Written by pikaby
Prior to the review, the reviewer had only been in a train for a couple of times and to tell you the truth, it was pretty bland. Other than looking out at the scenery and all, it was jerky and of course, there was nothing to do except sit/stand while you either read the papers or try to sleep. If you can get any sleep at all, with the kid sitting about 3 rows away screaming his lungs out. At least you get to your destination in time though.
And that's the initial feeling you get when you boot Spirit Tracks up. For the first hour or so, all you can do in your train is move around, change your route and speed and toot your whistle(which I have to admit was pretty cool), which was pretty boring, as the train journey can sometimes be more drawn out than you think(kinda like sailing in the previous Toon Link games). But stick with it however, and the sequel to LoZ Phantom Hourglass doesn't disappoint.
At the beginning, you're Link, a train engineer who's just graduated and met Zelda during the ceremony. Your love affair with your brand spanking new title is cut short when the titular tracks vanished from right under your feet, Zelda brutally murdered, the Demon King revived, and the Tower of Spirits suffers multiple joint dislocation(with its pieces floating in the air, wow).
From there it's a relatively linear Zelda game that sticks to the tried and tested formula which most Zelda games adhere to. Discover a new locale, go to the area's town, find a way into the dungeon, get a piece of new equipment, beat a boss, repeat. The new gimmick here is of course the train. Like your equipment, your train gets upgrades as you progress through the game. Later on you'll obtain a cannon to shoot baddies out of the way, and a freight car to carry cargo around.
It may seem a far cry and extremely limiting from being able to travel freely, but riding the rails becomes quite a fun affair later in the game. From being just a boring journey from A to B, as you go along you're obligated to carry passengers around while following the rules of the railroad, or transport a cage full of Cuccos to a guy who wants them. Doing so will open up new tracks for your to explore(and believe me, there are a lot of tracks), which often results in new things you haven't seen before. I won't spoil them here though. Trust me when I say there are going to be times when you're so busy doing these sidequests that you forget about the main story.
Alas, the main story is not this game's strong point. From the beginning you already know which enemy you'll be facing as your final boss(though it's a great diversion from tired ol' Ganon), and the subsequent plot is basically pretty predicatable. The dialogue, especially from Zelda, can squeeze out a few laughs, especially the moment after Zelda's found herself in ghost form and finds out the Demon King wants to use her body as its vessel. But towards the end of the game, the quality of the dialogue fizzles out as the game tries to sound cryptic and mysterious, but using simple words even an 8-year-old would understand(thus making ST accessible to kids, you see). Because of this some lines sound cheesy and make little sense. What I wouldn't give for a Wind Waker-quality script for each of the characters.
On the flipside, everything else clicks in wonderfully. As aforementioned, the train is a great addition to overworld travel, and the graphics run very smoothly on the DS. Everything is given ample detail even on the small screen. The music ticks out too and you'll be humming the overworld tune in no time. It's definitely one of the more infectious tunes in recent months. The dungeons feature many clever puzzles and finds new ways to use old pieces of equipment even 20 years after they've been invented(read: boomerang). Some of the brain teasers will stump you, something I didn't expect to see.
New gameplay mechanics are introduced by way of Zelda being able to possess Phantoms, large armored guardians of the Tower of Spirits. The teamwork between you and Zelda works wonders and some really innovative, memorable moments come out of it. For example, when fighting a particularly tough opponent, Zelda will distract it from the front while you go back to its unguarded part and whale on it with your sword. Or, have Zelda carry you, draw her path while you equip your bow to shoot any targets that were previously too high for you to aim at. Or, step across a sand pit(something Zelda can't do without sinking) and hit a switch which makes a bridge appear from underneath it, letting Zelda cross the sand. Different types of Phantoms give Zelda different abilities.
Treasure hoarding returns from Phantom Hourglass, and from the original 8 you now have 16 different treasures to collect, sell, and trade in for train parts, much like Phantom Hourglass did for the ship parts. They are now, however, much rarer and cost a bomb(this game really makes you scrimp and save- Rupees are hard to get!). You can also submit postcards to win treasures in a lottery, though its unlikely you'll win anything worthwhile until you have enough spare change to buy a ton of postcards. Quite a fun diversion though. Personally I've made my train all snack-themed. I just need a couple more of things to complete it.
To conclude, this is a great handheld Zelda you won't want to miss. It may bore you for the first hour, but ST is an acquired taste. The longer you play it, the more the game rewards you. And what enjoyment the game gives back to you is tenfold the amount of time you invest into it. First-class ticket all the way across the country.