Games of 2009: The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

Souls survivor.

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks isn't my game of the year. Demon's Souls is. In fact Demon's Souls is my game of the decade. If I could, I would be Mrs Demon's Souls. But I've written and blithered and shared and pored over so many words about bloody Demon's Souls over the past eight months that I'm completely spent and literally everyone in my acquaintance is bored to death of hearing me talk about it, so instead I'm going to write about my second-favourite game of the year.

And it couldn't be more different. Demon's Souls is stoic, cruel, uncompromising, psychotic, black and grey and deep, blood red. Zelda Trains - I've been ordered by The Hierarchy to call it Zelda Trains, by the way, but I'm only doing it this once - is primary colours and wide-eyed children and cowprint piggies and choo-choos. Demon's Souls plops you unceremoniously into a horrible world full of things that are trying to murder you and take your things and gives you absolutely no guidance whatsoever. Spirit Tracks takes you by the hand, smiles widely and leads you through comfortable and familiar territory, pushing well-worn, well-loved toys into your hands at intervals with a kindly wink.

It's continually astounding to me that no matter how many Zelda games I play, I never get bored of the hookshot, the bomb and the boomerang. I typically get bored of games after about 20 minutes if I don't see something particularly interesting about them; I'm inordinately demanding that way, often to my own detriment. And yet here I am, tapping walls with a sword to see if they're hollow, just as I have since I was barely old enough to tie my own shoes.

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It's because the Zelda series doesn't rehash, it reinvents - it's a perfect mix of creativity and comfortable nostalgia, with just enough new items and mechanics woven into a familiar template to make it worth enjoying all over again, and enough knowing nods to its legacy to make you feel special for being so intimately familiar with it. The classic Zelda items and snatches of familiar music are childhood motifs, emblems that have become timeless.

All of that applies to any Zelda game. I play and enjoy all of them, and I will until they stop being made, because they're such an absolute foundation of my gaming context. But Spirit Tracks is particularly special because it wholeheartedly embraces the childish joy at the heart of the series in both its style and its construction; these are games about childhood, about exploration, the excitement of the unknown and joy of discovery that comes with each new item or de-fogged section of the map. Even by the super-kawaii standards of Wind Waker-style Zeldas, Spirit Tracks is lovely. It's bright and beautiful and expressive, and the tone is irrepressibly light-hearted and mischievous.

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