Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 - A Zelda Year in Review




To appreciate the year 2009 we just have to take a look at the previous year. 2008 was a very silent year regarding Zelda, there were no new Zelda games coming out, not even re-releases of old games and nothing at all was known about the upcoming Zelda games, besides the fact that they were working on a new game for the Wii. The only thing we got was Super Smash Bros. Brawl, where the Zelda franchise played an important role. The year, where Ocarina of Time celebrated its 10th birthday, was the most silent year for the Zelda franchise since the mid-90s. The only thing left was speculation and my first article on this blog was about the future of Zelda. I predicted another Nintendo DS Zelda and the release of Majora's Mask on the Virtual Console amongst other things.

In March 2009 the silence was finally broken. The newest game in the series, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, was announced for the Nintendo DS and would be released at the end of the year. It was topic of much debate, whether the train idea will fit the Zelda universe or not. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask then was also announced and released for the Virtual Console, it was one of the most anticipated titles for the Virtual Console service at that time. And unlike the version from the Collector's Edition on the Nintendo GameCube, the Virtual Console worked fine and was a perfect reason to replay this amazing game.

In June then Nintendo showed us the first artwork of the upcoming Zelda game for the Wii. And the fairy girl, that resembles the Master Sword, was the subject for a lot of speculation.

Also, in Japan Tingle got two more games made by Vanpool, a collection of DSiWare applications and the sequel to Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland, called Tingle's Balloon Trip of Love, which became more of a point and click adventure. It is still unclear, if the new Tingle games will be released outside of Japan.

Next to Majora's Mask, the first Super Smash Bros. game also made it on the Virtual Console. Europe got it in June, while the US got it at Christmas. It doesn't have as much Zelda content as Brawl and it feels very outdated, but it might be still worth a look.

In December 2009 Spirit Tracks was finally released and despite all the previous skepticism it managed to please and surprise Zelda fans with some creative puzzles, good sidequests, an interesting story and a great soundtrack.

2009 in overview:
  • In March The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks was announced at the GDC
  • In April The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask made its come back on the Virtual Console
  • The first artwork of "Zelda Wii" was shown at E3 2009
  • In June Super Smash Bros. was released on the Virtual Console
  • In June the Tingle Pack was released in Japan for the DSiWare service
  • In July Color Changing: Tingle's Balloon Trip of Love was released for the Nintendo DS in Japan
  • In December The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks was released world wide

About Hyrule Blog

Since there was more and more to talk about Zelda and Zelda is my biggest and longest lasting hobby, I decided to transform this blog from something chaotic into a pure Zelda blog, called "Hyrule Blog". The change was the right thing to do and I had a lot of fun writing about Zelda. My personal highlights this year were probably the BS Zelda Tour, my Rail Diary and a series of interesting articles. Be sure to check everything out.

What to expect from 2010?

2010 will be all about the new Zelda game for the Wii. Nintendo aims to show something at E3 2010 and if we're very, very lucky, the game will be released by the end of the year. But considering the latest (confusing) news, that they haven't even decided the art style yet, a 2011 release is much more likely. My prognose is, that we're getting Zelda for Wii Christmas 2010 at the earliest and Christmas 2011 at the latest.

Besides Zelda Wii it should be interesting to know, what the Nintendo DS Zelda team will be working on, now that Spirit Tracks is finished. Will they simply join the main team to work on Zelda Wii or will they approach a new project? Maybe a classic 2D Zelda for Wii(Ware)? Or a third Nintendo DS Zelda? (Doubt that.) Whatever it is, it'll be nice to know.

As for the little things next to the big main titles I expect Tingle's Balloon Trip of Love to be released in Europe this summer. And I'm still positive, that Ocarina of Time: Master Quest will be released for the Virtual Console sooner or later. But they might save it as a teaser when Zelda Wii comes out. Also, by now it looks like Nintendo has no interest in releasing GameBoy games on the DSi's download services. It's a shame, but it still can't be ruled out completely and if it really would happen, then there are some Zelda classics back in the spotlight including the fan favorite Link's Awakening. Or they save it for the next handheld generation, whenever that will be. And maybe Aonuma gets his way and makes "Link's Crossbow Training Plus" or another spin-off title.

Here on Hyrule Blog I will continue writing articles. The last two months were all about Spirit Tracks and I saved some ideas for new articles for the next year. I'm also thinking about doing something more casual like a small thought every day in contrast to the bigger articles. But I'm not sure yet how to play it off. And I want to say thank you to everyone, who is reading my blog. Well, I mostly write it for myself, simply because I love writing about Zelda, but I regulary get some feedback and it's nice to know, that some Zelda fans out there actually enjoy reading my blog. Thank you and Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Aonuma and Link's Crossbow Training 2




This is old news, but I've been offline over the holidays, sorry. In the current Games Magazine issue Aonuma told us the following:

"To tell you the truth, I actually wanted to create Link's Crossbow Training 2, I thought that we should do something more and better in the field of the first person shooter, based on our experience of the first game."

"For example, I was thinking that maybe we could intensify the multiplayer mode. The original game was really just a solo game but I thought that we could add a true multiplayer mode with multiple users playing together, from remote areas, over the Wi-Fi Connection."

"The fact of the matter is that a lot of people inside Nintendo insisted that I should work on a new Legend Of Zelda title rather than working on more Crossbow Training."


Well, thank Din that someone over there at Nintendo's still has brains. No would want Nintendo to waste more time on this, while they should put all energy in Zelda Wii. They can still do this later. Well, I see Aonuma's intentions here, but the problem more or less is, that the first game simply was rushed. A multiplayer, that could be played simultanously (like the target shooting in Wii Play), and some more levels (Forest Temple, Goron Mines or Lakebed Temple for example) would have worked wonders. Which is why I would have expected a "Link's Crossbow Training 2" to be more like a "Link's Crossbow Training Plus", an expansion that includes all the levels from the first game and which makes the first game obsolete.

Also, when Aonuma says that he wanted to make another first person (shooter) game, then you can be sure, that Zelda Wii probably won't end up being a first person adventure game. Because otherwise he already would do enough in the field of first person gameplay. So, everyone who is still scared about a possible first person Zelda, might have another reason to relax here.

Source: ZeldaInformer

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (Review)




Spirit Tracks is the newest game in the The Legend of Zelda series and when the first trailer came out at the Game Developer Conference this year, the reactions of the Zelda Community were rather hostile. Some simply didn't like the fact, that it's going to be a direct sequel to Phantom Hourglass, a game some claim to be the worst game in the series. And others thought, that the train idea was ridiculous and that it just doesn't fit in a Zelda game. I on the other hand was quite positive about the game since the start. I wanted another Nintendo DS Zelda, because I enjoyed the touchscreen controls and I saw a lot of potential in Phantom Hourglass. Potential, that Nintendo was going to harvest. By now, after the Ghost Zelda trailer and the release of the game the opinion of the Zelda community about this game became rather positive. ZeldaInformer called it "the best Zelda since The Wind Waker", for some Zelda fans it's already in their list of top Zelda games, but I'd say that's because the current euphoria.

Here's what I think how the game performs in each individual category.

Story

Stories of videogames should have two characteristics, short but interesting. There is nothing worse than a wanna-be movie videogame, that leads you from one cutscene to another. Something like Twilight Princess, it was like a bad Zelda movie. In every single cutscene the player doesn't have control over the game, it also leads to a more linear game, just because the developers want to tell their stupid story. And video game developers are bad story tellers. However, the story of Spirit Tracks played out quite well. There's some story in the beginning of the game during the tutorial phase and there's the rest of the story at the end of the game, when you fight the bad guys. The rest of the game, you are left alone, so you can play the game and figure the rest of the story details out for yourself. It's exactly like it should be.

The story itself can be quite interesting, but also a little disappointing. What I really enjoyed are all the references to the previous generation, especially Niko, who even gives you items used by the Hero of Wind. It made the whole generations thing look much more solid. The villians are great, all scenes with chancellor Cole have this twisted Majora's Mask feel to them and Byrne/Staven was one badass character. He's someone, with whom you want to fight with and that's great. Just Malladus was a little weak, he was either a simple Ganon clone or a not self-aware reincarnation of Ganon. And he really wasn't driving the story. Who was driving the story was Zelda herself, it was a nice twist to have Ghost Zelda follow you around as your sidekick, even though that she could be a little bit annoying here and then. The story itself probably won't win an Oscar and it's pretty much the same story, that we got in many Zelda games. Someone threatens Hyrule and wants to resurrect an ancient evil (Ganon). We got that before with Agahnim in A Link to the Past or Zant in Twilight Princess.

