There’s something ever so friendly and familiar about starting a new game on The Legend Of Zelda: Spirit Tracks. Whether it’s inputting your custom name for Link or visiting the Castle of Hyrule, everything feels as it should be. It’s as if your returning home after having spent a long vacation overseas. Normally I would criticise a game for resting on its laurels and refusing to improve its design structure, but somehow Nintendo makes it appealing. Many of the ‘Big N’s’ other portable franchises do the same; for example, in Pokemon you always will begin by receiving your first creature from Professor (insert random tree name here) in his laboratory. Logic yearns for me to hate the lack of creativity in these game designers but I wouldn’t want it be any other way – because it’s still incredibly fun.
The sense of nostalgia and familiarity taps perfectly into the mindset of Zelda fanboys like myself. Link is an elderly hero in the video game universe, dating back farther than most modern protagonists dare. Nods of approval in updated sequels such as Spirit Tracks act as a homage to the classics preceding it; a gaming insider’s reward for our loyalty to the house of Mario. Yet whilst the core remains the same, Eiji Aonuma walks the tightrope of originality by offering fresh gameplay mechanics, gadgets and puzzles. The first dungeon in Spirit tracks is memorable and spooky, but evolves with the whirlwind device that requires you to blow into the microphone. Traversing the world of Hyrule summons the same iconic imagery of adventure, only this time it’s aboard a train rather than Link’s trusty steed. It’s still the classic Triforce that we love and expect… just updated.
I’m a little way through The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (I’ve just entered the snow kingdom), but I’m already enjoying it as a portable outing. My brief session on Phantom Hourglass left me admittedly uneducated on the raw power that a Zelda title can churn out of the Nintendo DS. The size of the over world matches the scope of most rival RPG’s on the system, but trumps them by opting for a full 3D environment. By utilising the cel-shaded design that originated on the Gamecube’s Windwaker, Aonuma has cleverly managed to strip away all the detail and still retain delicate visuals. The art direction is perfectly suited to the title’s family audience, the wide array of colours and pastels conjuring a binary scene to the grim atmosphere in Twilight Princess.
Some of the cut scenes are a little ropey due to the minimal voice acting and heavy use of text boxes. This has become a running convention in the Legend of Zelda series though and will probably be maintained for many sequels to come. Suddenly giving Link some unexpected vocal chords would understandably shock and alter the voice that gamers have been forced to imagine over the years. The soundtrack is beautifully composed, with cheerful country pan pipes running as a theme throughout. Balanced between chiptune and a full blown orchestra, it does an effective job of updating Zelda’s classic audio themes.
Until I’ve finished the title I won’t offer a full written review, but I can vouch that it’s certainly one of the best Nintendo DS games that came out last year. Whether you’re a veteran of Hyrule or a complete newcomer, the scale and care that has been put into this game is well worth your attention.