Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Spirit Tracks Haters Beware

Don't you just love Spirit Tracks? I certainly do, because there hasn't been so many dislike among the Zelda community for a Zelda game since The Wind Waker. Back then I was 16 years old and I was one of the haters myself. I didn't touch the game nor the GameCube until I played the demo (on the Collector's Edition) in the age of 19. My time of being an ignorant idiot instantly ended there. However, now with Spirit Tracks it's actually very amusing and entertaining to watch the Zelda community from a different perspective. Right now there are three main arguments against Spirit Tracks floating around Zelda sites and communities. But none of them actually makes sense and all of them actually mean something entirely different in reality, something the haters don't want or fail to say. So, let me list, disprove and translate those arguments.

Argument 1:
A train doesn't fit into the universe of Zelda

Actually the long version goes more like this: "Well, the steam boat in Phantom Hourglass was okay with the game taking place hundreds of years after Ocarina of Time and all. But a train?!!!!!111 WTF?!!!! Nintendo went too far!!! Zelda takes place in the middle ages and there were clearly no trains in the middle ages!! It totally ruins Zelda!!!!!!"

There's clearly a lot of contradiction here. First of all, Zelda doesn't take place in the middle ages. It doesn't take place in any known time era, but in a fantasy world. A fantasy world does have fantasy elements. It's starts with monsters and dragons and it ends with technology like airships or robots. Just take a look at all the Square Enix games. Like Terranigma, where you spent a good portion in medieval environments and before you know it you end up in the computer age. Nintendo never has gone that far, but Zelda is still a fantasy game and different rules apply here. That's the case since the very first Zelda game, where we got bombs, while Link still fights with sword and a bow. It doesn't make sense, but it's fun. And over the time we got telephones, technicolor photo cameras, homing bombs, giant robots, floating cities in the sky and a steam boat. And the train does blend in perfectly. I mean, Nintendo really tries to make it look very rustic, it looks like it's almost entirely made of wood.

But the steam boat in Phantom Hourglass is the most contradicting thing here. A steam train is basically the same technology just used on the land. And Spirit Tracks takes place 100 years after Phantom Hourglass, so you could even say, that's not much progress for such a long time. But still there are Zelda fans, who got a problem with the steam train, while they clearly had no problem with the steam boat. The steam boat was okay, because it was more comfortable, faster and action-oriented than having a sail boat again. The steam train is not, because it looks childish and stupid. That's the whole problem behind it for those people. I don't actually believe, people do have a problem with the train fitting into the fantasy realm of Zelda, because there clearly is none. Their major problem is, that the train is not cool and mature. But of course their favorite game series has to be cool and mature or otherwise they don't feel like they are cool and mature. It's The Wind Waker all over again. And this is how the first argument can be translated.

Funny enough, you could come up with serious arguments, why a train isn't a good idea, but I don't see that very often. You could complain, that the train makes the game much more linear and takes away the feeling ot freedom and free exploration. In Twilight Princess you literally went on rails through the game and now in Spirit Tracks you have some in the game for real. It may look like a joke to everyone, who wants Zelda to be more non-linear again, including myself. But I personally don't worry too much about that right now. Because it's a very obvious problem, a problem, where Nintendo needs to take countermeasures, when they put such an idea in the game. And the NDS Zelda team already has proven to me, that they know how to make a Zelda game very non-linear in Phantom Hourglass, where you could play all the last three dungeons in any possible order. There's still much room for improvement, especially in the dungeons, but I can see Nintendo addressing the problem by saying "when we have a game on rails, we should try to make the experience as non-linear as possible". The whole railroad system will probably be pretty complex and the player will have a lot of choices where to go first. If not, I certainly will complain. But now it's still to early to judge the system.

You could also complain, that the areas in the game will end up being just like islands in the water. But with grassy fields instead of water. However, I'm still not worried too much, because that's a very obvious problem as well. If you look at the Japanese title of the game on Wikipedia, it's "Train Whistle of the Earth". So, the whistle, which you use to call your Phantom buddy, will be important. Probably with it you can also call your train like your horse Epona in earlier games. Which means you're not bound to a single train station and can go from one area of the game to the next by foot. Which means the world design doesn't work like in Phantom Hourglass. Again, if I'm wrong, and the areas will be just end up as islands in the grassy fields, I will certainly complain. But not now.

So, if you want to say something against the train, you can say a lot of things, but stop riding on the statement, it doesn't fit in the world of Zelda.

Argument 2:
Nintendo is just recycling Phantom Hourglass

"Look, look!! It has the exact same graphics and controls!! Nintendo has become real lazy lately!!! I'm not going to buy the same game again!!"