Gameplay & Controls

If you've played Phantom Hourglass, you get the picture. Touchscreen controls, bird's eye view during the action parts and 3D gameplay during the train tours and some of the boss battles. New is a more extensive use of the microphone to use the Whirlwind and Spirit Pipes items, but it's actually more fun than it sounds.

During a part of the final boss fights my touchscreen went totally crazy and it was a real nightmare to play this part, however, this was only my experience and seems to be a problem with my Nintendo DS system, no one else reported something similar. It's just strange, that it ONLY happens during this fight and nowhere else.

The Train and the Overworld

Probably the most controverse feature of the game is the train. The idea behind it is pretty much having the steam boat from Phantom Hourglass on land. It works fine and it's actually much more entertaining than the boat rides. There's more to see, more to do and it's fun blowing the horn. But there are some downsides, too. The whole idea about the rails, that have disappeared and need to be resurrected, make the game very linear. In addition of that you have invincible trains, that you need to dodge, limiting the already limited freedom even more. Well, during the later half of the game, when you've unlocked most of the tracks, you hardly notice this anymore, but it's an issue during the first half. Also, the graphics during the train parts can be quite ugly like oversized pixels and 2D trees. In Phantom Hourglass the ocean world was much more simpler, but it looked decent. In Spirit Tracks there is much more to see, but what you see isn't always as pretty. But at least the Phantom Hourglass inspired Ocean Land looked fine, especially the underwater part.

But the biggest problem with the train was the speed. It's going very slow and there's no instant warping like the golden frogs in Phantom Hourglass. You only have the Warp Gates in certain locations, but their placement doesn't help you a lot, mostly just for certain sidequests. Travelling through Hyrule takes a lot of time.



The different areas, dungeons and villages in the game are pretty much just like islands in the water. Just with fields around them instead of water. It somehow reminded me of Zelda II, where the villages, dungeons and so on were just small places of a much larger map. It gave the whole world a little more magic to it, because it left certain parts to your imagination. While you go on train you will sometimes ask yourself things like what's behind that mountain or where could the other path lead. And sometimes you are even going to find out by unlocking new secret tracks and stations.

Game Course

The game is very linear. Go to the Tower of the Spirits, unlock more tracks, go to the next Sanctuary, unlock more tracks, go to the next dungeon, unlock another section of the Tower of Spirits, repeat. It's repetitive and gets boring fast. However, later in the game you will be so busy doing all the sidequests and exploring secret areas, that you hardly notice this any more.

The Dungeons

You don't have to be a Zelda expert to notice, how overused the elemental dungeon themes already are. You can already tell from the dungeon names: Wooded Temple, Blizzard Temple, Marine Temple, Mountain Temple. The whole cliched Forest, Fire, Water and Ice Temple thing was introduced in Ocarina of Time and since then, every game seems to copy it. And it's getting old. Where are the times of creative dungeon design like in Link's Awakening? There you got stuff like the Key Dungeon or the Eagle's Tower. And why does it always have to be a "temple"? The normal dungeons also all follow the typical built-around-an-item formula. You get an item, solve all the puzzles and beat the dungeon boss with it. Overall the dungeons were better than those from Phantom Hourglass, but it's still getting old.

However, the Tower of the Spirits makes up for that. With it's 30 floors it's the largest dungeon in the Zelda series so far, built around the new Phantom controlling feature and offering some of the best puzzles in the series. It's great and unlike it's older brother the Temple of the Ocean King it's always a lot fun to get back there. Primarily because they managed to fix all the issues from the last master dungeon. There's no time limit, the focus isn't set on the stealthing but on the co-op puzzles and you don't have to repeat the individual sections over and over again.

Additionally the game offers a series of fine minidungeons, that can give you quite a challenge. There are four or five of them (depends on if you count the Slippery Station as a minidungeon or as a mere minigame) and they are all of a very different type. From a classic endless maze, over a pure block puzzle dungeon to a replica of the Ocean King Temple, there's something for everyone.

The Phantom

The other big new feature next to the train was the Phantom controlling. This was already briefly explored in Phantom Hourglass, where you had a co-op dungeon with the Goron Temple and the young Goron and where you could control Phantoms in the multiplayer mode. Now they were taking it further and created some of the best puzzles in the series along their way. There are four different Phantom types to control, the normal Phantoms, the Torch Phantoms, who carry around a flaming sword, the Warp Phantoms, who can teleport themselves to Phantom Eyes, and the Wrecker Phantoms, who can curl themselves into a boulder. Each of them were used for different kinds of puzzles and it is a lot of fun to use the evil Phantoms from the previous game for your advantage.

The Items

One of the things I didn't like about Phantom Hourglass was, that there were only seven items. I definitely wanted more. In Spirit Tracks however it played out more well. We didn't get more items, but it felt like they were much better used. But this has something to do with the linear dungeon order, because that way they could use all previous items in one dungeon. Every coin got its two sides.

Three of the items in Phantom Hourglass made a return, but all of them got a twist to them. There is much more emphasis on the Boomerang's ability to carry elements around. It was like the Boomerang was the new Fire and Ice Rod/Arrow. When I learned, that the game would have the Bow again, I was somehow disappointed, because I would have liked something else like a crossbow or a slingshot. But the Light Bow upgrade definitely was a good excuse. And while the bombs haven't changed at all, they are completely optional this time around. They are required for some sidequests and might help you with the Wrecker Phantom parts, but you can complete the game without them.

The Bombchus, Grappling Hook, Magic Hammer and Shovel from the previous game are replaced by four new items. When I saw the Whirlwind in the first trailer, I thought it would be a waste, annoying to use and that it would become obsolete as soon as you get the Boomerang. I couldn't have been more wrong, there are plenty of uses for this item including blowing Phantoms around and it's a lot fun to use. Collecting lots of treasures in Whittleton/Mayscore doesn't get boring with that item. The Whip joins the arsenal as a cool new weapon, which does have its advantages, but isn't as overpowered as the Hammer in Phantom Hourglass. It's weaker than the sword, which makes sense, but it got a larger range, which helps keeping certain enemies at distance. There are also lots of other uses for the whip like doing the Indiana Jones or stealing shields from Zora Warriors. The Sand Staff joins the Cane of Somaria and the Magnetic Gloves in the ranks of best puzzle items ever. It's a sole puzzle item, but the puzzles are all quite good and it can also be used as a super shovel in sandy areas. Only downside is, that it's totally useless in areas without sand.

Last but not least is the addition of the Spirit Pipes. It's the first time since the N64 Zeldas, that we're getting to really play a musical instrument (not counting the Wind Waker). It's amazingly fun to play around with this item and the songs are all very inspired. You would expect the typical teleport and rain making songs from previous games, but instead you get the Song of Recovery, that acts as a potion, the Song of Discovery, that digs up hidden treasures, and the Song of Birds, which calls birds (and can cause funny reactions on chickens and seagulls). But the duets in the sanctuaries can be quite a problem, because you have to be in tact and sometimes you just don't know, what you're doing wrong. Some people are stuck there and can't finish the game, just because they can't get the song right. That's screwed up.

Enemies & Bosses

I was quite surprised, that they included some enemies from Twilight Princess, like the Bulblins riding on pigs and shooting Bomb Arrows or the Mini Freezards (which turn out to be frozen Oktoroks, funny). There are some new enemies too, like the whip guardians, the large club pirates or new types of Phantoms.

Most of the bosses in the game are the typical gigantic monsters with a uberobvious weakspot, that you have to attack with your newest addition to your equipment. Additionally Phantom Hourglass made better use of the second screen during the boss fights. For example there was only one fight, that gave you a different perspective. My favorite among all the bossfights was definitely Byrne/Staven, he was disappointingly short of health, but he offered the right head-to-head fighting mechanics. I want more of that and less of the item based bosses. There are also two different train bosses in the game, but the Rocktite, the Gohma thingy in the tunnels, can be a real pain in the ass.

