|The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks|
|Genre||Adventures in train conducting|
|MtAMinutes to Action||7|
|Buy from Amazon|
The Legend of Zelda is an old and respected series of games. The brainchild of Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto, the series contains some of the best-loved games ever.
When a series continues this long, there's always a risk: either the games stay the same and get stale, or they innovate and don't fit in the series.
December 7 ushered in the latest iteration of the green-clad hero on the DS. Spirit Tracks is a direct sequel to Phantom Hourglass, which itself was a direct sequel to Wind Waker, making this the longest string of direct sequels for the franchise.
Set about 100 years after Phantom Hourglass, it features the descendants of the previous Link and Zelda. But what we want to know, is this game any good? Is it the same as Phantom Hourglass, but with a train instead of a steamship? Is driving a train any fun? What will the first hour of the latest Zelda game be like?
(minutes are in bold)
00 - I tap New Game and the first hour of The Legend of Zelda Spirit Tracks begins. I put in my name, then it asks me if I'm right or left handed. I wonder if it changes anything? I press Start and a cutscene commences.
01 - The style of the cutscene is similar to the opening of Wind Waker, except it's done in color mosaics. It's pretty stylish, and it tells of a war between the Spirits and the Demon King. The Demon was subdued and trapped in the earth with shackles and locked with the Spirit Tower.
02 - The Spirits returned to Heaven, leaving the humans to care for the world. The cutscene ends, and it turns out that Niko (from Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass) was telling the story, only now he's an old man. Link fell asleep during the story. Like all Zelda games starting with Wind Waker, Link is not wearing his green outfit. This time, he's wearing blue coveralls, leather gloves and a red cap.
03 - Niko is Link's roommate. O_o My mentor Alfonzo comes in, he looks like one of the pirates from Wind Waker. He picks me up and shakes me to wake me up. Today's the day I graduate from apprentice to Head Engineer; I have to see Zelda in the castle in order to graduate.
05 - I now have control, and leave the house. Link steps out into Aboda village, and a little girl says "Tap me!" O_o So I do, and Link talks to her. She asks me to get rid of some rocks from in front of her house, so I tap the rocks and he picks them up. I guess now's a good time to talk about the control scheme. Much like Phantom Hourglass, you hold the stylus on the screen in the direction you want to move. To interact with something, tap it. A boy challenges me to roll into a tree, which I do by double-tapping in the direction I want to roll. A beehive falls from the tree and the bees swarm around me.
06 - The boy says to run and jump in the water, so I take off running, but I apparently get to my objective, because a cutscene starts. Link is standing on a train platform (I'm still being swarmed with bees. I'm down to one heart from these nasties.) and Alfonzo brings the train out. He tells me I have to drive it the castle to meet Zelda. I have 300 seconds to get there.
07 - Link jumps onto the train (finally leaving the bees behind. I'm guessing it wasn't supposed to work like that.) and we pull away on the titular Spirit Tracks. Alfonzo describes the controls: A gearbox on the right sets my speed, and a rope blows the whistle. He tells me to ratchet it to top speed, which I do.
08 - Let's blow the whistle, shall we? It feels good, you grab the rope by touching it, then pull it down to blow the whistle. The train has four speeds: fast, normal, stop, and reverse. Alfonzo says reverse can also be used as an emergency brake. I'm not sure if slamming a train into reverse while moving forward at top speed is really a good idea, but whatever. A large pig is sitting on the tracks,and at Alfonzo's behest I blow the whistle and scare the pig away.
09 - We're coming to a split in the tracks, I have to choose which one to take before I get there. There another train on the left, so I take the right. Don't want a train wreck on my way to graduate to Head Engineer, now do I? I pass another platform on my way, I guess I can stop there later. The music is really nice: it's nothing like the Zelda Overworld theme, nevertheless it's very cheerful and fitting.
10 - I have a narrow miss with another train: at another split, a train barely makes it past before I get there. Maybe I should have used my brakes. I get to the castle with plenty of time to spare, I guess if I had gone at less than top speed, or maybe hit another train, the time could have been an issue. Although hitting another train seems like it would do more than make me late to the castle. On the approach to the castle we can see the Spirit Tower.
