The Spirit Train Is Coming Through!
June 9, 2009 – Although the new Zelda game was confirmed to be in development at this year’s E3, it was not formally announced. However, even though this future title did not make an appearance, we were treated to a play session with the upcoming Legend of Zelda handheld: Spirit Tracks.
The core dungeon puzzling gameplay of this title is very similar to 2007’s Phantom Hourglass, but with one very notable exception. Link now has a very large suit of armor following him around. You can use this suit of armor to walk through hotspots, block traps, and step on otherwise inaccessible switches. The level we saw was actually pretty simple, but it showed off some of the basic gameplay that we have all come to know and love from the Legend of Zelda series.
The control scheme in Spirit Tracks is all stylus-based, which works well if you have played Phantom Hourglass. If not, dragging Link around with the stylus can take some getting used to. One cool thing that they did with the control is they used the trail drawing mechanic used in Phantom Hourglass and applied it to your phantom counterpart. Since you will be in control of both him and Link for the duration of the game, you have to control the Phantom by selecting him and then drawing a path for him to follow, highlighting any switches or other items he needs to hit along the way. The control scheme feels very tight, and controlling two characters at once actually is a lot easier than it sounds.
After we wandered around the dungeon for a few minutes solving puzzles and pulling switches, we decided to try out the game’s travel mode. Since the name of the game is Spirit Tracks, it is all but assumed that the train system will be very prominent in the gameplay. The actual train riding mechanic is done in a sort of mini-game style, and you’ll have several objectives to complete during your train runs.
The first order of business will be, of course, to get your speed up. You can do this by sliding a train gear shifter on the right side of the screen. Of course, sliding up will increase your speed, and sliding down will decrease your speed. After we reached an optimum speed level, we then were presented with an obstacle in the form of an animal standing on the tracks. This animal was a cute and cuddly cow, so we couldn’t just run him over. Using a touch-screen rope, we were able to blow the train’s whistle nice and loud to scatter the cute cow, as well as some other animals who had decided to take up residence on the train tracks.
After all the animals were cleared off of the tracks, we were presented with a new set of animals who were darker in color and a little less cute. Of course, this means that these animals are supposed to be destroyed! This is where the train’s big cannon comes into the play. You can shoot enemies on and around the train tracks by targeting and shooting with the stylus. Taking out enemies is very easy, and the train’s cannon was powerful enough to take out the enemies in the demo with only a few hits.
Although I had lots of fun with the puzzling, I have to say that I was not immediately impressed with the train mechanic. It was amusing to play through the first time, but if the train is heavily implemented into the game, I can see where it might get a little monotonous or annoying if your only goals on the train will be to blow the whistle and shoot the cannon. I am still hopeful that the mechanic will evolve, but as it stands, the train aspect of the game feels a little extraneous to the core dungeon-puzzler gameplay.
Though I was a little bit skeptical of The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks when it was first announced earlier this year, after finally getting some hands-on time with this game, I have to say that I was really impressed. Instead of just being a Phantom Hourglass or Wind Waker Clone with a train in the middle, this title looks like another solid entry in the Legend of Zelda series, and I can’t wait to try the full version when it releases this fall!
Little Green Conductors
May 21, 2009 – In many ways, Wind Waker for the GameCube was a major departure for the Zelda series, but it was one that paid off. An amazing and expansive adventure wrapped in a colorful, cartoonish, cel-shaded world proved to be a welcome change of pace for many longtime Zelda game followers. Though it wasn’t a big surprise that Nintendo eventually decided to continue the game with a proper sequel, the decision to do so on the Nintendo DS was a serious shocker.
Phantom Hourglass turned out to be a tremendously ambitious and subsequently impressive effort. With a totally new Zelda game sporting the same slick, cel-shaded style now officially in the works for the DS, fans of the little guy in green have a lot to get excited about.
It’s not entirely clear whether The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks will be a direct sequel to Phantom Hourglass or simply a spiritual successor to the runaway handheld hit. Judging from the colorful teaser trailer, it appears to utilize the same game engine and much of the same touch-centric gameplay that players enjoyed in Phantom Hourglass. The likelihood of a story connection between the two is a pretty safe bet, but Nintendo could always decide to throw us for a loop with a few surprises. As it currently stands, Spirit Tracks already appears to have some distinct differences over the last DS Zelda game.
Jiving with the game’s tentative title, it appears the island hopping, oceanic voyages that dominated Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass have been ditched in favor of a completely new mode of transportation. In-game footage released at GDC 2009 shows Link donning a conductor’s hat and suit at the helm of a suped-up train as it barrels down tracks laid out through lush, green terrain. The rail-based vehicle is armed with the familiar cannon that can deter foes with explosive volleys and likely be put to other helpful uses. There’s also a whistle that can be used to signal you’re approach and possibly even drive friendly animals off the tracks to keep them from being inadvertently squashed. Control-wise, you can adjust the train’s speed using the stylus on a small interface located on the right side of the touch screen and switch tracks when you come to branching paths.
Hyrule seems to be decked out with a snaking network of interconnected railways that allow you to get from one location to the next. Additional details about whether you can upgrade the train, lay out your own tracks, or adventure on foot or horseback, haven’t been released at this point. Additionally, we’re interested to see exactly how integrated the railway system is – especially considering how important ocean adventuring was in the past two cel-shaded games and how it offered numerous mini-game-like opportunities for item collecting and treasure hunting. The inclusion of rails is a major change-of-pace and clever twist that will likely offer some intriguing new options for players.
Beyond exploring the world above, Spirit Tracks will feature the franchise’s trademark dungeon spelunking. These subterranean dwellings will be packed with dangerous adversaries to face and new treasures to obtain. Classic items like the boomerang will make a return alongside more powerful accessories. The trailer footage shows Link being able to direct and control the hulking, armored dungeon guards from Phantom Hourglass using the touch screen – an ability that was only previously available in multiplayer matches. Another new weapon unveiled is a small fan gun that can unleash cyclones. These small whirlwinds can be used to stun enemies or pick up and carry items over short distances, undoubtedly playing heavily into the puzzles to be found throughout the underworld. Link will also sport numerous other items and crucial equipment, though details on the rest of his arsenal are being kept under wraps at the moment. Expect a mixture of old and new goodies.
Phantom Hourglass made great use of the extra visual real-estate from the DS’s second top screen, and Spirit Tracks will follow suit. The epic boss encounters against giant foes that towered high above Link (occupying both screens) will return in full force. In one brief clip, Link faces off against an enormous insect beast with giant pincers and a tough carapace. Using the fan gun propelled the creature high into the air before crashing it down on its back to reveal a weak spot in its hindquarters. Hopefully the development team will keep up a strong variety of boss encounters instead of relying on familiar fare.
There’s a lot still to learn about Spirit Tracks, but it already has our mouths watering and palms sweating for some hands-on playtime. We’re crossing our fingers Nintendo will roll out a playable demo for E3 next month, and you can be sure we’ll deliver the goods with our impressions as soon as we can get our mitts on this one.