However, the most horrid enemies in the game are the Dark Trains. Invincible enemies, that can kill you with one hit. Which is just cheap. Your only chance is to avoid them or to stun them temporarily. However, there are even stronger, armored versions, which can't be stunned, which can take 180 degrees turns on the tracks and and which will chase you around. Those trains limit the already very limited freedom on the tracks even more. Sometimes I chose to drive around territories with Dark Trains alltogether, which costs time. In the later half of the game, the trains are sometimes gone and replaced by pirate tanks, which can be destroyed easily. This is when you feel absolutely free and the game invites you to explore the tracks and hunt rabbits.

Sidequests

It doesn't look that way from the start, but the game is quite sidequest heavy and the sidequests really keep you entertained during the second half of the game. Most of them are collecting quests, but you'll also do quite some trading and exploring later in the game.

The rabbits are basically your Gold Skulltulas or Poe Souls in the game with the exception, that they only can be caught on train. I wonder why they had to give Link a small bug catching net, the minigames can be a little annoying, if you happen to miss the same bunny again and again. Because then you have to go back to a station and back to the spot, where you saw the bunny. And this can take time. But it's nice to see how the Rabbit Haven fills more and more up with bunnies, it's definitely one of my favorite places in the game, because it's somehow a small version of the entire overworld. And at least you get more than just rupees, even if it's just a Heart Container, lots of treasures and the Sword Beam move. But overall hunting the bunnies is not really fun compared to hunting the Gold Skulltulas for example, because it's always on the train, very predictable and sometimes quite annoying.

Then there's the stamp collecting. It's a good sidequest, some of the stamp stands are well hidden and the stamps all look really nice. But the best thing is definitely the rewards for this one, I really liked the outfit changes and it was nice getting old items used by the Hero of Winds.

There are eight additional Heart Containers, but finding them is a joke. There are all gotten in very obvious places like minigames or bought in shops. Gone are the days of secretly hidden Pieces of Heart in games like Link's Awakening, where you really had to keep looking. The same goes for the upgrades for your quiver and bomb bag, you get all of them in the minigames or shops.

One of the biggest problems with the sidequests of Phantom Hourglass was the massive randomness, especially getting all 64 ship parts could be a long and repetitive process. Spirit Tracks reduces the randomness to 16 treasure items, that are divided in four prices classes. There are different spots for the different price classes all over the game and there is a maximum of five different treasures per class, which means on the paper the chance of getting a specific treasure is 20% at the lowest. The 28 extra train cars are then bought from the treasures in Linebeck's shop. However, Nintendo screwed the system up by making some treasures appear more often or more rarely regardless of their price class to promote the Contact Mode. But don't be discouraged by this, getting all of the train cars still works much, much faster than getting all the ship parts in Phantom Hourglass. Also, there's nothing else in the game, that involves random factors. So, you don't have something like the Stowfish, it's just the treasures. But still the treasure and train cars system could have been much better without the cheating probabilities or with less randomness alltogether.

But the treasures have the advantage, that collecting them is more interesting than just collecting rupees. Take a look at Twilight Princess, where two out of three treasure chests would contain rupees and where the reward for collecting Poe Souls and Golden Bugs again was rupees. You were swimming in rupees in this game and you had no use for them except for buying and wearing the Magic Armor. Treasures on the other hand can always be changed into rupees, if you need them. And they also can have different uses like buying the train cars here in this game. It's also much more diversified. So, I would say, that Nintendo should keep the treasure system, as long as the probabilities of the treasures with the same value are the same and not different like in Spirit Tracks. And they should reduce the randomness more. There should be more spots, where you're guaranteed to find a specific treasure.

One of the most rewarding sidequests in the game is the transporting. You're transporting goods and people with your train between the various villages of the game and get Force Gems for your efforts. These Force Gems create new tracks and these tracks can either be short cuts or lead to Warp Gates and the hidden stations. The latter are the best part, these hidden stations offer the nice minidungeons of the game. Also, I enjoyed the trading of goods between the villages of the game.

But what was missing are collectible items, that you can get anywhere. Like Pieces of Heart, Spirit Gems or Gold Skulltulas. Something, that makes you look everywhere and in every corner. The rabbits are only gotten while you ride on your train. The Heart Containers and Quiver / Bomb Bag upgrades are gotten from minigames and shops. There's only one stamp stand per station. The train cars are bought in Linebeck's shop (which is good). The Force Gems are gotten from transporting people and goods. The only thing, that you can find everywhere, are the treasures. But they are random anyway and you can get tons of them from the minigames. So, if you miss some treasure chests inside the dungeons, you probably won't ever notice. There's no need for back tracking and there's no need to really look for something, which makes all the collecting quests in Spirit Tracks more predictable and boring.

Minigames

I've written an article about how bad minigames can screw a Zelda game up. Spirit Tracks holds up rather well in this category. Most of the minigames flow in well with the rest of the game, which means there's no Rollgoal or something else, that doesn't have anything to do with game's gameplay. Three minigames make a comeback from Phantom Hourglass and offer some variation, though they still feel very familiar. And there are some new minigames, which includes the rabbit hunting, the whip minigame, the Slippery Station and the "Take 'Em All On" minigame in Hyrule Castle Town.

The Slippery Station won't be everyone's thing, but you only get treasures there, which means, that you don't miss anything important, if you can't make it. The boss battle mode in Hyrule Castle Town was long demanded by fans, provides a good challenge and has a secret boss at the end. It's pretty much the highlight of the minigames in Spirit Tracks and hardcore Zelda fans will love it.

Difficulty

This is where the game really has improved, it's been a while, since a new Zelda games managed to challenge Zelda veterans. Overall the game is still quite easy, but especially the later sections of the Tower of Spirits offer some good puzzles, which require some creative thinking to solve them. Also, the boss rush mode and the hidden minidungeons add some more challenges for Zelda fans.

The game isn't very hard and it never gets frustrating, but it's definitely more challenging than the last three games in the series.

Music

One of the downsides of Phantom Hourglass was the monotonous and unspired music. Spirit Tracks on the other hand offers some best and most unique tunes in the series, especially the overworld and the title theme are real earworms. It's been a while, that the music in a Zelda game felt so fresh and special.

Multiplayer and other Features

The multiplayer overall looks more fun than the Battle Mode in Phantom Hourglass. Each player controls a Link in one of six dungeons filled with traps and Phantoms. It's quite similar to the Coin Battle mode in other Nintendo multiplayer games, just with Force Gems. But I can't say much about the multiplayer, because I can't play it. And that's the biggest downside, they removed the online mode for whatever reason. This is inacceptable, Zelda is not Mario Kart Wii or Wii Sports, where you easily find someone to play with. And even Mario Kart does have online. But for Spirit Tracks you need to find someone, who likes to play Zelda and who owns a Nintendo DS, and unless you live in Japan, where everyone runs around with Nintendo DS systems, this isn't so easy. Four Swords is the least played Zelda game and by now you should think, that Nintendo knows why. Online should be obligatory for every Nintendo DS game and especially for a Zelda game. They can make the best Zelda multiplayer ever, but it isn't of any use without online.

The game makes use of the internal Nintendo DS clock, but not as much as Phantom Hourglass did. At 12AM the treasures offered in the shops change and the daily lottery ends. This leads to some nice daily playing even after you've beaten the game, like ten minutes every day. I normally play the lottery, buy the treasures in the Beedle shop to reach the Diamond Membership level and collect some more treasures. There are some other sidequest events, that only take place after a day, like the times when Ferrus sends you a new letter. But there aren't any special events, that only take placed during a specific time. However, I would have liked to see Nintendo step the system up by including a day and night system, which is based on the internal clock. So, if you're playing at night, it's night in the game, like in Animal Crossing. I see, why Nintendo wouldn't want to do this, because there might be people, who only can play in the late evening, because they have to go to work and don't have the time to play during the day. But still it would have been nice to see the first handheld Zelda to use a day and night system. So far this has been exclusive to the four 3D console Zelda games.

On the bright side, the game doesn't have any DSi exclusive features. This was even unexpected, I really thought, that the game would have some gimmick to lure you into buying a DSi. But I'm happy, that my DSLite still does all jobs.