11 - I pull into the platform at the castle. Alfonzo tells me I passed with flying colors, and we step into castle town. Because I only have one heart, Link is panting. I break a couple of jars and refill my hearts.
12 - There're houses and shops, and the mailbox is bouncing. I tap it, and a little guy chugs up, making train noises with his mouth. He's the postman and his name is Postman. He hands me a letter, it's from the Postmaster about getting mail.
13 - Into the castle! Two guards: they're dressed in a green tunic much like what we'd expect Link to wear.
14 - Now I meet Chancellor Cole, who has two green top hats, one on the left and one on the right of his head. He says he thinks appointing new engineers is a pointless because the Spirit Tracks are vanishing. That's probably not a good sign. He takes me into the throne room, which has stained-glass depicting Tetra. Link bows as Zelda comes out, but gasps and blushes when he sees her.
15 - Zelda's Lullaby is playing, but Chancellor Cole yells at me for raising my head without permission. What a grump! Zelda gives me a Royal Engineer Certificate! I'm a full fledged engineer! She also slips me a letter and tells me to read it later and beware of the Chancellor. As I leave the Chancellor grins, revealing pointy teeth as discordant music plays. I'm putting my money on him being a bad guy.
17 - The letter asks me to come to Zelda's quarters as soon as I can. I copy her location onto my map and set off through the castle. I sneak along a ledge to get past the guards, who won't let me onto the second floor. As I step into Zelda's room, she's playing a pan flute. She says the Spirit Tracks are disappearing and something must have happened at the Spirit Tower.
19 - She said Cole won't let her leave the castle "for her own protection," but she thinks he doesn't want her to visit the tower. Zelda asks me to take her to the Tower in my train. She gives me a guard recruit uniform so the guards won't stop me. Oh look, it's a green tunic and pointy hat. She turns around so I can change, and now I'm dressed as Link! Zelda says "It looks... good enough, I suppose."
20 - I know have to sneak Zelda past the guards. The guards won't pay any attention to me, as they'll think I'm a new recruit, but they won't let Zelda out. I can draw a path for Zelda to follow, while I run around myself. One of the guards sees her and sends us back to her room. Basically the idea is to scope out the area with Link, then draw the path for Zelda to take.
22 - If I talk to a guard, it'll keep their attention momentarily. I try to slip Zelda past while the guard's back is turned, but Zelda walks slowly and she gets seen.
23 - I fail twice more before making it through. That was kind of tough for the beginning of a Zelda game. The concept is clever though, as a stealth game but your main character can move about freely.
24 - Now I'm in the garden, the guards here don't move around, so I can't just slip by when they're not looking. Fortunately they are easily distracted: if I stand near them they turn to face me indefinitely, while telling me I'm creeping them out.
25 - I slip easily around the next two guards, but now I'm at the gate. The guard here that the two rules of being a guard are not to let anything distract you and investigate any suspicious noises. He's a by-the-books kind of guy, as he won't turn to face me, and when I throw a rock behind him he comes over to check it out. I get Zelda by without him noticing.
26 - I distract one more guard by throwing a stone, and we dodge through the hedges and out the gate. That was really fun, a clever new game mechanic even though it took some getting used to as I got caught several times at first.
27 - We run up to Alfonzo, who I find out from Zelda used to be the captain of the guards and best swordsman in the kingdom. She asks him to accompany us to the tower, and he agrees.
28 - We set out on the train. The tower is really close to the castle, and a cutscene shows the Tracks disappear before we can get there. The train slides to a stop and we all fall out.
29 - A dark shadow covers them as a huge purple cloud tears apart the Spirit Tower and breaks the tower apart. That has to be less than ideal. The bottom section is still in place on the foundation, but three more sections spin in the air above.
30 - Another dark cloud. It's a big skull-headed train flying through the air! It flies right over their heads, and Link displays the range of his acting abilities by making some great facial expressions. Alfonzo pulls out a sword as Chancellor Cole's hats fly off to reveal horns on his head. A tall dangerous-looking guy with a mechanical hand steps up behind him.
