Why every Zelda game is the best AND worst in the series

They can't all be legendary. Or can they?

Why it’s the best Zelda ever: Thanks to its touch-screen-only controls, this could be the most accessible Zelda game out there (well, this AND Spirit Tracks). Instead of multiple buttons and items assigned to inventory slots, Phantom Hourglass relies solely on stylus input; tap where you want Link to go, tap enemies to attack them, draw your boat’s path directly on a navigation map and so on. The puzzles, dungeons and bosses of prior Zeldas are all here too, so veterans can’t complain about a lack of content for the sake of appealing to a wider audience.

Why it’s the worst Zelda ever: So yeah, those touch controls don’t always work properly, leading to a lot of unintentional movements or actions. How that’s supposed to lure more people in instead of, oh, let’s say dedicated buttons that always work when pushed, is beyond us. The biggest offense, however, is the Temple of the Ocean King, which you must revisit (and replay) several times throughout the game. Add that to even more Wind Waker-style sailing and there are plenty of reasons to sit this one out.

Brett’s take: A lot of Zelda fans I personally know ignored this, mainly because of the touch screen controls. Excessively negative, perhaps, but it’s true that the touching/sliding stuff didn’t always work, and that god damn Ocean King place is a menace. Just the thought of playing through that again makes me shudder. At least Linebeck was a cool addition to the Zelda universe, right?


Why it’s the best Zelda ever: Take all the positives of Phantom Hourglass, duplicate them and then slightly refine the touch-screen controls; you end up with a friendly, accessible Zelda that’s even easier to suggest to non-gamers. The train tracks, which at first seem limiting, are actually preferable to the open ocean of Hourglass, as they introduce a surprisingly fun minigame of avoiding evil, indestructible train cars howling down the tracks. Like most handheld games, Spirit Tracks drops the Ganon storyline, this time in favor of a “magical engineer” plot and a baddie right out of Maximum Overdrive. Weird, fresh and fun, while still retaining the all-important spirit of exploration. Plus this time Zelda herself is along for the ride as a constant companion. Link and Zelda, working together at last!

Why it’s the worst Zelda ever: Two touch-only Zeldas in two years? This is a case of too much too soon, as Spirit Tracks looks, plays and feels an awful lot like Phantom Hourglass. Granted, the Temple of the Ocean King is gone and the train tracks are slightly more fun to traverse than the open sea, but we really didn’t need another handheld Zelda so soon. Like the Oracle games, this feels like a stopgap solution, reusing an existing engine and assets to make a quick buck instead of letting the franchise breathe for a few years. We went five years without a Zelda while waiting for Ocarina of Time to arrive – would that be so bad today?

Brett’s take: It’s easy to dismiss Spirit Tracks right away. Link, on a train, in engineer clothes, fighting a demon engine? Sounds absolutely absurd. But the oddness helps make this stand out from Hourglass, which relied too much on Wind Waker for its ideas and direction. The final dungeon is a monstrous pain in the ass, but overall this is one of the better handheld Zeldas.


Why it’s the worst Zelda ever: Because it is.

Jun 30, 2011


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