“I need a Zelda chaser,” I told Ch00 when I preordered Breath of the Wild. “Spirit Tracks was enough to ruin the series for me.”
Yes, I was exaggerating, but we need to talk about how bad the game was. There have been cases where games I knew were going to be bad turned out to be amazing, against all logic. This was not one of those cases. This was serving penance for ever buying this game. Have you ever watched the Super Mario Bros is Frustrating video? The player lists things that the (modded) game is worse than.
This is worse than Ann Coulter. FUCK.
This is … this worse than a fucking R.L. Stine book.
This is worse than an episode of Family Guy.
This shit is worse than Panic! at the Disco
This is worse than reading YouTube comments.
This game is also worse than all of those things. Spirit Tracks is absolutely worse than reading YouTube comments, and I’m not sure what could be more damning. I spent a lot of this game wondering who would ever think this was a good idea. That’s not actually accurate: I spent a lot of this game CURSING the people who thought it was a good idea. There was no part of the game that felt like a joy. My only joy came at the moment that I beat the final boss, and that wasn’t the clean joy of overcoming a challenge in a game — you know the one, when you realize how great it is that you never have to execute that pixel perfect fight ever again? No. It was the joy where I took the cartridge and dropped it in the soapy sink and then the trash so no one would have to play it again.
It sounds like I’m maybe exaggerating. But consider. Like a handful of other games, Spirit Tracks was designed to take advantage of all the “cool” features the Nintendo DS has. At some point, some game makers thought, hey, buttons are old school. Let our players navigate using a stylus! It will be Fun and New.
It’s not fun and new.* Imagine holding your ds with one hand and frantically guiding your little Link around his world with a tiny plastic stylus. Bad enough to have to navigate there, but all your attacks are made using the stylus and also, in some cases, the microphone. Imagine it, just IMAGINE, trying to aim your attack while hunched over this tiny little device and puffing frantically into the microphone. Oh my god, I’m having flashbacks and wishing I had burned the cartridge. In acid, maybe.
The hardest part for me was the goddamn pan flute. Listen, learning songs is sacred in many Zelda games. Ocarina patterns, I gotcha, I feel that. Muscle memory takes over. But to play the flute, you have to move it across the screen using your stylus while playing the notes (via breath in the microphone) in rhythm. Fine if the notes are right next to each other, but when you have to skip notes it becomes a frantic clumsy race to move the thing without puffing multiple notes, or the wrong note. Meanwhile your impatient teachers sigh and ask you if you were even LISTENING Link, do it again.
Then there’s the central premise of the game: the trains. In this game, people travel between cities using train tracks, which are magically disappearing under the influence of our villain, whose name I don’t remember and don’t care about. At the castle, Zelda‘s adviser is a this totally innocent looking jackass, Chancellor Cole. To her credit, Zelda doesn’t trust him, but apparently everyone else does because Hylians are fools.
In a series of baffling events, Link becomes an “adult” by earning his train engineer badge from Zelda. He rescues her from the castle, but they are attacked by Cole and his sidekick. Cole steals Zelda’s body for reasons unknown, but her spirit remains to help Link on his adventure to retrieve her body and restore the tracks.
You gain access to the temples of this world by completing levels in the central Spirit Tower. Here, Zelda can help Link by taking control of various mechanical soldiers. In case controlling one character wasn’t bad enough…It doesn’t help that Zelda in this game is a bit of a whiny baby, agreeing to help only after the Ancient Anjean chides her.
Navigating the world means travelling by train, where you have to avoid ghost/demon trains which will one shot you, and also kill various things (machines, evil animals) that attempt to attack you. It’s horrible. It takes what feels like HOURS to move between places, and even when you unlock teleportation, you have to go to specific gates to teleport between zones.
Puzzle wise, the game is passable. Temples aren’t laughably easy, but they certainly aren’t difficult — possibly to counterbalance the sheer difficulty of attack/navigation. There were all sorts of extras I could have done, but I had zero interest. I don’t even know why I made myself finish this abomination.
Don’t play this game. Let it rot. It’s not even available new anymore, which is how it should be. Let it disappear as if it was never part of the Zelda universe. Save yourself.
*To be fair, I’m playing The World Ends With You right now, which also has you fight using your stylus. I’d prefer not to, but I get it — the variety of attacks you can use mean that it’s necessary; the buttons are also reserved for controlling your partner. There, at least it feels appropriate. There’s no need for it here.