32 - Cole is apparently not human: he hovers in the air as Alfonzo faces off with the mechanical hand guy, whose name is Byrne. Alfonzo draws his sword and they exchange blows, but Byrne punches Alfonzo, who hits the train and collapses.
33 - Link steps between Byrne and the Princess, but Byrne smacks him aside, without even using his mechanical hand. Cole zaps Zelda with some purple magic, and she collapses. A fairy-like light lifts from her body and floats away as Byrne carries Zelda away.
34 - We're back in the Castle, the guards carried us in. Link's alright but Alfonzo is injured, so it's up to me to find the princess.
35 - I head out of the infirmary, the little fairy-thing is back and turns into a ghost of Zelda. She tries to talk to the guards but they don't react, so she moves on and I follow her.
36 - I slip into Zelda's room, and she asks if I can see her. I can, so she apologizes for having Cole as a Chancellor for years without noticing he was a demon.
37 - They seem to have purposefully separated Zelda's spirit from her body. Zelda floated up to the ceiling while talking, and Link gasped. Zelda gives me the Spirit Flute, which she says originally belongs to the one who originally founded the kingdom, who I guess is Tetra.
38 - Zelda turns back into a fairy and starts to float away, then remembers we don't have a train anymore. She mentions a path from the back of the castle that leads to the Tower, so we head toward it.
39 - I find a chest that contains 20 rupees. The guard won't let me into the passage without a sword. He tells me to ask the recruit captain for one.
40 - I go back downstairs to the recruit room, which contains several young boys dressed just like me. The captain gives me the Recruit's Sword, and he gives me some guards to practice against.
41 - The combat is basic: tap an enemy to attack it, slash the stylus to do a wide swing, and draw a circle around Link for a spin attack. It's very responsive, even though it doesn't seem like it would be.
42 - Now that I have the sword I can go through the back passage. Outside, there's a guard being attacked by some puppy-looking things, and he calls for backup. Link makes short work of the cute enemies, and the guard points me toward the tunnel but warns that it's been covered by an avalanche. Of course.
43 - Ooh, bomb flower! Something's going to go boom. I kill an enemy by throwing a rock at it; owned! I guess I have to bomb the wall, so I use the tried and true method of hitting the wall with my sword until I hear a different sound, then throw a bomb flower at it. Ding-di-di-ding-ding-ding-ding!
44 - We're in the tunnel and Zelda appears in her ghost form. I guess she was riding around in my hat. A switch needs to be held down, so I tap a block and Link grabs hold and then I tap an arrow to tell him which way to move it. Unlike Phantom Hourglass, he holds on until you tap somewhere else, so you don't have to grab the block every time you push it. Minor, but nice.
45 - A chest contains a key to open a locked door. I had to fight through some chu chus to get to it.
46 - Several stones contain hints on the order in which to trigger switches, so I make the notes on my map. I have to use some more bomb flowers to destroy some big rocks in my way.
47 - The door opens after I trigger the switches in order (which was not 2, 3, 1). Two rats run out of a hole in the wall and Zelda freaks out. I kill the rats and she says she never wants to see them again.
48 - We come out of the tunnel and see the Spirit Tower, so we go in the bottom and find a stone train, the Spirit Train. An old women rolls up, she's riding in a steam powered wheelchair. Her name is Anjean and she's the so-called sage of the Spirit Tower.
49 - Anjean offends Zelda by telling her she looks hideous in that form. Turns out Anjean knew Tetra way back in the day.
50 - There are four temples that power the Spirit Tower, and the energy flows across the Spirit Tracks. Now that the tracks are gone, the Demon King's prison is weakening. Maladus is the name of the Demon King. Now that the Tracks are gone, Anjean is the only thing holding him in, and she can only hold on for so long.
51 - Cole and Byrne stole Zelda's body so Maladus could posses it when he broke free from his prison. This information freaks Zelda out again. Anjean tells us the Demon King spirit and Zelda's body are in the top of the tower, but we can't get to them without the Spirit Tracks being there, so we have to find the rail maps in the Spirit Tower to activate them.
