The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is a very good game. It fixes all of the problems of its predecessor on the DS, though not without adding a few of its own new ones, while keeping that game’s strengths. Despite this, I would definitely consider Spirit Tracks to be one of the lesser Zelda games. It does everything it does well, but it lacks the one thing that makes the Zelda series so notable: ambition.
Spirit Tracks is a small game. And a familiar game. This is not the smallest Zelda game, Minish Cap feels a lot more constrained. It is not the first game to build off the set up of its predecessor, Majora’s Mask plays almost identically to Ocarina of Time. But it is the first time that a Legend of Zelda game brings almost nothing new to the table. Ocarina of Time brought the series to 3D, Majora’s Mask has that whole 3 day cycle going for it, Wind Waker has sailing, Phantom Hourglass had a completely new control scheme, etc. Spirit Tracks is a refinement of Phantom Hourglass, but little else. It does have a new setting going for it, but other than switching out the ocean for the train that setting is largely the same as Phantom Hourglass. It’s only real innovation is the games obnoxious instance on using the DS mic for playing instruments and using weapons. That is also the games worst feature, by far. The biggest fault the game has not that it fails in any way; it is that it doesn’t try.
It does fix most of the problems from Phantom Hourglass. I thought the controls worked well in PH, but they are just that much more responsive and effective here. It is mostly slight changes, like a double tap rolls instead of drawing a curlicue, but they add up for a noticeably better controlling game. It also fixes the central dungeon idea that integral to PH. While there is still a central dungeon, but all of my complaints with it are fixed. It is no longer timed and you no longer have to repeat sections of it. The stealth segments are still there, but divorced from the other elements they work.
While the first couple dungeons are rather simple, they ramp up to a satisfying complexity. It works with a limited array of tools to make the player think his way through obstacles. Instead of relying heavily on the tool found in each of the elemental dungeons, all the previously acquired tools are put to use. From the third dungeon on they are all excellent. The one fly in the ointment playing this game are the Locomo Flute Duets. I complained about them when I first reviewed this game, but this time I didn’t have as much trouble with them. In fact, I passed all of them but one on the first try. The thing is, I have no idea what caused me to fail the one time I did. The game does not provide any feedback as to what you are doing wrong when you fail. It just makes you start over The time after I failed I just about gave up since I did so badly, but the game decided I did it good enough to pass. What is most frustrating is not the failing, it is the lack of feedback.
The one problem that wasn’t fixed is the overworld. It is still stifling and small; a chore to explore instead of joy. Having just played Twilight Princess the contrast could not be more stark. TP has an expansive, interesting world, Spirit Tracks has a series of rail, including some that only appear when you find certain items. It is no fun. And this game has a world that I’d like to explore, but I can’t because the game sticks you to the rails
The Legend of Zelda Spirit Tracks is not a bad game. For the most part, the game is excellent. It just lacks that creative spark that makes this series one of my favorites. There are other games that I would definitely call other games in the series failures, but none exhibit the total lack of ambition that Spirit Tracks does. It just feels kind of by the numbers, which is a huge problem.