand and Whip especially. I could create sand pillars or whip across gaps with these new items. Plus Zelda could inhabit armored Phantoms. These Phantoms can attack with swords, carry Link on its shield, roll like a boulder, light torches, and even teleport.

Traveling by train also had its charm. Just like the boat in Phantom Hourglass, you chart out a route on the touch screen and battle enemies by firing off Bombs.  It's pretty straightforward and even involves a bit of interaction such as transporting passengers or even catching rabbits in a mini-game.

However, despite its best intentions, I found some of the movement to be rather imprecise at times. You can find yourself dropping into pits sometimes by accident. You can tap an enemy and Link will move to attack it so thankfully it's not a huge issue minus a few hiccups.

Train traveling can take a good bit of time to get from place-to-place. Honestly, it was enough for me to not want to clear the side-quests and just finish the game. They could add a faster speed option and I would have been okay with it.

Another issue I have is when you're in the Tower of Spirits. Just like Temple of the Ocean King in Phantom Hourglass, you'll have to visit here every time you clear a dungeon. However, you start at the last floor you cleared this time. Unfortunately, if you want to save and take a break, you won't start at the beginning of the floor you saved on. You'll start at the bottom of the tower. This forces you to climb back up the stairs. This especially becomes an issue in the final visit where you not only have to climb all the way to the top but the entrance to the final dungeon as well. It becomes tedious if you want to save and yet it's the longest dungeon in the game. 

Spirit Tracks takes its aesthetic cue from the cel-shading of Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass. Naturally, as a DS game from over a decade ago, I cannot say the visuals aged magnificently by any means. Though to be honest, even when it was first showcased, I can't say the character models were ever quite impressive. Serviceable and emotive, but nothing terribly impressive otherwise especially compared to Wind Waker. I will say, however, that in spite of the blocky models, characters' facial expressions stand out quite well.

On the flipside, the music in this game is some of the best in the series. While that's saying a lot for a series known for its stellar soundtracks, Spirit Tracks brings the magic that made Wind Waker's music memorable. You have an instrument to play songs on and the Spirit Flute adds to the song variety and emotion of the game. Some of the themes during the final battle really make the game's climax shine. Even the common themes, like the Field music, will likely get stuck in your head.

Final Thoughts
I think Spirit Tracks was a charming Zelda game that did its job on the DS. While I wouldn't say it's one of the handheld's most shining games, it offered some challenging and creative puzzles and amazing boss fights. I certainly would not pick touch screen controls over standard controls. With that said, I can't applaud Nintendo enough for releasing A Link Between Worlds for 3DS in 2013. 

Still, I'm honestly impressed at how much Spirit Tracks went onto influence the series. The Sand Wand returned as the Sand Rod in A Link Between Worlds. The Whip also returned one game later in Skyward Sword. Not to mention summoning the Phantoms even became Zelda's Down B special ability in the Smash Bros. series. The Spirit Train also became a stage in Smash Bros. as well.

Final Verdict: Recommended
With that said, Spirit Tracks exceeds in several spots particularly. Boss battles, music, dungeon puzzles, and Zelda's interactions with Link make up the lifeblood of this game. Slower travel, questionable use of dungeon checkpoints in Tower of Spirits, and some imprecise control annoyances held back an otherwise great title. It's not something I would up and pursue unless you're really curious. I wouldn't say it's a must-play unless you're okay with the slower pacing of train travel and the touch-screen controls. If that's your thing, then it's a Zelda game that's sure to warm your heart.