Summary

Overall Spirit Tracks offers the quality of the Zelda games from the last five years. The Minish Cap, Twilight Princess and Phantom Hourglass. The game definitely has its flaws, may it be the offline multiplayer, the messy graphics during the train rides, the cliched dungeons or the linearity. But it manages to surprise and challenge long time Zelda fans with creative new puzzles, to keep them entertained with some good sidequests like secret minidungeons and to please them with a great soundtrack.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Super Smash Bros. for Christmas

Nintendo of America decided to release this classic at Christmas for the Virtual Console. Here in Europe we already got Super Smash Bros. in June, but I wasn't playing it much since then. Actually it's my least played title on the Virtual Console, even though I haven't played it before on the original system or any other system unlike most of my other VC games, like the Zelda ones. As for Zelda, there are only three things from the Zelda franchise in the game:
  • Link as a character
  • Hyrule Castle stage
  • Heart Container as the best healing item
If you have played Super Smash Bros. Brawl and if you now ask yourself, whether you should download this game or not, save your Nintendo Points. The game hasn't aged well at all, it's absolutely lacking content especially in comparison with its two sequels. Also, the controls weren't still perfected at that time and you have to get used to them, if you played with the superior controls of Brawl a lot.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Spirit Tracks Rail Diary: Day 9

I've finally got all the train cars and pretty much 100%ed the whole game with the exception of the higher membership levels in the Beedle shop and some treasure chests, which I may have overlooked somewhere. The different train sets are all very creative, especially the different horn sounds. The wooden train might be the exception, but that's the train from the beginning of the game, which gets destroyed after the tutorial. So, this set is special in its own way. All the full sets only give you six hearts, while the golden set gives you eight. Like I said yesterday getting the required treasures went very well, during the game I had problems finding Wood Hearts and Dark Pearl Loops, so I needed about 20 of the Wood Hearts and a dozen of the Dark Pearl Loops to complete my collection. But they came in well this time around, I didn't have the feeling anymore, that they were extremely rare. At least if you try hard enough and look in all possible spaces including the shops and the lottery, it shouldn't be a problem. Well, I'm really glad it just took me a couple of hours to get all train cars and not forever like the ship parts in Phantom Hourglass. I'm also glad, that you don't need to trade treasures in the Contact Mode to get a complete train collection.



So, it has been nine days full of fun. As for the next days, I will regulary buy the treasures in Beedle's shop to get the Diamond Membership Level, play the lottery every day and try to collect some more treasures. So, the game will probably keep me busy ten minutes every day over the holidays. Great game, review coming here after Christmas.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Spirit Tracks Rail Diary: Day 8

Spoilers ahoi.

I know, I said yesterday, that it would be the last part, but today was a nice day. I've beaten the third level of the "Take Em All On" minigame in Hyrule Castle Town. It was MUCH easier than I expected. I thought earlier that there would be nine floors before each of the bosses, much like in Level 2. Which is why I gave up early the last time, the psychological pressure was just too high. :D But turns out, you only have to fight through the first series of "normal" enemies as a warm up and after that a pure boss rush starts. Which is totally fun. Also, the Great Spin Attack made some of the normal floors much more easier, especially the one with the three giant pirates. The secret boss at the end was a little disappointing, because he only had very low health, but it was cool nonetheless that they included a Dark Link. It's a nice easter egg. But hey, the effort gave me a Pirate's Necklace and an Ancient Gold Coin. Wait, I didn't even get a Regal Ring or a Alchemy Stone for the torture?! Very rewarding! :D Well, but the reward was somehow to see and fight the secret boss. And remember, that a lot of Zelda fans actually wanted a boss rush mode. Looks, like they are lucky this time.



Treasure hunting goes surprisingly well. There's a spot with leaves in the Disorientation Station on the highest level of the cliffs, that always gives you treasures. Just enter and leave the minidungeon, go to the spot and repeat. But the best spot to go for 50 rupee treasures is still Whittleton/Mayscore. As for the 150 rupee treasures, the sword training is definitely the fastest and easiest way to get them. Just get 60 hits, receive your reward and repeat. If you need 500 rupee treasures I advice the archery minigame, score more than 4000 points. You can also replay the Mini Ocean King Temple and earn more treasures doing so, if you'd like. Interestingly enough, the Wood Hearts and Dark Pearl Loops, that were very rare for me before, flow in normally by now. It's like the probabilities changed after a week or after I've finished the game. I got seven more train cars today (only four left) and I'm positive right now, that it won't take as long as to get all of them like it took to get all ship parts in Phantom Hourglass. Still the system could have been better, if there weren't any extra-rare treasures during the game.

And I finally have more time to notice all the small details in the game. Like for example if you play the Song of Birds next to a seagull (or is it a dove?), it will sit on your head and won't go away until you leave the area or start attacking something. It's really funny. Also, check out the quotes from the Phantoms in the Tower of the Spirits, some of them are quite funny. And I noticed, that I rarely found any buried treasures with the Song of Discovery. There are the obvious ones, where you get treasure maps or where the spots are somehow marked. But alltogether it was not a lot, so I'm looking for those right now. (Update: Apparently, there are only seven spots in the game.)

That's it for this little extra entry.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Spirit Tracks Rail Diary: Day 7

Dear Rail Diary,
today I've finally beaten Spirit Tracks. It was about time. :D

Well, I accomplished to do, what I intended to do last night before I visit the final boss. I got the final Heart Container and I managed to get that last treasure chest in Hyrule Castle town. As for the Heart Container at Beedle's, he really has bad offerings in this game. Next to the two treasures, which he sells every day, he only offers a purple potion, a red potion and bombs. Well, I made Link drunk of purple potions and got the Heart Container. But some of those prize postcards or a golden potion would have been nice. About the treasure chest in Hyrule Castle town, I did look that up and the solution made me just say "why didn't I see that?". It's actually quite obvious if you look very closely at the map. I wished I hadn't looked the solution up, because if I would have figured out by myself, I would be very proud now. :D But at least I was able to solve all the other tricky puzzles in this game. And in this department Spirit Tracks really, really shines, it offers some clever puzzles, that require good creative thinking to solve them. I didn't have this "I don't have any clue how to solve this" feeling since Link's Awakening and N64 Zelda days. You know, where you would run around and try simply everything, but you can't come up with the solution. I had at least three of these moments in Spirit Tracks and I'm not someone, who sucks at puzzles, for example the ice block puzzles in Twilight Princess were a piece of cake for me. But if you remember my Difficulty of Zelda article it's exactly what I wanted for a new Zelda game. You could actually create puzzles that are really hard for longtime Zelda fans and easy to solve for new Zelda gamers. Because as a Zelda fan, who has played most of the games in the series, you're used to certain patterns and puzzles and you knew the solution to most of the puzzles in a new game like Twilight Princess in advance. But you can actually create puzzles, that hide the solution, if the player is thinking in those strict Zelda patterns. And some of the puzzles in Spirit Tracks are really awesome, especially in the later sections of the Spirit Tower. Aonuma promised this in one of the later interviews and looks like he kept his word.

And today was the today. I finally have beaten the game and the final boss. I kicked this moment down the road for a while, actually since Monday, and played lots of sidequests instead, simply because I didn't want this game to end and I still wanted to have something to look forward to. And this is a VERY good sign, if I actually do this. I will put the next paragraph and the screenshot in a spoiler box, just to make sure you don't get accidently spoiled. (The screenshots are actually made by ZeldaInformer, my train is golden by now. :D)



I didn't have the chance to play the multiplayer mode yet and I doubt, that I will ever have the chance. See, I'm not someone, who always whines about missing online mode, because he doesn't have any friends or something. I'm perfectly fine with games like Wii Sports Resort or New Super Mario Bros. Wii not having online functionality, because those games are all about the local multiplayer experience and it's really easy to find someone to play those games with you. Everybody loves the Wii. But none of my friends or colleagues are interested in Zelda. I don't even know anyone, who does have a Nintendo DS. So, how am I supposed to play the multiplayer, Nintendo? This is not Japan, where everyone runs around with Nintendo DS systems and plays Zelda on the streets. I wouldn't mind the missing online too much, if it didn't affect the singleplayer mode in a way. But you're supposed to trade treasures to complete your train car collection, but you can't trade treasures without the online mode. Remember that you would need to find someone, who also plays the game and who also desperately wants all train cars. Go figure. Online it would be not a problem thanks to countless Zelda freaks crawling internet boards, but offline here in Europe or the States? Good luck.

