In 2007, Nintendo put out a highly successful game for the Nintendo DS titled The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. This game continued the popular series about Zelda and Link, and it was generally beloved by fans and critics alike. It did come as a surprise to everyone that announced and then released only a few years later a sequel of sorts, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, because it has been unusual in recent years for Zelda games to get more than one franchise entry per console. This new title is a welcome addition and may just have surpassed its predecessor. Don't believe it? Well read on!
The game takes place a century after Phantom Hourglass, in the land that Link discovered. Now there's a new Link born who wants to be a train engineer on the (yes, good guess) Spirit Tracks. Obviously, the hero is not going to be a train operator though, that would get in the way of saving the Princess. Zelda begs Link to take her to the Spirit Tower because the Track is starting to disappear and she thinks the answers will be there. Her evil counselor, Cole, is actually a demon who wants to free Demon King Malladus, and he removes Zelda's spirit from her body (Ruh roh!). The bad guys leave, taking Zelda's body, but her spirit gets left behind and can only talk to Link.
The purpose of the game is to fix the Tracks, save Zelda's body, and defeat Cole and Malladus. Zelda can control Phantoms in the temples, towers, and dungeons which is truly excellent . Like the other games in this series, the player organizes Link's weapons and items and fights beasts in dungeons. The character levels up and there are several side quests to get lost on for people who enjoy those fun distractions. The gameplay is pretty similar to Phantom Hourglass, with the stylus coming heavily into play as Link moves around the world and fights (the developers stuck with this despite complaints in the previous title). Instead of a boat, as in the last title, there is a train now, and Link maps out his destinations in a similar way. That part has gotten somewhat more complex however, there are ways to mess up the train tracks and more roundabout puzzles, which make a nice addition.
The Spirit Tower dungeons are harder than before with some more strategy involved now that Zelda controls the Phantoms. Plus, once a floor is completed, there's no need to go back and do it again to get to the next level. Hallelujah! The Phantoms all have different abilities and uses, so it's fun to think through the levels and use all that is available. During the higher levels it is absolutely imperative that the player knows what all of the Phantoms can do and to plan accordingly. The puzzling dungeons get increasingly difficult and may need to be started over a few times to navigate. This added challenge and how it is managed by the player is an exceptional plus to the entire game.
Like Phantom Hourglass, Spirit Tracks is a visually vivid game, it is very colorful and classic-Zelda, and features cel-shaded art. It is appealing to look at, and the music is pleasing as well. There is an additional multiplayer battle option, but it does not using the Nintendo Wi-Fi connection. Instead, the players use DS Download Play, and essentially the idea is to fight one another in a battle while trying to collect Force Gems. It's entertaining, but nothing too special. There's also a tag system where players can trade treasures.
Overall, Spirit Tracks is a great deal like Phantom Hourglass, but it has a few additions that really work for it. The dungeon difficulty level is increased and players have to put in serious effort to defeat the game, plus having Zelda controlling the Phantoms is very fun. On the negative side, it does have some aspects that are too much like its predecessor, both in terms of the gameplay and the appearance of the game, but perhaps that was an attempt to enhance the continuity as this game does take place in the same location. There is a little 'been there done that' feel to the game, but fans of Phantom Hourglass will be excited to see the continuation of the story and of the things they liked the most in the first game. It doesn't really feel new, but it's still a solid, challenging, and entertaining game. A worthwhile addition to an already popular franchise.
The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for mild fantasy violence.