52 - Zelda gets a little pushy, getting in my face, all ghost-like, and yelling at me that we have to stop them. She seems more concerned about her own body than the safety of the world at large. Of course the tower is now infested with monsters, and Anjean suggests that Zelda accompany Link up the tower.
53 - Zelda doesn't think she'll be much help, but agrees to go. I go up the steps in the back and around the next room to the only door, which it tells me is floor one.
54 - Zelda doesn't think one person can open the door alone, but no time to ponder because a giant thing in a suit of armor and wielding a huge sword appears! It's rushing at me, so I run out the door. That didn't go so well. Anjean tells us that the Phantoms are supposed to be guarding it against evil, but it might be possessed by an evil spirit. If I imbue my sword with three Tears of Light I can fight the Phantom.
55 - I head back into the room. The Phantom is marching around the room, so I slip behind him into a Safe Zone, which the game informs me the Phantom can't get me while in a safe zone. I find the Tears of Light quickly although I had to hit a switch and run to get the last one.
56 - Here comes the Phantom, I dodge around behind him and hit him with my glowing sword. A cutscene shows a shocked Phantom, who raises his sword (which is big and spiky) to attack Link. Zelda dives at the Phantom from behind.
57 - Zelda is now possessing the Phantom! She's enormous!
58 - Together we open the door. I can control her just like I controlled Zelda earlier. She can walk right over spikes, which is helpful, so I send her over to hit a switch that lowers them and allows me through. She can also attack enemies if I sic her on them. I could get used to this!
59 - A two-switch puzzle, I put Zelda-the-Phantom on one and I trigger the other. In the next room we face of against some rats, but Zelda-the-Phantom freaks out again and won't move until I kill the rats.
60 - In the next room is another Phantom, but that's the end of the hour.
Minutes to Action: 7
Favorite Thing: New gameplay mechanics, a must-have to keep the Zelda brand chugging along.
Least Favorite Thing: The combat is a bit simplistic and I can see it getting repetitive. As Zelda games typically feature quite a bit of combat, this could eventually derail the fun.
Design: Could these be the best graphics on the DS? It's fully 3D, with the charming art style of Wind Waker, and on the small screen you barely notice the lower poly count. A slight gray outline softens the edges of the cartoonish graphics. The music isn't quite classic Zelda, and I think it's a little bit better for it. They've really engineered a quality game.
Story: The story was different for a Zelda game, featuring an action cutscene and Zelda not getting captured (kind of). It's told mostly through dialog sequences interspersed with action. It was a little heavy on the talking, but the writing was good enough to make it entertaining. It also features an entirely different role for Zelda than any previous game, and she has more personality than she's ever had before, so I think they're on the right track.
Fun: It wasn't extremely exciting, but it was good and solid. There's a lot of talking, but getting to drive the train early on was nice, and the introduction of the new mechanics (Zelda-the-Phantom) helps keep things on track.
Keep Playing: Nothing can stop me.
Other Thoughts: This game brings a little bit of a steampunk element to Zelda, which I think fits well. The series has always some anachronisms, such as bombs and cameras, so a train isn't as out of place as it might seem. Anjean's steam-powered wheelchair is nifty, too.
Unlike some DS games, you don't have to be next to something for the tap to register. Tapping a rock from a distance causes Link run to the rock and pick it up. Also, some may remember in Phantom Hourglass the farther from Link you held the stylus, the faster he ran. This is much less remarkable in Spirit Tracks, which I think is an improvement. I don't know about you, but I tended to hold the stylus near the edge of the screen, meaning Link was always running at top speed, which sometimes is too fast.
The major control improvement is for executing a roll. On Phantom Hourglass, you had to scribble little circles near the edge of the screen, but it was hard to do consistently. In Spirit Tracks you just tap twice in the direction you want to go and Link rolls.
This game is completely one-handed: I played it with the DS resting on my desk with just my right hand to use the stylus. There are some shortcuts with the control pad, to bring up the map and items and such, but the touchscreen has icons for that as well.
The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks manages to keep many elements of a classic Zelda game, but polishes up the controls and adds enough new gameplay features to keep it interesting. The fact that it introduced the new mechanics in the first hour is a major plus; it has intrigued me enough that I plan on playing this game until the very end.