So, what's left to do is lots of treasure hunting. I got enough of the 500 rupee treasures, I mostly need treasures in 150 or 50 rupee category. The easiest way to get 50 rupee treasures is blowing leaves away in Mayscore/Whittleton. And the fastest way to get 150 rupee treasures is the sword pratice minigame in Hyrule Castle, just make 60 hits, score a treasure, repeat. I even got my first Dark Pearl Loop there, just eleven more to go... The pirate archery minigame and the goron target range are also very good for treasures, but they take too much time to complete them. I want lots of treasures in a short time. The whip minigame is faster, but you have to concentrate more. In Phantom Hourglass the archery minigame was the most effecient way of collecting ship parts, but here I haven't figured the best way for me out yet. But one thing is sure, it's going to be a long, boring and repetitive process. Thanks, Nintendo... Ah, and I haven't beaten the third level of the Take 'Em All Down minigame yet, where the secret boss awaits me (yeah, I know already).



This was (probably) the final entry in my Rail Diary. I hope I didn't bore you too much and I will write a real review for Spirit Tracks this weekend.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Spirit Tracks Rail Diary: Day 6

This night I gave that Dark Ore sidequest another chance. Luckily the nasty train tunnel boss was gone after beating it once and I could deliver enough Ore to Linebeck safely in time. This unlocked yet another secret station with a minidungeon on it. Spirit Tracks is a minidungeon paradise! The Lost Sea Station is inhabited by countless birds and you can test the reaction of all bird types here to the Song of Birds. Chickens will follow you in a row (like in Majora's Mask, when you used the Bremen Mask) and the seagulls will sit on your head. Overall the place looks rather harmless, but what's inside the small hidden cave is quite the shocker. A replica of the Ocean King Temple! Woah... Well, it's not an exact replica and it got "only" five floors, but it's still the largest and probably most challenging of the additional minidungeons. You're not allowed to use sword and bow, so you can't stun the Phantoms with your Lokomo Sword or Light Bow and Zelda can't control them. Each floor of the dungeon represents one of the different Phantom types in the game. The first floor got normal Phantoms and you're supposed to light some torches. The second floor is a dark area, where Torch Phantoms patrol, and you have to blow out torches. The third floor features Warp Phantoms and four pairs of switches. Every pair got a right switch and a fake switch. If you draw the wrong one, more Phantom Eyes are released on the floor. Floor Nr. 4 then has lots of Wrecker Phantoms and crumbled blocks. You need to destroy all those blocks in order to proceed. The bombs really are useful on this floor (but don't forget that Bombs are an optional item in the game and you're not supposed to have them). The last floor offers four treasure chests and is a combination of all the above floors. All four types of Phantoms patrol here and you have to solve similar puzzles in order to get all treasure chests and beat the dungeon. Cool, huh? The dungeon isn't too much of a problem, after playing the Temple of the Ocean King dozens of times and the Tower of the Spirits recently, you should be an expert veteran for this specific type of dungeon by now. Still the feeling of having to play such a dungeon yet again alone gave me the creeps. I was like "oh no".

However, you only get one of the two golden treasures at the end (a Regal Ring). Again. Seriously, they should have added a Heart Container in this spot. While all those minidungeons are really awesome, they aren't really worth all the effort. I mean, just think about what you all had to do for that sidequest. You had to discover the Dark Ore Mine, beat yet another of those terrible train tunnel monster crab spider bosses, transport the Ore in time, discover the hidden minidungeon, beat five floors full of classic Ocean King Temple action and all you get is some treasures? And on the other hand the supposed to be rare Heart Containers are funny giveaways in minigames. But for example the archery minigame and the whip minigame both give you an upgrade for your bombbag/quiver AND a Heart Container. Why not just the upgrades, while the Heart Containers are put in some of the minidungeons? Would be way better. Or why not give the player some more fun items? For example the Slippery Temple minigame could have given you "Snowshoes" at the end, that let you walk normally on ice. Remember the Snowshoe Ring from the Oracle games? Like that one.

Well, for me the tour through Lost Sea Station Temple was worth it, because I finally got enough treasures to complete my golden train. Shiny. Gives you eight hearts like the golden ship set in Phantom Hourglass and looks really shiny. And the horn has the sound of a large bell. But interestingly enough it's actually the first set, that I've completed. It looks like one or two of the cheaper treasures are coming in more rarely than the others. For example I couldn't find a single Dark Pearl Loop in the entire game. Not even one. There are similar reports on GameFAQs, that people have problems finding certain cheaper treasures. Like Demon Fossils or Ruto Crowns. Could be, that Nintendo made certain pieces extra rare to encourage the stupid trading mode. And on the other hand they removed online. Really nice, Nintendo, break my legs and send me on a marathon. Overall I thought the new treasure and train car system is much better and solid than the treasures and ship parts in Phantom Hourglass. If all the treasures of the same price class would have the same chance of appearing (like it's supposed to be and like it was in Phantom Hourglass), you should have nearly enough treasures to buy all trains cars at the end of the game. There might be some pieces of one kind missing, but not dozens. In Phantom Hourglass the probabilities worked out right, if a treasure or a ship part had the same value, they had the same chance of appearing. And there were spots, that will give you rarer items more often. It worked perfectly. The problem with the system in Phantom Hourglass was simply, that were way too many random items. 64 ship parts to collect, so it would take forever to get a specific part. When you were down to one or two, it could be quite the annoying process of doing the same thing (like playing a minigame) over and over and over and over again without any luck. I was hoping, this wouldn't be the case in Spirit Tracks thanks to the better system. But of course Nintendo had to screw it up and just because they think it's fun to force you to use a multiplayer mode, that you can't play, if you don't know any Zelda fans personally (Four Swords anyone?). So, I will probably end up trying to find Dark Pearl Loops and other missing treasures over the next few weeks. Annoying, boring and unnecessary process. I'm still missing 11 train cars and it could take some time to get all of them. For someone like me, who always wants to get 100% of all the items, it totally kills the replay value of the game.

Besides completing the golden train I finally caught all 50 rabbits and collected all 20 stamps. Both got you an ancient sword scroll, one for the Sword Beam and one for the Great Spin Attack. The one for the Great Spin Attack is the same one you got in Phantom Hourglass, just much, much older. Both are nice rewards, the flaming sword technique would have been nice too, but I guess this is what the Torch Phantoms are good for. The only thing I'm missing next to some train cars is the Heart Container at Beedle's. And first I thought, the small island in the southeast of the Forest Land holds another hidden station with a minidungeon on it. Which is why I was looking in all villages for potential passengers or people, who want goods, without any luck. For a good reason, like I soon would notice. I've also tried the third level of the Savage Labyrinth / Cave of Ordeals clone in Hyrule Castle Town, that one is insane. You can't even use the stupid Song of Recovery. First time I've played the song and I wasn't allowed to use it, awesome. But I didn't have the new sword techniques yet, so I will sure try again fully armed and more ready. I guess, at least the room with the three big pirates will be much easier with the Great Spin Attack. Another big challenge in Hyrule Castle Town is the treasure chest on top of the house next to the Cucco hut. I can't fly to it with a Cucco (or can I?) and I don't have any idea how to get there. Maybe a bridge is built from the wall to the house, but how do I trigger it? There was a similar puzzle in Twilight Princess at the south exit of Hyrule Castle Town. No, not the treasure chest in the middle of the pond, where you had to use the Spinner. That one was easy. There was another one on top of the pillars and I couldn't figure out how to get there. Turned out there was a ledge along the castle town wall and you could move over to the chest by hand. It's quite similar here, I have no idea how to get the chest in Spirit Tracks, but it's probably very easy. I won't look it up somewhere and please don't tell me, I want to find out for myself. Also, I've heard about a secret boss somewhere. I have no clue, where it could be, but I also want to find that out for myself. My best guess is, that he waits at the end of the third boss rush level.

So, most of the sidequests are done by now, so I decided to return to the Tower of Spirits. Earlier I thought I was done with that dungeon after beating Byrne/Staven, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect.



