Damir Halilović‘s Diary, 12/3/09

Dear diary… Yesterday was a good day. My copy of Spirit Tracks finally made its way into my mailbox. However, yesterday was a bad day as well. I forgot my DS charger at my parent’s house 70 miles away. Today, however, that mistake was also corrected and I stand now with the first impressions of what is probably the most anticipated game for me in the past six months.

Is it good? Is it bad? After about 5 hours of gameplay all I can say is… I’m not disappointed. Yet, I am also not amazed. It’s a Zelda game. You run around killing borderline-cute creatures, gathering items and fighting overly easy boss fights. Frankly, the stuff about the game being hard, the developers being baffled by the puzzles is all a load of bull, at least as far this part of the game is concerned. Then again, I’ve only finished the first temple.

Without going into too much details, the story fits the franchise nicely. It’s the cookie-cutter fantasy story, not unlike The Wind Waker had, and I’m sure crazy theorist hotheads will be able to rip it apart within days, if not hours.

The arguably biggest gameplay innovation was controlling Zelda in the armor. To be frank, each time I had to take control over her (Stealth sections yay!) I let out a deep, heavy sigh. It’s cumbersome, requires constant switching, and moving her feels like balancing a spinning plate on a stick.

However, the game isn’t bad. The puzzles are fun, the atmosphere is there and basically it’s the Zelda we’ve grown to love.

One amazing thing, however, is the music. I rarely notice music standing out this much in an initial run of a game, but my first playthrough of this was different. The music is fantastically arranged and sets the mood extremely well—much better than the tunes of Phantom Hourglass.

Playing the flute, though, is less amazing. I can see how blowing into the DS microphone could become very annoying down the road, but most, if not all of the songs are composed of 4-5 tones max, so it might not be so bad.

The pacing of the game seems perfect so far; the time spent on the overworld gathering information and trying to find a way to the dungeon versus actually running through the dungeon is all very well-balanced. As far as content goes, it certainly seems to deliver.

The latest I managed to do today, with all the other stuff I had going on, was to finish up the Forest Temple… The first thing I noticed is that there was a complete lack of map and compass in the dungeon.

I was quite startled by the fact that you find the dungeon item, like, 5 minutes in, and that it’s less of a dungeon and more of an area of”walking down corridors”. I was never in doubt of where I had to go next, something I dearly loved about older titles in the series.

The boss fight was, as you might guess, super easy. It’s still the same “use dungeon item to defeat boss” formula. However, the fight is nicely designed and quite enjoyable, albeit a bigger challenge wouldn’t have hurt.

But then again, it IS the first dungeon, so I’ll keep my mind open… for now.

Phil Stetson’s Early Impressions

Anyone who knows me will likely say that I am a rather vocal critic of Phantom Hourglass. Well, I usually don’t need to be as there isn’t too many in the Zelda community that hold it in very high regard. Either way, I was fairly tepid about Spirit Tracks. It looked similar, it seemed to play similar, the train looked silly and slightly boring, but I am happy to admit, this is not entirely the case.

I got the opportunity to play up to and a little past the Forest Temple, and I can say that it’s exceeding my expectations and far surpassing Phantom Hourglass, so far. Spirit Tracks starts off a little slow, with a leisurely train ride through Hyrule Field. It was incredibly boring, but I sort of forgave it because I knew they weren’t exactly trying to blow me away quite yet.

Either way, I’m sure most people who frequent this site know the beginning story. Chancellor Cole, Zelda soul sucking, recover body, spirit tower, trains, more trains, EVIL TRAIN. All that good stuff.

I’m just going to get down to brass tacks, though. The game is good, great even, but not completely perfect. If I was going to list my favorite thing, it would probably be how nice the controls are now. They’re incredibly simple and the one item I got, the whirlwind, was cool and easy to use. It could blow away purple death smoke, move keys from floating platforms to places I could pick it up, and often stun enemies. I sort of wish that they didn’t use the mic, as it got a bit annoying after a while and I am happy I was playing it in solitude, but it worked most of the time.

I also liked the Spirit Tower section as it was unique and fun, although the controls for Armor Zelda are a bit clumsy at times. But there were some fun puzzles centered around the fact that Link could jump on top of Armor Zelda and be toted around on her shield. Her controls could’ve used some work, but they still work as they should, even if a bit clumsy.

Another thing I love about the game is the atmosphere. It’s incredibly hard to describe this sort of thing, but the game just feels… different. The odd knock backs to old Zelda games included with the unique twists and turns makes for a very interesting experience. Hearing Chancellor Cole’s theme and being reminded of Majora Theme, the Pirate Crest of the Royal Family, the incredibly upbeat theme when driving the Train are all pleasant prods of nostalgia. And it does seem to me that Spirit Tracks has a truck load of nostalgia, but I also like that it doesn’t completely rely on it.

I still think the train is a bit hokey, but I can probably get over it. So far, Spirit Tracks is a fairly enjoyable game. It’s been a bit tricky here and there, and really easy at times too. But it keeps a good mix and makes me want to continue playing because of both gameplay and story. I just hope it can keep it up for another five temples.

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