Monday, November 30, 2009

Spirit Tracks: Sidequests

I'll admit it, I'm a sidequest-junkie. I just love collecting items like hidden seashells, golden spiders, masks, rings, figurines and even ship parts. And I just love discovering all the secrets of a game. Next week the newest installment of the Zelda series, Spirit Tracks, will arrive on the shelves and we know little so far what sidequests we will get.

The Nintendo Power magazine mentioned "wooden hearts" and "dragon scales", but I believe those items are simply part of the treasure collection, the same system, that we already got in Phantom Hourglass, just with twice as much items. Treasures are basically rupee-replacements, since they are mostly traded for rupees, and you find them randomly. Even their value is randomly chosen when you start a new game file, so basically every player will have a different set of values for their treasures. An item, that isn't worth much in your game and which you'll find very often, could be very valueable and rare for another player. And vice versa. This is were the trading in the multiplayer mode comes in. The exception are the golden items, that are always rare and always have the maximum price.

The Official Nintendo Magazine is more accurate concerning this topic, here's the quote:

[Spirit Tracks] is rammed to the gills with side-quests, secret areas and collectables. We won't give too much away here but there are rabbits to be hunted, passport stamps to collect, passengers to ferry around, new moves to learn, train upgrades to track down, secret routes to be opened up and much more besides.

I'll be totally honest here, when I'm saying that none of this sounds too exciting. The train upgrades were expected, though it was mentioned a couple of times by now that this won't work like the ship parts in Phantom Hourglass. That you will ferry passengers around was also one of my first guesses, since the train does have a passenger wagon. The passport stamps are collected by Niko and the rabbit hunting will be done on train, Link will throw a net after them and this is probably some weird replacement for the fishing from Phantom Hourglass. Ah yeah, Heart Containers are back according to TSA. Speaking of, TSA mentioned in his article a Savage Labyrinth / Cave of Ordeals like minidungeon in Hyrule Castle Town, where you fight through floors full of enemies but also the bosses from the game. But this one will be seperated into levels, so it hopefully will be not as long and boring as the Cave of Ordeals. Because I seriously wouldn't want another 50 stories filled with repetition minidungeon.

And what still bugs me is the artwork with the photographer (see picture above), because the odds are, that this has something to do with the DSi camera. But as long as this stays a gimmick and isn't required for anything else, I'm okay with it.

Surely by now it's hard for Nintendo to come up with new and fresh ideas for sidequests and collectables, but we will see next week how well Spirit Tracks is performing in this category, as well as in all other categories.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Spirit Tracks: A Different Challenge

Here are some quotes from an interview:

"One of our lead planners for the game is a programmer, so he has a different, more scientific or mathematical approach, so to say, to creating puzzles," he wrote to Kotaku. Aonuma is the producer on Spirit Tracks.

"Development team members, including [senior Nintendo developer] Mr. [Takashi] Tezuka and myself, actually got stuck in several places. So the dungeons and puzzles pose a different type of challenge than what we have utilized in previous games, and will certainly require longtime Zelda fans to approach each challenge differently. "

Getting more specific, he noted: "I believe that the latter half of the Tower of Spirits dungeon in The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks — [which] players will revisit throughout the game — has puzzles which require a different type of approach from those of previous games."

If you've read my The Difficulty of Zelda article, you probably remember, that this was one of my suggestions. Making new kinds of puzzles, that are different and even tend to go against the usual thinking of a Zelda fan. We will see, if Nintendo was actually successful with this. I'm taking the challenge.

One of my other suggestions was to keep the game as non-linear as possible and don't let the story take control over the player. It's boring, if you always have to go from A to B. You should always the freedom to explore the world freely, play dungeons in different order, hit dead ends by yourself and so on. Twilight Princess completely took away the freedom from the player just to tell its not-so-good story. Sean Malstrom described this very well in one of his recent blog posts:

The “non-linearity” of early Zelda games had nothing to do with it being ‘disguised’. It had everything to do with the lack of text, the lack of dialogue, and the lack of cinematics and story. In the earlier Zeldas, you could go into dungeons into different order. Sure, you had to get a special item sometimes, but you could do it. With the earlier Zeldas, the overworld allowed different experiences to be had each time you played the game. While Link to the Past clearly shows how the vicegrip of “story” and “cinematics” were increasing, once in the Dark World Link is fully free to go wherever he pleases and however he pleases. He has to get some items first, sure.

