We have seen Link on a horse galloping all over Hyrule field and also on a boat ruling the ocean as an old sea wolf, but now with his latest job, he will surprise us all since our little hero will be turned officially into a train driver on his last adventure in the Nintendo DS. To make the holidays more enjoyable, Nintendo brings to us the most recent adventure of Link to our handhelds. It is becoming a tradition to have a Zelda adventure every two years in the portable consoles. Following this trajectory, it's not a surprise that the latest adventures are becoming better each time. Fans and developers, all are happy with this new title and of course this also means an extra good point to Aonuma's résumé. But, is this new adventure outstanding?
If there's a character who has visited all the Nintendo consoles besides Mario, that has to be Link. Since he appeared in 1986 for the very first time on the NES, all the Zelda creations have had our green fellow as protagonist and of course the DS is not the exception; we were able to play the title called "Phantom Hourglass" in 2007. The game was pretty well received and told us how Link, with the company of some pirates (and Tetra of course), was traveling searching for new adventures, but after some unfortunate events, Tetra disappeared and Link fell over the ship's outboard, recovering himself on an island without remembering anything and a fairy by his side who would help him to find Tetra. The adventure that "Spirit Tracks" has to offer takes place almost a century after "Phantom Hourglass". The story begins with Link, who aspires to be a train driver and the day has finally arrived to become one. Zelda is the one in charge to give to Link this title but in that same day, the princess asks Link to take her to the Spirit Tower to investigate why is that the train tracks are disappearing. Link accepts, and it is on their way to the tower when Zelda is disposed of her soul by Malladus, one of the most "reliable" persons of the Royal Family. After this, it is your turn to walk alone, at least partially, although Zelda is not physically with you, her soul still is.
Following the same gameplay of the previous game, in this title you will travel over a huge world, full of dungeons and magical places, all with the the help of our little train, which will make your trip a more varied and fun adventure, and also to replace the boat of "Phantom Hourglass". Graphically, we are before a title that looks practically the same as "Phantom Hourglass". All the character models are identical but with some little improvements. We can remark the Zelda's ghost that will follow us in almost every moment. She looks pretty cool, and this time she has more expressions than in other games where she always looked serious. On the lower screen is where you will see all the action in an overhead view, following the same line of "Phantom Hourglass" and on the top screen you have a map of the place you are in, having the chance to draw some notes or routes all over is a helpful tool. As for the transition scenes between one place and another, the view will change to a third person one where you will be able to see your train and all the imagery of the places you will travel using the stylus as if it was a camera. In this view you will find the controls of your train at the right side of the screen as well as the train whistle, which is useful to frighten away some of the enemies that will stand in your way. On the top screen you will have a map with different options of the different routes to go from one place to another and of course some marks that tell you where the enemies are so you can avoid them.
Fortunately for the previous game lovers, the controls for our hero are very similar. All the actions are controlled with your stylus, from interacting with the NPCs as well as lifting objects and making Link to walk to a certain place. All the actions that Link can carry out are explained via a brief tutorial at the beginning of the game. Even though the game is full of action scenes, most of the time is spent solving the puzzles during our adventure. Some of them have a high difficulty level, but they are well implemented with a creative developing. Some of you will find these puzzles a bit repetitive, but they are always fun to solve as in every Zelda game. You will also have a new instrument called the Spirit Flute or Spirit Pipes, which is played by blowing through the DS microphone and it is necessary to solve some of the puzzles. Throughout the game you will have to learn some songs (just as in "Ocarina of Time") to be able to reach the dungeons. This is cool feature, but some songs are kinda hard to play. I had some trouble even with the first song since you need to have a very good timing with the amount of air you blow through the mic.
Two other features of the game are cool too. The first is how you drive the train. You have four buttons to control the speed of it: reverse, stop, speed up and go as fast as you can. You need to trace the route to follow on the map with your stylus and also be careful of all the enemies that will show up during your trip, which is not hard to do but sometimes you will find some unexpected surprises that can't be avoided. The other cool feature is the fact that the spirit of Zelda can take possession of some statue enemies in order to advance through your path, solve some puzzles or simply to walk over lava. Unfortunately this only works on the Spirit Tower, which is the central dungeon of this game as in "Phantom Hourglass" was the Temple of the Ocean King. But don't get me wrong, this time you don't have any time limit to beat the dungeon, so you can think cleverly without the pressure of the time at your back.
As in every Zelda game, the soundtrack is just fantastic. You will also find some very well-known themes of the franchise, but this time in a remixed form. Also, in order to follow the tradition, this game doesn't have any voice overs at all, but with the help of the classic subtitles you will feel like home. The length of the game is a bit vaster than the one from "Phantom Hourglass". You will live some really exciting moments that will make you wish to play more after you beat the game. There's also a multiplayer mode that nobody will probably want to play since it's not good at all and pretty limited but works perfectly to give the game a bit more of replay value.
Final Verdict - 9/10
I know that it is almost certain that all the Zelda fans are going to buy all the titles related to the saga. I just ask you not to make the mistake of seeing "Spirit Tracks" as just an extra portable title. "Link's Awakening" is enough proof that these versions are worthy enough and have distinguished the series since the beginning.