December 31, 2009

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks | Review

Troy Benedict Says The Legend of Zelda series has always had a special place in my heart. It began with the Legend of Zelda on the NES. I even remember the thrill and excitement when I opened a package containing Zelda II: The Adventures of Link for Christmas back in 1988, despite it looking and playing differently from the original game.

I've played through most of the iterations of the Zelda franchise, and have found each of them to be enjoyable in their own right.

I did, however, have a problem with The Legend of Zelda: Spirits Tracks, and it didn't just start with this release. I began recognizing my issues with the Zelda series with its past few releases: Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, and Phantom Hourglass.

I'll be honest and upfront here: I was disappointed with Spirit Tracks.

When I worked on my first impressions, I had a feeling that this game wouldn't sit well with me, and I was right. When it came to playing this game for review, I couldn't help but feel that it was more of a chore than something that should have been fun and enjoyable.

I recognize that Spirit Tracks is a good game, and I can respect the other gaming media and understand the positive review scores that they've given it. It's charming and whimsical in that typical Zelda fashion. But to me, it's also the same game that I've played several times over.

One criticism I have is that the Zelda series seems to have no connection with one another. It's almost as if each game is a remake/re-imagining of the one before it. For a game that's somewhat story-driven, with each new Zelda game it feels like I'm reading the same story over and over, with a new and different setting each time.
Another criticism I have is that, to me, the Zelda series is also becoming predictable and repetitive. Princess Zelda is always in peril, and the only person who can save the world is the innocent and world-wary "Link" character. In order to proceed through the game, you have to work your way through a series of dungeons. Each one contains an item that is the key to defeating the dungeon's boss, and each new item allows access to the next dungeon. Somewhere in there are the oft-familiar bow and arrow, bombs, and boomerang.

Lastly, Spirit Tracks, much like Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass, is a bit misleading with its visual stylings. It looks and feels like a game marketed towards children; there are many "slapsticky" moments, characters are overly exaggerated and melodramatic, and the Link character is child-like and innocent. Even at its darkest moments, the game still feels like a Saturday morning cartoon that my kids would enjoy. I wouldn't say that I felt embarrassed playing though a "kiddie" game, but I think I would have preferred something a bit more serious. Hidden beneath a candy-coated exterior, is a challenging experience, that may turn away some new or younger gamers who were expecting a more casually-accessible experience. Maybe I'm underestimating today's young/casual gamers, but this was an observance that I felt was worth mentioning.

While I was disappointed with Spirit Tracks, I did enjoy some of the DS's unique gameplay elements, like the Spirit Flute and Whirlwind item. Both of these require you to blow on the DS's microphone, as if you were really playing a pan flute or blowing on a giant pinwheel. I also liked that Princess Zelda was something of a co-op character, instead of just a game-ending quest, and that working your way through certain areas of the dungeon required you to switch between controlling Link and Zelda to accomplish your goals.

The game, much like it's predecessor Phantom Hourglass, has an online multiplayer component. Personally, I've never been interested in a multiplayer Zelda game, and after not really enjoying the Phantom Hourglass's multiplayer modes years ago, I didn't try Spirit Tracks' multiplayer mode. I can see its appeal to some gamers, but it's not something that interests me.

It is my opinion that something drastically needs to change with the Zelda series to keep the Zelda name fresh and interesting. I consider myself to be an old-school gamer, but I'm certainly not interested in playing the same game over and over again. As much as I enjoy some classic Zelda, I want new and unique takes. Nintendo needs to change the formula for this series or risk releasing some really stale Zelda games in the future.

As I mentioned earlier, I can understand and respect other reviews as to why they considered it to be a good game, but from my perspective, someone who has played nearly every Zelda game, the formula has officially become outdated and needs a fresh and new take. Nintendo, I hope you’re listening.