I like it, how they placed the stamp stand on top of the tower, I was afraid, that I missed it earlier. You could rush through the last section again and I started to feel like, that this simply can't be it. Of course not, seven more floors and yet the hardest part of the dungeon awaited you. With 30 floors alltogether the Tower of the Spirits is the longest and largest dungeon in the entire Zelda series. It's amazing. Like the last floor of the Lost Sea Station Temple the last section now dealt with all four types of Phantoms and using them for the right puzzles. The beginning of the section was very confusing, but as soon as you cleared the entire dark floor and got access to all the Phantom types it got easier. I liked the idea of the three doors and choosing the right one, but that would have been nasty, if one door leads to the end and the other two make you to go through more torments. But of course you had to clear what's behind all three doors. After that came some more co-op fights at the end and a final floor having all four Phantom types. Nintendo sure is proud of the different Phantoms they created. But overall the last section was a good challenge, a worthy final dungeon. My vision of hunting the Gannon-Train like the Ghost Ship in The Wind Waker didn't become a reality, but the Golden Compass opened the path to the island, where I wanted to go earlier and thought it was sidequest related.

Of course I haven't gone there yet, I'm saving it for tomorrow. :D Tonight I'll try to get the last Heart Container and the tricky chest in Hyrule Castle Town. And tomorrow then will probably be the last entry in my Rail Diary.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Spirit Tracks Rail Diary: Day 5

Wow, Spirit Tracks gets more and more fun. I've previously complained, that the game is very monotone and linear. But between all the sidequests I hardly don't notice this anymore. It's a little bit like Majora's Mask, the four dungeons there are played in a strict order and every dungeon follows a certain pattern (like getting a new song to access it), but overall the game is so stuffed with sidequests, that you don't care or notice. Though Spirit Tracks doesn't offer any big sidequests like Majora's Mask does, there's plenty to do and to discover. Especially the hidden stations and their minidungeons are to my liking.

But I wasn't all lazy, I finally managed to play the Desert Temple. It was like I thought, the dungeon wasn't hard at all and pretty short. But still sweet thanks to the newest addition to the Zelda series, the Sand Staff. Really cool puzzle item, which also acts as some kind of Hyper Shovel in sand regions. I didn't like the fact, that there was no shovel in the game. It's actually the first handheld Zelda without a shovel, but now I perfectly understand, why they cut the shovel item out. For example in the Dune Sanctuary you can dig up hundreds of rupees in no time. Together with the Song of Discovery this is more than enough. There were some really nice puzzles in the Desert Temple, that made use of the Sand Staff. I played so much around with that item, that I accidently found the hidden key on the basement floor. Before that I wondered what "the key lies between the 1 and the 3" means, which referred to the eye switches on the floor. Fun item. The boss at the end of the dungeon was a pure puzzle boss and couldn't hold up to Byrne/Staven at all. But he looked like Stallord's little brother.



And the dungeon finally broke the overall pattern, instead of adding another section on the Tower of Spirits, it got you even another item, the Bow of Light. It works exactly as the similar item in The Minish Cap, if you draw and hold your bow for a second it powers the normal arrows up to Light Arrows, which insta-kill most enemies and even shoot through them. However, while this is awesome, it makes the archery minigame a little harder. The trick there is to draw and hold the bow while aiming, so the arrows shoot without the delay. Without that method it would be impossible to beat the similar minigame in Phantom Hourglass. And you can't do that any more, because if you load up a Light Arrow, it shoots through the enemies and you loose some bonus points. I still managed to beat 5000 points though even with the Light Bow, it's just not as easy.

And that's not it. The reward for the Desert Temple was not one, not two, but THREE items. In the cutscenes directly after the dungeon the Lokomo hag Anjean also handed me the Lokomo Sword. Couldn't she give me that right from the start? :D But the sword design is such a joke, it's the Master Sword (again!) just with rails engraved on the blade and a steam engine gear style handle. Like the Phantom Sword was just the Master Sword with the Phantom Hourglass in the handle. Lame. They could have come up with something more interesting. Like for example instead of just engraving rails on the blade, make the blade itself look like a rail. Something like the Razor Sword from Majora's Mask just longer and unbreakable. And with a different handle. Maybe in the dark red color of Links hat (the one from the engineer's uniform, not the his green tunic), that would have looked more unique.

However, now I'm supposed to return to the Tower of Spirits yet again. I sure hope, that I don't have to repeat that last section a second time, because the last section sucked. Useless Wrecker Phantoms. Also, this is not the Ocean King Temple, I don't want to repeat anything except for hunting missed treasures. However, the Lokomo Sword may change things. I probably won't have to collect the Tears of Light anymore and just go for the Phantoms straight ahead. My mission is to find a Golden Compass (a compass in a NDS Zelda game? Woah, and that's when I thought, I've seen everything...), that guides my to the Demon Train. It sounds a little bit like the Ghost Ship in The Wind Waker. You weren't able to access it without the Ghost Ship Chart. Probably the Gannon-Train goes over the Spirit Tracks somewhere, but I can't see it without the compass.

But before that I discovered two more hidden stations, both in the desert part of the Fire Land. First was the End of the Earth Station with its clever Sand Staff puzzles. Spirit Tracks definitely offers some of the best puzzles in the Zelda series since a while. You have to say that. I've beaten all three levels and got a Heart Container and one more Regal Ring on the way. The last level was really tricky, but it's nice to finally use your brain again for a puzzle in a Zelda game. The other station was the Dark Ore Mine and I only managed to deliver two bars. Stupid spider-crab-monster-thingy in the tunnel, I hate that thing. I sure hope, it doesn't respawn or something when I try again tomorrow.

Now I'm only missing one Heart Container, which is the one in the Beedle Shop. But seriously, the Beedle doesn't have ANYTHING worth spending rupees on. Just some worthless, overpriced treasures. He doesn't even offer the Golden Potion. I managed to get the Silver Membership somehow, but still no Heart Container. Sucker.

It's day 5 and I haven't beaten the game yet. Mostly because I'm taking it slowly or otherwise I would be through since yesterday. But for some reason I don't want the game to end just yet. And that's a very good sign. Spirit Tracks definitely is not the best Zelda game, but more and more I'm starting to like it. Choo-choo.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Spirit Tracks Rail Diary: Day 4

Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers. If you haven't finished the Spirit Tower yet, stop right here. You've been warned.

The last section of the Tower of Spirits wasn't the best, the Wrecker Phantoms or "Goron Phantoms" how I like to call them are pretty useless. They can curl into a bolder and roll around, as well as move large blocks (not sure, if the other Phantoms can't move these blocks, I haven't tested it). But on the other hand they can't carry you, can't distract other Phantoms and can't walk over lava. Lots of downsides, which is why you had to find a normal Phantom first and got more of them than you wanted at a specific point. The Warp Phantoms were much more fun. There was again a clever puzzle right before the room with the Boss Key, that also took me a while. Puzzle-wise this game is really not bad.

And at the end of the tower the most stylish boss fight in the game so far awaited you. Byrne/Staven is quite the tragic villain, I like his character. And his fight was purely awesome, it got good fighting dynamics, head-to-head combat. This is what I also liked so much about the Linebeck Phantom fight at the end of Phantom Hourglass or the Ganondorf fight at the end of Twilight Princess. Not some gigantic monster with some puzzle elements and an huge eye as its weak spot. Just you and and a worthy enemy crossing their swords. And it was definitely the best fight with Link and Zelda battling together so far. Epic and lots of fun. The cutscenes after this fight were humerous, dark and offered some nice twists. Storywise this game really shines, it doesn't bother you with too much cutscenes and the few cutscenes are really great and got this dark and twisted Majora's Mask touch written all over them. I like it. But Zelda is quite the loudmouth in this game, I know she has to speak for our silent protagonist, but sometimes she is a little annoying.

Next station was the Desert Land. I love the Desert Land, probably the best area in the entire game. No annoying bomb trains, the sand shark enemies were really cool and overall it was small but nice. It's even the first area, where I got all the rabbits. But what pissed me off was the duet in the Sand Sanctuary. Took me ten times to get this one right. Sometimes the mic was just off and I was playing the same note twice. What was Nintendo thinking here? The way you were playing musical instruments back on the N64 was okay, just play the right notes in the right order. No tact or something. If you aren't gifted in music, you still could finish the game.



