In the weeks before the upcoming release of Nintendo casual masterpieces Spirit Tracks and New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Nintendo decided to preview both titles around Australia, allowing members of the public such as myself to try out the new Zelda. Not one to scoff at such a rare chance, I carted myself down to the nearest Myer and patiently waited for my chance to play. In a Zelda fansite exclusive, I will give my impressions on the demo.
Most of these impressions will explain the contents of the demo, and I will tack on notes and thoughts at each interval, so if you don’t feel like reading what you already know, then here’s a basic rundown of the whole thing. The first thing I can really say that summarises the experience nicely is that, if you’ve played Phantom Hourglass, you’ve played Spirit Tracks. The controls, emphasis on casual players, and overall style of game is identical to Phantom Hourglass, as many predicted. The primary gameplay difference will be new items and greater control over the train than you had over the steamboat. Players who enjoyed Phantom Hourglass will enjoy Spirit Tracks; players who hated Phantom Hourglass will (probably) hate Spirit Tracks.
The Train Demo
In this demo, you’re put straight into the train and the objective is simply to get from Point A to Point B and then fight the boss without dying. There are four sections to this demo that you must get through before fighting the boss. At first, there are cows on the tracks ahead and you’re tasked with scaring them off with the horn, lest you run into them and your train takes damage. At this point you are also told that you can speed up, stop and reverse the train. This is obviously a very simple task and works as expected. A minor qualm right off the bat is that, even at full speed, the train still moves fairly slowly. This doesn’t really detract from the experience apart from, if your train gets destroyed, it makes redoing the whole demo that much more tedious.
Secondly, you’re tasked with destroying some enemies—what looks like mounted Bokoblins—further along the track with your onboard cannon. Passively, they will ride alongside your train and throw bombs at you; however, if you beep the horn at them (or shoot one of them), they will become aggressive and charge at you and ram your train, which I thought was a nice touch. However, here is my first real complaint: the aiming with the cannon is a little imprecise. I’m not sure if this is due to the momentum of the train or because the targeting sucks, but occasionally your bomb won’t hit its mark. In most cases this should be fine since it’s not that bad, but in the case of this demo there are initially three mounted enemies who each take 2-3 hits before being defeated, but each hit you take from them removes one of your five hearts. Since shooting at them makes them all come at you at once, because of the imprecise targeting it is quite easy to take a lot of damage from them if you don’t kill them off quickly.
In the third section, the splitting of tracks is explained and you are asked to choose a path to follow. There are two paths and each of them connect up again at the end of the section. If you feel like it, you can also switch back onto the other path and redo the section (or go back to the start of the demo) if you please. Each path has minor obstacles that you must shoot down; the first path is littered with Gohma inside a cave; the second path goes through some trees and you must shoot down Skulltula that drop and hang in front of the train. This portion of the demo is also fairly straightforward and works as expected, although I think the fact that you can go back to the start of the track is a fairly basic oversight on the developers’ part.
Finally, you are given a basic rail puzzle that you must clear before making it to the boss, which can actually be fairly tricky if you don’t pay attention to the puzzle the whole time. The object of this section is simply to navigate several track splits and make it to the end. However, the catch is that there are several bomb-trains on the track that will also randomly navigate the section—obviously, contact with one causes your train to explode instantly. Additionally, the other trains will go slightly faster than you even at full speed, so you cannot simply outrun them. A nice touch here is that if you die, you will be put at the start of the section, not the whole train demo, avoiding a lot of pointless reiteration. The trick to this section is watching the map the whole time, not the action. By watching the map you can tell where the bomb-trains are and it will even tell you what path the other trains will take when they get to a track split. The game alerts you as you come up to a split yourself, and there are no other enemies in this section, so there is no need to watch the main screen.
Once you make it to Point B, you enter a cave and finally fight the boss, a queen Gohma which will chase you until you kill it. Fighting it is fairly simple—all you need to do is keep shooting in the eye to fend it off and, eventually, defeat it. There are also powder kegs in the cave which can be shot to damage the Gohma. In my opinion it was a fairly anticlimatic ending to the demo, but it served to demonstrate well what kinds of trouble you’ll be getting into during the train portions of Spirit Tracks.
The Dungeon Demo
Much like the train demo, here you are thrown into a situation and explained the basics, in this case how to control your Phantom buddy. You’re told that you can direct him wherever you want and can call him back to you if need be, and you can switch the camera over to him if he’s offscreen so you can start controlling him that way. Fairly straightforward stuff.
A couple of notes on controlling the Phantom—Firstly, you can’t make him follow an infinite path, there is a limit to how far you can make him walk with each command. This is similar to the Boomerang in Phantom Hourglass. Secondly, unlike Phantom Hourglass’ Boomerang, after the path has reached its limit, you can “hold” the state and have the camera move around so you can see what’s on the current dungeon floor without physically exploring it. This seems like a fairly obvious flaw, so I’m not sure whether or not it’s intentional and may have a use in the final game. You can also use the Phantom to pick up minor items (rupees, hearts) for you, but he cannot open chests.
Initially you must fight four Red Chuchu and solve a basic switch puzzle where you have to put Link on one switch and the Phantom on the other in order to open the door. Then you’re given a second puzzle where you have to lower a fire by making the Phantom walk through the fire and hit a switch on the other side. Finally, you have to cross a section of lava with no apparent bridge, switch or other standard puzzle. The trick is to make the Phantom go in the lava and stand at a “dock,” whereupon Link can jump onto him and ride him across. There is also a Keese flying over the lava that will (probably) knock you off if it hits you. This first section is a good taster for the kinds of team puzzles you will have to get through using the Phantom, in my opinion. My only hope is that in the final game these puzzles will become infinitely complex and not simple such as the ones here.
