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Critical Reception:  The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

Critical Reception: The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

December 9, 2009 | By Danny Cowan

December 9, 2009 | By Danny Cowan
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This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Nintendo's Phantom Hourglass sequel The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, which reviews describe as "one of the best games in Nintendo's flagship action-adventure series." Spirit Tracks currently earns a score of 88 out of 100 at Metacritic.com.

GameSpy's Brian Altano gives Spirit Tracks 4.5 out of 5 stars. "Spirit Tracks is another success in Zelda's cherished history," he praises, "and -- assuming you can acclimate to the touch-screen controls -- it's one of the best games in Nintendo's flagship action-adventure series."

Altano assures that Spirit Tracks' train-based travel system is integral to its gameplay. "Link's new toy works much better than you might expect," he writes. "The whole train-travel thing gets off to a slow start, but once your choo-choo is equipped with a cannon (and the ability to warp from track to track), things pick up a bit."

Altano continues: "The travel system is a thinly veiled guise to mask Spirit Tracks' eschewing of the series' traditional overworld, much like The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass before it. Given the visual fidelity that Spirit Tracks trots out, and the DS' relatively modest capabilities, the cut corners are a given -- and this is another triumph in spite of all that."

Other elements don't work as well, however. "The new bit of DS gimmick-tech I don't love, though, is Spirit Tracks' selection of microphone-controlled items," Altano says. "To see Nintendo push 'awkwardly blow air into your DS' as a gameplay element in one of the company's flagship franchises is pretty disheartening, especially when it doesn't always work when you need it to."

"Link's newest adventure is rife with hours of action and exploration, brimming with ingenious level design and deceptively smart puzzles," Altano notes in conclusion. "Twenty years on, Nintendo still manages to find ways to reinvent the franchise. Here's hoping for 20 more."

Jeremy Parish at 1UP.com gives Spirit Tracks a grade of A-. "It's a long way from the sober, traditional odyssey of Ocarina of Time and its ilk, though that's not necessarily a flaw," he observes. "Zelda is often at its most interesting when it deviates from expectation, which is why quirky side stories like Link's Awakening and Majora's Mask remain fan favorites."

The storyline and presentation live up to series expectations. "The plot -- which involves the resurrection of an ancient evil using Princess Zelda's body as its vessel -- is pretty solid as far as justifications for combing ancient labyrinths goes," Parish notes. "Even better is the presentation, which is by far the most sophisticated of any DS game to date."

Parish warns that some of Phantom Hourglass's weaker elements are still present in Spirit Tracks. "Nintendo has tweaked the stylus-driven controls a bit, and while they work well they suffer from maddening imprecision at times," he writes. "The camera's behavior is also a nuisance while riding the rails, as it insists on rotating 90 degrees every time the train corners (which is frequently)."

"Fortunately," Parish continues, "Spirit Tracks is nowhere near as toothless as its predecessor, so these issues amount to minor irritants at worst. It's a deceptively meaty adventure with enough novel twists on the Zelda formula to keep it from feeling phoned-in."

"Spirit Tracks doesn't simply coast along on its legacy," Parish asserts. "Like New Super Mario Bros. Wii, it's a direct follow-up to a recent release that exceeds its predecessor in every way."

At Game Informer, Andrew Reiner scores Spirit Tracks at 8 out of 10. "Spirit Tracks is my least favorite Zelda title yet," he begins, "and this is coming from someone who fell in love with Wind Waker, the Zelda game most commonly cited as the series' lowest point."

Reiner feels that the rail travel mechanic is lacking. "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," he says. "On the railway, Link's adventure embraces lengthy stretches of countryside travel with little in terms of action or variation."

"When the conductor hat is thrown to the side," Reiner continues, "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 title."

These gameplay peaks and valleys continue throughout the course of gameplay. "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," Reiner writes. "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," Reiner concludes. "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."


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