Spirit Tracks Might Be the Most Underrated Zelda Game Ever

Spirit Tracks
Spirit Tracks

Finally, after years of waiting, the sequel to what is considered by many to be the best ever Legend of Zelda game, Breath of the Wild, is due to be released. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom lands on May 12th, 2023, and looks to be an exciting and intriguing sequel to the Switch and Wii U modern classic.

With a game series as long and comprehensive as The Legend of Zelda, there’s many great games, some bad games, and some games that have been totally forgotten by time. For now, we have to wait for Nintendo to pull their finger out and finally get Wind Waker HD launched on Switch, but there is one other Zelda title that I’d love to see remade.

That game is the forgotten and underrated 2009 Nintendo DS release, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks. Those annoyed that Link got a freaking motorbike in Breath of the Wild’s DLC, The Champions’ Ballad, should look away now because Spirit Tracks introduces trains to Hyrule. Set 100 years after Wind Waker, and a direct sequel to Phantom Hourglass, Spirit Tracks tasks Link with restoring the titular spirit tracks, which Link can also ride his train on, and prevent the evil Chancellor Cole from resurrecting the Demon King Malladus.

Much like many DS games, especially ones developed by Nintendo themselves, Spirit Tracks makes great use of the touch screen and stylus. The stylus/touch screen moves Link around and attacks foes, as well as interacts with puzzles and anything else in the world. It can also be used to draw the paths for items such as the boomerang, or to direct the train or move statues.

Spirit Tracks, of course, contains that staple of Zelda games: the dungeons. Much like all Zelda games, each dungeon is distinct, and often has unique puzzles, in some cases requiring specialist equipment to navigate. Likewise, each boss is different and requires varying approaches to overcome.

The Legend of Zelda series has generally been of a high quality, but another reason that may be a contributing factor to the collective amnesia when it comes to Spirit Tracks, is its review scores. It holds a highly respectable 87 on Metacritic, so why do so few people talk about it? Spirit Tracks, regardless of its high average review score, is still below average for a modern Zelda title. It sits 13th out of 17 mainline entries in the series, and when you consider that the most recent new Zelda console releases scored 97 (Breath Of The Wild), 95 (Twilight Princess) and 93 (Skyward Sword), you can see why Spirit Tracks might feel like a step down in the eyes of some.

But you have to take into account that Spirit Tracks is not your everyday, common Zelda title. It’s something familiar, yet different, The Legend of Zelda with a unique twist, if you like. For instance, according to the user reviews on Metacritic, one of the main criticisms is the lack of freeform open exploration of the overworld. This feature has been present in most Zelda titles to date, and it takes a very different form in Spirit Tracks.

Spirit Tracks sees you navigating your way around the overworld in your train, riding the tracks to wherever you need to go. This probably feels limiting to some die hard Zelda fans, but for me, it feels like a fresh take on the world. Battling enemies on the overworld sees you taking them on with the train’s almighty cannon, making this feel somewhat akin to Zelda crossed with Choo Choo Charles.

In the graphics department, Spirit Tracks uses those ‘big headed’, cel-shaded Wind Waker-esque designs that were so controversial when they were first revealed. In a similar fashion to Phantom Hourglass, it moves the camera position from the (almost) top down ‘Link to the Past style’ view to a slightly more angled position allowing you to see more of the 3D world.

Long time Legend of Zelda composer Koji Kondo is on hand for Spirit Tracks, and the musical quality is a big improvement over its predecessor. While, as you might expect, the sound quality isn’t as good as modern day Zelda soundtracks due to Spirit Tracks needing to be small enough to fit onto a DS cartridge. Despite this, it’s still considered to be one of The Legend of Zelda’s finest soundtracks.

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is a unique and strange entry into the franchise, and that is exactly what makes it so great. Its impressive use of the DS touchscreen, wonderfully designed dungeons and emotive story makes Spirit Tracks a fantastic entry into the Zelda series, and is possibly the best handheld version of the game available. Even all these years later, it’s well worth digging out that old DS, charging it up, and chugging your way around Hyrule.

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