Before playing the Desert Temple I decided to clear some more sidequests. I'm really into sidequests at the moment, expanding the railroads, hunting bunnies (got 47 of 50 by now) and so on. I probably stopped playing before the temple, because I wanted to save the best for the last. They really hyped the dungeon, telling you it's an immense fortress, that was only built for one purpose, to protect the Light Bow. It's supposed to be your biggest trial so far. Well, I bet the dungeon will be easy as cake. The outside was plastered with cannons, that looked like from a Star Wars movie. That was a little bit too much for my taste. It's a pyramid in the desert, not the Death Star.

But there are tons of sidequests in this game. Nothing in the ranks of Kafei and Anju, but still enough to keep you entertained for a while. I unlocked eight of these "Stargates" by now (which should be all), which makes travelling much easier, and more hidden tracks. Some of those even lead to unexpected, hidden places like the Pirates' Hideout. I was pretty good in the archery minigame back in Phantom Hourglass, used it to get tons of ship parts. And I see myself already playing the minigame there to get lots of rare treasures. Even though the middle part is a little laggy. (The same happens, when the tank pirates attack you, the game slows down a little). And there was the Disorientation Station in the Fire Land with that crazy labyrinth. I got my first Priceless/Alchemy Stone from there. Another hidden station was the Snowdrift Station, that also had a nice minidungeon, which also got me a Alchemy/Priceless Stone as a reward. However, I simply can't find the stamp stands in both hidden stations, the same goes for the Bridge Worker's House. Either they simply don't have stanps or they are so well hidden, that it drives me crazy. I mapped the entire Disorientation Station labyrinth out, because I thought, the stamp stand might be hidden in there somewhere. (Maybe I draw the map with photoshop and post it here later, it's quite cool) But by now I'm thinking, they just don't have stamps. I only have four pages left and still need to find the Desert Temple and Papuchia Village stamps.

By the way, the postcard lottery game is really awesome. If you send 20 of those cards, you always get the 1st price. Got myself two Regal Rings that way. A Regal Ring is worth 2500 rupees, 20 postcards cost 200 rupees. You do the math. Too bad I can't just sell the yet, I probably will need them for the golden train cars. I'm pretty sure, that there will be golden train cars in the game and Linebeck already showed huge interest in the Regal Rings.

Train carts are coming in slowly, I got the demon and the black train set nearly complete with the exception of the wagon. I'm using the black train right now, because it takes me back to childhood. This may sound totally cheesy, but I grew up in the German Uplands with small villages, mountains, forests, lakes, castles and locomotives going on a narrow-gauge railroad. That's right, it's quite the tourist attraction there. And it's definitely one nice place to grow up. So, playing Spirit Tracks somehow takes me back there, it's very nice. I definitely understand, what Aonuma saw in that idea. However, I wonder, what childhood memories include kamikaze-trains aiming for you. As soon as those things pop up on my map again, the fun is over. Worst idea ever. See, I don't have a problem with the trains running into you, but I have a problem with the fact, that you can't destroy them. I hate invincible enemies. Invincible enemies, that can kill you with one hit even more. Not fun. But more and more they seem to be gone and replaced by the tank pirates. It depends from where you enter the map.

Little Update: Linebeck's finally selling the golden parts and I bought three of them already. Awesome. Looks like certain parts are unlocked by getting the treasures, which you need for them. For example I couldn't buy any wooden parts before, because I didn't have any Wooden Hearts until recently. The same with the golden parts, because of the Alchemy Stone. Now I'm able to finally map out, how many of each treasure I will need to buy all trains cars, so I could sell the surplus to get that 2000 rupee Heart Container (already got the quiver). And you only need two Regal Rings and two Alchemy/Priceless Stones, which I already had, which is convenient. Talking about those rare treasures, I also found another of these hidden stations, the Slippery Station. Quite the minigame, but I managed to beat all three levels after a couple of tries and won another Priceless Stone (lucky me!). The whole minigame probably just exists because of the new rolling technique, which is a shame actually. And I guess this confirms, that those small places don't have stamps.

So, this was more of a sidequest day. Maybe I will play the Desert Temple tomorrow then.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Spirit Tracks Rail Diary: Day 3

Not much progress today. Last night I cleared the fourth dungeon, the Mountain Temple. That dungeon was really cool, I simply love mine carts in this type of games, pretty much since Mystic Quest. And there was finally a different music piece for the normal dungeons, it sounded pretty nice and I guess it will be used in the Desert / Sand Temple too, because it got some typical desert music tunes in it. The boss was a little bit too much puzzling for my taste, but still a good one. So far the bosses were all quite good, but none of them delivered some fresh ideas, it was pretty much all standard cost.

And I really like the Fire Land, all the red colors and the view down on the rest of Hyrule. And as soon as you completed the ice transport mission, the bomb trains are gone. Awesome. They haven't come back yet, which resulted in heavy Rabbit hunting on my side. I already found seven or so Rabbits there. Also, the second time transporting the ice was much, much easier, since you were able to use the straight route and didn't have to dodge those bomb trains. The train travelling is so much more fun, if you don't have to worry about those damn things. Without them you're free to take every route you want and you feel so much more free that way, willingly to explore the vast lands. I hope, at the end of the game the bomb trains will be gone alltogether.



But the whole transport goods and passengers is a little bit too much. Most of the time today I was busy with side quests. Once you brought a person from A to B, you find another person at B, that wants to go to C, where someone else wants you to bring goods from D. It's never ending! But doing this unlocks more tracks and shortcuts. The Warp Gate system is actually a little confusing and I didn't use its advantage for a long time. Especially because some of the gates are located in areas with those bomb trains.

And the game is so monotonous and linear, it's terrible. It's not like it is the only linear Zelda game, it makes best friend with The Minish Cap and Twilight Princess, but even those two managed somehow to break the patterns. But here it's all the same. You unlock some new tracks in the Spirit Tower, then you visit one of those Locomo idiots and play a little serenade with him (which always takes multiply times to play it correctly for whatever reason), so some more tracks get unlock to reach the dungeon. The dungeons follow the "get item, solve item related puzzles, kill boss with item" pattern and unlock a new section of the tower. You go back to the tower and the whole thing repeats itself. Ugh. Where are the golden times of games like Link's Awakening or Ocarina of Time, where every dungeon felt like a totally new adventure? Or even Phantom Hourglass managed to do a much better job at this, there you could get two sea charts at once and then play the last three dungeons in ANY order. Something like this seems not to be possible in Spirit Tracks, it's all mapped out and very linear. Aonuma says, they are working to break all those patterns in Zelda Wii, but honestly, they should have tried that in Spirit Tracks already. This game would have been a better choice for experiments anyway.

Like I said, I spent most time today with sidequests. Hunting bunnies, transporting stuff and playing minigames. But hey, I have a real money problem. There's a Heart Container for sale at the Snow Sanctuary and a bigger quiver in the shop of the Goron Village, both cost 2000 rupees each. Where am I supposed to get this money from? In Phantom Hourglass I would sell treasures and duplicate ship parts to get TONS of money. 9999 rupees? Not a problem there! But here I can't sell the treasures, because you need them for the train cars and of course there aren't any duplicate train carts to sell. So, where's the money supposed to come from?

About the Song of Recovery. I was confused earlier about the statement, that you only can use it once. But it should say "once per dungeon". As soon as you leave the dungeon, you get a refill. It's pretty much like always having a back up potion, which is good. Might come in handy for the third part of the "Catch em all" minigame. Parts 1 and 2 were manageable, but fighting all five bosses from the game and tons of enemies in one row might get exhausting. But at least the minigame gives you the opportunity to fight the bosses a second time. Like Ganon's Castle in The Wind Waker. I just wish it would be more like one part for each boss and not stacked up.

And I was right, you get the Engineer's clothes from Niko, when you collect 15 stamps, yay. That's so cool, I'm already using it all the time, that's one nice reward for a sidequest. I wonder, what I will get next. About the Ancient Shield, that one is kind of buggy. I went back to Outset Village and switched it back to a normal shield, because I was afraid it could get eaten by Like Likes (turns out it can't, which is pretty much the "upgrade"). However, my normal shield got eaten away, so I bought a new shield. A normal shield. But next time I'm playing I got the Ancient Shield back... strange bug.