A thing you will notice is that in controlling the Phantom you need to be precise—Link won’t jump onto him unless he is standing right up the the dock, and also around some narrow sections or corners it can be hard to draw the path properly because the Phantom won’t always end up exactly where you think it will, so sometimes you have to draw extra path just to make completely sure the Phantom will be right up to the wall or whatever.
Going up the stairs reveals a new kind of enemy that will run away from you and the Phantom. The trick is to maneuver the Phantom in such a way that, combined with Link’s movements, you can trap the enemies in order to get a hit in. Following this is another puzzle where the Phantom has to physically block flamethrowers with its body in order to allow Link to pass, and then both Phantom and Link will have to hit an orb each at the same time in order to lower a door and allow access to a chest with a key in it, allowing access to the next area. Again, very basic team puzzles. Down the stairs we go.
The next room has several Gold Chuchu in it, which Link cannot touch. In order to defeat them, you must command the Phantom to kill them while avoiding them as Link. In return, you get a new item, the Whirlwind. Using this, you create cyclones and shoot them in a direction by aiming with the stylus and blowing into the microphone. Also, you can use the Whirlwind to pick up the Phantom and move him, presumably over gaps in the floor, a nice feature. One thing to note here is that the description is slightly ambiguous—I personally understood it properly the first time, but my friend actually read the description out loud and it still didn’t sink in properly for him, so I had to explain it. Hopefully things like this are improved int he final game. In order to progress, the game has you shoot a cyclone to activate a wind switch and open a bridge. At the end of the bridge is a switch that opens a path back to the beginning of the dungeon, but you can ignore the switch and continue with the demo.
A few Red Chuchu later, and you come across another lava section. This time, you must navigate the lava while activating a wind switch and collecting a key at the same time. Activating the wind switch is fairly straightforward, but in collecting the key (which lands on a platform in the middle of the lava, out of reach due to fire surrounding it) your first instinct is to use the Whirlwind directly on it in a Hookshot-like fashion (thank Twilight Princess and the Gale Boomerang for this). However, the trick is to line up the key between you and the other side of the lava, and use the Whirlwind so it picks up the key and drops it on solid ground.
After the lava you find two locked doors, each with a switch behind it. You have to depress both switches behind these doors at the same time in order to make a bridge to the next area, but first you have to find a second key. In the next section, there are four orbs which you must hit in succession (the order is given to you on a stone plaque), but they’re arranged with a wall between them and the time limit is so short that you cannot simply run around to each one. The trick is to make the Phantom go for two on one side of the wall, while you make Link hit the other two in the right order simultaneously. A chest appears containing the needed key.
In the next area is a room with several corridors and one of the new enemies that run away. In order to get the key it’s holding and progress, you have to trap it between Link and the Phantom in order to kill it. You can use the map in this case to tell where it is in the room. Once you have retrieved the key, the next area has you fight a Zora Warrior. The room has a similar layout to the previous room, but instead of walls making corridors there are lava pits. The Zora itself can’t be hit by Link because it’s well shielded at the front and will always face him. The trick is to distract him by attacking him directly with the Phantom, then running around during this to attack him from behind with Link. Once he’s defeated, a chest with a Heart Container appears and the demo ends.
The Boss Demo
Easily the shortest of the three demos, the boss demo puts you in a room on a linear path and has you fight the boss at the end. In this demo you don’t get to use the Phantom, unfortunately. At the start, you get the Whirlwind again and have to use it to clear some poisonous gas in order to progress. After this, there is a puzzle involving a new larva-looking enemy that explodes when you hit it twice. You have to activate a wind switch to open a bridge, but blocking the switch are cracked walls. You must hit the enemy once to “activate” it, then use the Whirlwind to detonate it on the cracked walls, opening the path. Then you can use the Whirlwind on the switch and enter the Boss’ room.
The boss is a giant beetle, and the fight encompasses two phases. The arena is a platform that you can jump off of, with pots around the outside of it. During the second phase of the fight, the camera follows behind Link in a 3rd-person fashion similar to other 3D console Zeldas, although the item usage remains very linear ala the 2D Zeldas.
In the first portion of the fight, you have to hit its backside to damage it. However, its backside is covered in poisonous gas, and he will try to face you the entire time. You have to try to run around him, and eventually he’ll try to ram you and hit the wall. While he’s stunned you can use the Whirlwind to clear the gas off his back and hit his weak point. After he takes enough hits in this way, he will take to the skies.
During phase two, the giant beetle will drop three of the new exploding larva enemy and then swoop down at you. In this phase you have to stun the larva, then use the Whirlwind to whip them up and hit the giant beetle with them as he swoops down. Because of the 3D perspective of this phase and the 2D style of the items, it’s kind of awkward to aim the Whirlwind here, but it works reasonably well still nonetheless. In any case, this stuns it and allows you to get hits in, eventually defeating the beetle. The demo rewards you with a Heart Container and ends.
All up, the three demos are about an hour of gameplay if it’s your first time figuring it all out and you don’t get stuck anywhere. While the game is, in essence, Phantom Hourglass 2, it does introduce new items and enemies and improves overworld navigation with the train, even if making it more linear. There is also increased creativity in puzzles thanks to controlling the Phantom.
Something to mention is that a lot of older, uncommon enemies seem to be making an appearance; my friend noticed this and like it a lot, but personally I’m not so sure about it; I’d rather wait till release and see how the final game turns out before making that judgement
Hopefully the issues I mentioned, mostly regarding stylus accuracy, are fixed, and other issues addressed; if they’re improving over Phantom Hourglass, which I loved, then I’m looking forward to Spirit Tracks quite a bit, despite the “trainz” casualfag stigma this new Zelda seems to be attracting.