Modern Zeldas ram a story down your throat. You don’t have much part at all in defining this story. No. Your role is to do nothing more than to move to a certain location or to kill a certain monster to trigger the next cinematic while gives you the next goal. The game becomes predictable. There are no surprises because you, the player, have no control over the story of the game. The more detailed the story becomes, the less control the player has.

And the stories suck anyway. Video game developers are crappy story tellers.

Right now it doesn't look like Spirit Tracks will be non-linear and not too much story guided, even the tracks on the land have to be unlocked, which is a bad joke. However, Phantom Hourglass on the other hand let you play the last three dungeons in any order, when you got the third and fourth sea chart from the Ocean King Temple in one run. Maybe the Tower of Spirits in Spirit Tracks will offer a similar approach and you can get the last two maps at once, if you're good. But overall Spirit Tracks doesn't seem to offer an open overworld, it's very important to go back to the open overworld design, that we had in the first Zelda game and Ocarina of Time. On the one hand it adds a massive feeling of freedom and exploration to the game, which is important for an Adventure game, and on the other hand it makes the game automatically more challenging, if the player has to figure out for himself, where to go next.

Sean Malstrom's Article News

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Spirit Tracks: UK Commercial

Fucking epic!

There were already pictures of the train going over water, but under water is definitely a nice twist. I wonder, if this has something to do with the flooded Hyrule. At one point in the video Link is holding a sword, that looks similar to the Master Sword. Could be a cheap copy like the Phantom Sword, the "Spirit Sword" or something, or it could be the real deal. If its the real deal and the story of the game is actually connected to the story of The Wind Waker, then this is going to be pretty epic.

And mine carts are back and even used in a boss battle. I always loved the mine cart puzzles since they were introduced in the Oracle games. Well, since Spirit Tracks is all about rails, you could have guessed, that mine carts will be back. And this makes the boss battle actually much more interesting, I previously complained, that the boss judging from the artwork looked like something, that we already got many times before, but the mine carts definitely add a nice twist to the whole thing.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Spirit Tracks: Multiplayer Footage

I've must have missed this yesterday, there's an update for the official US Spirit Tracks site, which shows the new characters and some footage of the multiplayer mode.

There will be a Tag Mode similar to the one in Phantom Hourglass. The video shows spots for 16 different treasures this time, which is twice the amount of the treasures in Phantom Hourglass, and some old ones like the Zora Crown and the Regal Ring return. I believe, the Dragon Scale and the Wooden Heart mentioned somewhere earlier are just part of those treasures as well. There's no button to switch over to train parts or something, which either means that there won't be something similar to the Ship Parts from Phantom Hourglass or the train parts aren't found in random fashion. And I hope, that you will be able to get all the treasures by yourself without using the Tag Mode, just like in Phantom Hourglass.

The Battle Mode looks really fun, I've made a hasty judgment yesterday, when I heard it's just collecting Force Gems and avoiding Phantoms again. But you don't have to carry the Force Gems to a base or something, you just collect them like rupees and the player with the most Force Gems at the end wins. It's something similar to the Coin Battle in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. And you try to screw the other players over, the Phantoms are more or less just one of many obstacles, which include bomb flowers and trap doors and various items. There will be six stages, Ancient Earth, Frozen Plains, Fire Arena, Icy Plains, Scorched Battlefield, and Shadow Stage, where each of the levels will have special features.

Overall it seems to be really fun and I'm sad about the news, that this will be local only. I probably would have played this much more than the multiplayer mode of Phantom Hourglass. But my hopes are, that just the current test versions only support local multiplayer and that the final game will be playable online.

PS: I haven't read TSA's report yet, just skipped over it a little bit, because I was afraid of spoilers. But the last five paragraphs contain some more info about the multiplayer, if you're interested.