I also noticed that the English translation of the US and the European version is somehow different this time. For example "Ancient Shield" and "Shield of Antiquity" or "Staven" and "Byrne". That's not usual, normally at least the names of characters, places and items are the same. It's already always confusing for me to deal with the German translation, but having two different English versions makes it even worse.

That's it for today, more tomorrow. But I'm glad, I haven't finished the game yet.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Spirit Tracks Rail Diary: Day 2

I warn you again, these posts contain spoilers. If you haven't entered the fourth land of Spirit Tracks yet, stop reading now.

I played a lot since my post yesterday and right now I'm at the Goron Village, where I got a mine cart for my train. The Gorons seem to be much more interesting than in Phantom Hourglass, I mean there's a black priest Goron praying to a vulcano, how cool is that? And the Goron music track sounds a little bit more interesting than last time. But I'm disappointed, that we're getting just the same tribes, that we had in Phantom Hourglass. No Ritos or Zoras or new races. (Edit: with the exception of the Locomo, sorry I forgot them.)

But first of all, I HATE those kamikaze-trains. Gave me two more Game Overs by now. I was hoping, that as soon as I would get the cannon, I could just simply blow those things off, but turns out the cannon only slows them down. And they really take the fun from the whole train idea. They certainly add a level of challenge, but it's just a cheap kill and it destroys the freedom of travelling, because you always have to keep an eye where those killer-trains are going and map your route accordingly. But sometimes they take unexpected turns and then it's Game Over. Hey, and they cheat. In the underwater part they would run into another, so I thought they would crash together. But what happened? Nothing. Don't know if they just went through each other or if one train jumps over the other. The whole train travelling was the most controversial feature of the game, so you'd expect it to be the most fun part and not just simply annoying. Luckily later in the game it seems like those kamikaze-trains are gone, when you enter the lands from the Tower of Spirits. They are replaced by pirates moving on the land with tanks, but at least you can destroy those.

The dungeons were okay. The Blizzard Temple had this nice puzzle with the bells, I liked that, and the Marine Temple offered the Whip, a completely new item in the series. It has a larger range as a weapon than the sword, but it is weaker. I believe some inspiration for the whole Marine Temple part came from the Japanese manga One Piece. It's one of the most popular mangas over there, so I wouldn't wonder. But in the manga there were tracks going over water too and a sea train and those Whip-enemies in the Marine Temple looked exactly like those guards in the underwater prison in the manga, which is pretty fetting. I wouldn't say, this is pure coincidence, but maybe those guards are a figure from Japanese mythology, I'm not sure. But another inspiration definitely came from Indiana Jones. I mean a SNAKE whip (okay, this one also comes from Earthbound/Mother), traps with shooting arrows and rolling rocks. It was really obvious. And the entrance to the underwater tracks looked like the entrance to the Level 5 dungeon in Link's Awakening. Lots of nice references. However, overall the whole underwater part was as impressive as disappointingly short. I mean, the potential! Zoras, old Underwater Hyrule, ancient underwater treasures! But all we got is a series of tracks with two more of my favorite enemies in the game on them. Yikes. Nintendo sometimes really is an expert at wasting potential. But it was really beautiful, I have to say that.



Overall I think the new Hyrule is quite ugly. Especially the Snow Land. The best view you get in the train sections is the Tower in the background with the floating parts in the sky. This somehow reminds me of Majora's Mask, where you always could see the moon closing in. About the Desert Land, I wondered yesterday where this territory would pop up and if we would get a fifth map, but it turns out, that it's just part of the ocean map. Pretty much like the Rabbit Haven suggested. I wonder if I have to collect 10 Desert Rabbits as well. :D

The Tower of Spirits really offers different experiences in each section. It's almost like you're getting to visit a new dungeon every time. The second section had a fire theme and offered fire related puzzles. Overall it was pretty basic. The third section then was completely dark with no maps. It offered a new type of Phantom, the Torch Phantoms. They carry a flaming sword, much like what you got in Phantom Hourglass when you collected enough Power Gems. There's lots of backtracking in both sections, especially if you missed the Bombs earlier. The Bombs are aquired at Beedle's and so far they seemd to be an optional item, I only had to use them for sidequest related stuff. That may change later though. The fourth section then introduced the Warp Phantoms. They work like the Gold Phantoms from Phantom Hourglass, just not with the gold and not with the axe. It's so awesome that you finally can toy around with that system, which was your worst enemy in the previous game. You can't teleport freely, the Phantom Eyes are your warp points. Which actually leads to some clever puzzle, the one on floor 15F to be accurate, where you had to get your Phantom over the last sand pit. It took me like 30 minutes to solve that puzzle. But it's actually really easy, if you know, what you're doing. But I considered so many stupid things, I even tried to get the block from the other side of the floor over to the final part. Funny thing is, I tried to use the Whirlwind on the Phantom, but it didn't carry it far enough. Then I tried to get the Phantom Eye to the other side of the pit, but for whatever reason I didn't think of using the Whirlwind, I tried the whip and the boomerang, even luring it directly over there, which really wasn't a good idea. But at some point it made *click* and I felt like a genious and a total idiot at the same time. Smart puzzle. Made the huge, entire floor covering puzzle at the end of the section look like a joke to me.

What I noticed about the sidequests is, there isn't something similar to the secret seashells from Link's Awakening or the Spirit Gems from Phantom Hourglass. You know, something with a limited number, that you could find everywhere. Like in treasure chests, from people or even under bushes. Something, that really makes you look in every corner. There isn't this type of collectible item. There's the stamp stands and while some of them are REALLY well hidden, there's exactly one per place. The bunnies only appear during the train sections and the train cars can only be bought in Linebeck's store. Left are the optional Heart Containers, but most of them are gotten from minigames and that sort of stuff like in Phantom Hourglass, and the treasures. But the treasures are gotten on a random base. It just makes the whole back tracking feel to be not worth it. For example repeating the sections of the Spirit Tower only gives you treasures. It's not something you would notice at the end of the game, if you missed it. Of course you need them to buy those fancy train cars, but there are plenty of ways to get treasures. For example buying them in the Beedle shop, because he wants you to spent 20,000(!!!) rupees in his shop this time for the highest membership. And the only thing you will probably get for this (aside from the obvious Heart Container in his shop) is a compliment. By the way, for the stamp collecting Niko gave me the Ancient Shield, which is the shield from Phantom Hourglass. This is a very nice idea, some outfit changes. It doesn't do anything good besides from Link looking differently, but at least you have two different shields in the game. :D I wonder, what happens, if it gets eaten by Like Likes. Is it gone forever then? I hope not... And I wonder, what I will get next from Niko. The engineer's outfit would be a possibility and definitely a nice choice for an extra. I doubt, that this game will have a 2nd Quest like The Wind Waker, but that doesn't mean you can't have the different outfit while playing the game. There's another sidequest, where you ferry passengers around, which gives you Force Gems made of happiness and joy (lol?), that create new tracks, where you can find some of those warp points and more rabbits.

In addition I want to say that the Hyrule Castle Town turned out really nice. There isn't much inside the houses, just a store and this little Savage Labyrinth / Cave of Ordeals rip off, but the overall design and music is great and there's a nice chicken puzzle, where you can get some treasure chests on the roofes.

What gave me some trouble is the new rolling technique. It's praised as being an improvement over drawing those little circles, but I never had much problems with that. But I do have problems with the double tapping. It's easy to perform a roll now, sure, but it's not so easy not to perform a roll if you don't want to. I used to double tap / spam tap enemies in Phantom Hourglass, but if I do that now, Link performs a roll right into the enemies getting hurt. Nice. I really have to concentrate, that I only tap on the enemies once for every sword strike.

Right now I'm not so sure what to think about Spirit Tracks. It definitely won't turn into my most favorite Zelda ever. The Tower of the Spirits is a lot of fun right now, but the train sections become more and more a turn off. The sidequests are just okay, the best one right now seems to be the stamp collecting. Because it is original and surprisingly well hidden. And hopefully it will be rewarding. The bunny hunting isn't too much fun, the best part seems to be the Rabbit Haven itself, which is a miniature version of the whole overworld. And I don't care too much about those random treasures.

Well, two more dungeons and two more returns to the Spirit Tower left. Considering that I was playing all day and night since yesterday, this is not a bad quota.