Despite bumps, new 'Zelda' game picks up steamIt's easy to take a series like "The Legend of Zelda" for granted. The first game arrived on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1987, and with more than a dozen releases over 23 years, even the most dedicated "Zelda" fan can be forgiven for having skipped a game or two.
By: LOU KESTEN,Associated Press Writer , Worthington Daily Globe
It's easy to take a series like "The Legend of Zelda" for granted. The first game arrived on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1987, and with more than a dozen releases over 23 years, even the most dedicated "Zelda" fan can be forgiven for having skipped a game or two.
Some of those games — the original and 1998's "Ocarina of Time" — are justly regarded as landmarks. Some admirers prefer darker-tinged entries like 2000's "Majora's Mask" and 2006's "Twilight Princess." The one title that divided "Zelda" loyalists most was 2003's "The Wind Waker," which gave protagonist Link a younger, more cartoony appearance.
"The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks" (Nintendo, for the DS, $34.99) follows directly from 2007's "Phantom Hourglass" and shares the cel-shaded look of "The Wind Waker." That cuteness factor may fool you into thinking "Spirit Tracks" is kid's stuff, but be warned: It features some of the most ornery puzzles in the history of the franchise.
After all these years, Nintendo still has some fresh tricks up its sleeve. The biggest change is that Link has traded in his boat for a train, although navigation — you draw your route with the DS stylus — is similar to the technique in "Phantom Hourglass." The train is likely to divide fans again: Some will enjoy chugging around the mythical land of Hyrule, but I found it tedious.
The other big change is that Princess Zelda is finally a playable character — sort of. A ghostly form of the princess follows Link around, and in some dungeons she can possess mobile suits of armor. She's not always helpful, but she's good company.
And then there's the Spirit Flute, which awakens statues, uncovers treasures and restores missing railroad tracks. You have to blow into the DS microphone to play the flute, and it's one of the most irritating uses of technology that Nintendo has ever devised.
Indeed, "Spirit Tracks" is filled with such nagging aggravations. It's controlled entirely by a stylus, which is a cute way of showing off the DS technology, but sometimes you'd rather move Link around with the old-fashioned directional buttons. And at least a couple of hours are spent backtracking to sites you've already visited.
But the core elements of any "Zelda" game are as strong as ever. There are charming characters, witty dialogue and a compelling story. Discovering new territory — and the tools you need to conquer it — is as thrilling as ever. And the dungeons are filled with clever challenges that seem unsolvable at first — until you get that satisfying "aha" moment.
"Spirit Tracks" isn't one of those landmark "Zelda" games, but it is a worthy addition to the canon. Even though Link is well into his third decade, he's aging well. Three stars out of four.
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