This is even less sophisticated. It's like they didn't pay attention in the last 25 years of gaming and never played any sequels in their lives. Nintendo does that all the time and not solely Nintendo, the whole game industry does that. Just take at look a the Zelda series. The Oracle games were based on Link's Awakening, they completely reused the engine, all the graphics, sounds, enemies, items and game elements from the game. But no one did have a problem with that. Majora's Mask totally recycled Ocarina of Time. Even all the character models were reused. Four Swords Adventures was built on the style, graphics and sounds of A Link to the Past. And The Minish Cap basically just was a singleplayer version of the first Four Swords game on the GameBoy Advance. Link's Crossbow Training recycled everything from Twilight Princess and turned it into a minigame. It's done all the time, not just in the Zelda series, nearly every good game today gets some kind of direct sequel. Take a look at Super Mario Galaxy 2 or the Metroid Prime Trilogy. It's reasonable and economical, if you're making a sequel to a successful game on the same platform, to reuse it's engine, as well as some of the graphics, sounds and gameplay elements. That way you spare a lot of development costs and time and can focus more on new gameplay aspects. It's exactly what they do in Spirit Tracks, but still some people out of nowhere seem to have a problem with it. The reason for this is very simple. They have a problem with it, because they didn't like Phantom Hourglass. They don't understand, how Nintendo can possibly make a sequel to a game, they didn't like. Because if they didn't like it, the game clearly has to be a failure. But I got news for you, Phantom Hourglass was a big success. Not counting any re-releases it's despite being the youngest already the fourth best selling Zelda game with 4.83 million copies sold world wide. In Nintendo's eyes, it's clearly a hit, and the choice of giving it a proper sequel is more than natural. And those, who liked the style and controls of Phantom Hourglass, personally can't wait to get it.

Argument 3:
Spirit Tracks is going to be a casual game

"Nintendo makes all their games for the casual gamers. Stupid retarded non-gamers!! But what about me?! The hardcore gamer!! Give me HARDCORE games and not casual crap!!! It hatez teh casuals!!! They're destroying gaming!!!"

This is probably the biggest bullcrab of all the arguments against Spirit Tracks. First of all, they clearly don't know, what a so called "casual game" is and where the terms casual and hardcore gamer come from. They didn't exist before the Wii and they were probably made up by Sony's and Microsoft's viral marketers crawling all the internet platforms. It's a label that had to be made up as a last stand against the new generation of gaming. Sony and Microsoft are selling hardcore games to hardcore gamers and Nintendo is selling casual games to stupid, retarded non-gamers or "casual gamers". But in reality Sony and Microsoft are selling games for nerds, who spend most of their free time playing violent games, while Nintendo does now sell games to normal, sociable people, who got a life. But saying that doesn't sell well for Microsoft and Sony and the core game industry, which is why they use "hardcore gamers" and "casual gamers" (the funny is, that years ago no one would have considered playing FPS games with analog sticks to be "hardcore", it was pretty "casual" back then). In marketing those terms don't even exist, there you have core, classic and expanded audience. Nintendo tries to aim for all of them, but with focus on the expanded audience, because they're fighting against a shrinking market. However, I'm drifting away, you can ask Sean Malstrom more about that topic.

And there is no such thing as a "casual game". They don't label games with the genre casual games. Those games are mostly educational games, practice games, sports games or minigame collections. Anything that is somehow connected to the reality and fulfills a proper job. People are playing Train Braining or WiiFit to improve their health and mind. People are playing WiiSports, because it's a very sociable and fun game. No Zelda game can ever be a casual game. Because Zelda games draw the gamer away from reality into a fantasy world. Zelda games are meant to spent hours with. The so called "casual gamer" doesn't want to be drawn away from reality and to spent hours alone with solving puzzles. They don't have the time for that. No matter what, you can't put the label "casual game" on any game of the Zelda series.

So, why are some Zelda fans claiming, that Spirit Tracks will become a casual game? It's simply because the games are getting more and more easier for them. While this still doesn't make Zelda "casual", I totally agree with this statement. But on the other hand it's important, that Nintendo tries to attract some of the expanded audience for their core audience games, because they want to win a larger core audience. And this is only possible with easy access. However, I listed a variety of solutions how to make a Zelda game attractive for both the expanded audience (potential new Zelda gamers) and the core audience (the Zelda fans) in my The Difficulty of Zelda article. Be sure to check it out.

1 comment:

Mama Luigi said...

I seriously love you for writing this, i agree with you 100%!