The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
I’ll just come out and say it: Spirit Tracks is my least favorite
Zelda title yet – and this is coming from someone who fell in love with
Wind Waker, the Zelda game most commonly cited as the series’ lowest
point. If you’ve made the unfortunate misstep of riding a train across
the United States, you’ll have a good idea where this game goes wrong.
On the railway, Link’s adventure embraces lengthy stretches of
countryside travel with little in terms of action or variation.
probably saying, “this is exactly what I hated about Wind Waker and
Phantom Hourglass’ sailing segments.” Thematically they are similar,
but the sailing retained the series’ thrill of exploration – allowing
players to veer off of the beaten path to explore any nook and cranny –
whereas the train is railroaded into predetermined paths. This
linearity removes exploration from the Zelda equation, making the world
and progression feel as sterile as moving from world to world in a
The train does offer a few standout moments,
primarily a clever spin on the series’ trademark Lost Woods. The
train’s touchscreen controls are nicely designed, allowing players to
place precision cannon shots while keeping tabs on speed and track
switching. You can also lay on its horn as much as you want – something
I would rightfully abuse on a real train. While showing just a hint of
promise, the train doesn’t fit with the Zelda formula. When it’s in
play, it saps this journey of its excitement and wonder.
conductor hat is thrown to the side, Nintendo shows us that it hasn’t
lost a step in dungeon and puzzle design. Once again, Link’s staple
items – the boomerang, bombs, etc. – are used in ingenious ways. I
especially love how the boomerang channels elemental properties.
Moreover, many of the “stumper” puzzles require a fair amount of
on-screen note taking, and are unlike any riddles in any other Zelda
Adding Princess Zelda as a controllable character further
enhances puzzle and dungeon complexity. Players control the princess by
drawing her movement paths. This can be as simple as weaving in and out
of geometry to avoid tripping a trap, or can be as complex as having
her flank an enemy and attack from behind as you distract it with Link.
Occasional pathing issues lead to her getting stuck on geometry or
stopping in her tracks, but she does comply without error most of the
Link’s obsession with the worst music instruments in the
world continues with the introduction of the pan flute. The
functionality of this device couldn’t have been better, as you play it
like a real flute by blowing into the
DS’s mic to activate specific notes. Unlike Wind Waker, this instrument is used
sparingly, mostly when you see visual clues.
combat is identical to Phantom Hourglass. Sometimes it feels great,
allowing you string together a flurry of attacks from enemy to enemy.
Other times, the slightest miscalculation in your touch leads to Link
rolling off a cliff or running into fire. It hits more than it misses,
but I still don’t understand why Nintendo doesn’t include a standard
control option for people, like myself, who would prefer to play it
like a traditional Zelda title.
Narrative-wise, Spirit Tracks
derails in a peculiar way. The initial story set-up is good. The new
antagonist, a smarmy chancellor that you’d think was plucked from
George Lucas’ trade dispute stories, is only on screen for a few
seconds before you want to whack him with your sword. Mysteries tied to
Hyrule’s past and the train tracks keep you engaged, and the breadcrumb
trail of answers is nicely paced from start to finish. The problem is
tied solely to Princess Zelda. Now that she’s at your side for an
entire adventure, she essentially becomes your narrator. Her bubbly
personality isn’t what I expected. She comes across more like a
teenage-angsty Hannah Montana than the calm-yet-troubled princess I
knew in previous series iterations. Place her rambling tantrums next to
Link’s inability to do anything other than sigh, and the adventure is
further taken off course. Multiplayer, while fun, doesn’t offer enough depth
to bring me back.
In my tenure as a game critic, I haven’t
come across a game that fluctuates between highs and lows as frequently
as Spirit Tracks. I often found myself taken aback by an amazing
puzzle, only to be bored to death on a train moments later. Even though
the path is rocky, this is still a good game. Fans shouldn’t be afraid
of it. The train segments could use a shot of adrenaline, and Zelda
needs to shut her trap, but the puzzles and dungeons retain the classic
charm that keeps us coming back for more.
Email the author Andrew Reiner, or follow on Twitter, Facebook, and Game Informer.
Spirit Tracks is a mixed experience the likes of which hasn’t been
witnessed from the legendary franchise since Zelda II: The Adventure of
Link on the NES. Like that entry, this handheld adventure is sure to
win over some with its quirky charm and brilliant dungeon design. But
first those fans will have to get over the linear fetch-questing made
necessary by the train, a design decision that lends the game a unique
mode of transport while simultaneously robbing it of the thrill of
exploration that is the core of every other game in the franchise –
even Zelda II. I’m glad Nintendo is playing with the Zelda formula, but
Spirit Tracks’ innovations tend toward the mundane rather than the