Spirit Tracks Preorder Deal

Christmas came early this year. I went to Media Markt (a German electronic chain store) yesterday to buy New Super Mario Bros. Wii and a black Wiimote and Nunchuk. New SMB Wii is fun, played it for hours today with a buddy, who was highly anticipating it and who rescued me a several times. But I rock at the boss battles. The black Wiimote and Nunchuk looks really sexy, I'm actually quite pissed, that it took so long for Nintendo to release a black Wii, I certainly would have bought a black one, when I bought my Wii a year and a half ago, but now it's too late. However, at Media Markt they had this Spirit Tracks preorder deal, which is the reason of my post. I had to do a little advance payment (5 bucks), but for that I already got a nice package with two figurines in it. I made a photo of both the figurines and the box (and the sexy black Wiimote):

Those figurines are actually the same figures, that were availabe for Phantom Hourglass. But both have different paintings on their shields and both don't have the items, that originally came with them, the Phantom Hourglass for Link and a Force Gem for the Phantom. There were three more figures in the Phantom Hourglass set, Tetra, Linebeck and some Gorons. But oh well, those two are basically for free (assuming I get Spirit Tracks, which I will) and free stuff is always nice. The package also uses the artwork from the US boxart, so I basically get both box arts that way.

There's also a lottery/contest inside for a black Nintendo Wii, maybe I'll win one. :D

Friday, November 20, 2009

Spirit Tracks: Multiplayer and Bow confirmed

There's tons of new artwork and you can find all of the new artwork here. The two most interesting ones are the following:

So, looks like I was wrong and there is a multiplayer mode. It seems to be a variation of the Phantom Hourglass multiplayer mode, where everyone plays with Link. This will be for four players, but Miyamoto already said this at E3 ("like Four Swords without swords"). You probably have to collect Force Gems while running away from Phantoms.

Update: But there's no online Wi-Fi mode. The multiplayer mode is going to be local only (Source), which totally sucks, because I have absolutely no one with a Nintendo DS or even interested in playing this among my friends. The advantage of Phantom Hourglass's multiplayer was definitely, that you could play it online. There will be items to trade as well, which means something like the random treasures is back, but of course you can't trade them online any more. And it doesn't sound like I will be missing out too much. I mean, running away from Phantoms AGAIN? Come on, Nintendo... where's your definition of fun multiplayer when it comes to Zelda?

This one confirms the return of another Phantom Hourglass item, the Bow. Boring, I was hoping for something different here, maybe a crossbow or a slingshot. Also, there aren't many slots left open and I was hoping for some surprises. We already have four of the six action items confirmed, Bombs are also a safe bet. In case we don't get a shovel (Update: we won't, there will be a treasure digging song), there's only one unknown item left. It might be, that the Spirit Pipes use that slot, but I think the pipes will be a menu icon like the Cyclon Slate in Phantom Hourglass. The boss looks cool, though he does have the typical eye as a weakpoint thing going on. Not cool, Nintendo, not cool. You can't give the Zelda veterans anything, if you do the same stuff over and over again, so the eye of this boss better be not its weakpoint.

There's more artwork, one shows another bad guy called Byrne, who has a robotic arm and assists Cole. And another artwork shows a photographer, could be a sidequest similar to the one in Link's Awakening DX, but I fear it could have to do with the DSi camera. If this is true, it means that the news saying there won't be any DSi enhancements are wrong, too.

In addition, I guess you all have already seen this video, which shows two mintues of ingame footage. Two interesting things here, first of all the music is really nice. The music in Phantom Hourglass was really uninspired, so hopefully Spirit Tracks will be better in that department. And then there's the treasure, which Link gets at the end of the video. It looks like a red version of the Zora Scale and could be one of those Dragon Scales, which you are supposed to collect.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Zelda Wii: A New Structure

The next Official Nintendo Magazine is going to be pretty big, not only do they have the world's first review of Spirit Tracks (scoring 91%), they also have nice interviews with Miyamoto and Aonuma. Here's an excerpt, which is real good news:

When asked how different the new Zelda title will be when it arrives on Wii next year, Aonuma replied: "It is something we used to talk about with Mr Miyamoto, and he and I agree that if we are following the same structure again and again, we might not be able to give long time Zelda fans a fresh surprise."

"So we have been trying something new in terms of the structure of the Wii version of the new Zelda game this time. I am really hopeful that people will be surprised with the changes we have implemented for this Wii version."

Aonuma also confirmed that alongside full MotionPlus support, we'll be able to see more of what his team have been working on at next year's E3. "I hope that we can show you something at the E3 show next year and it is something we are hopeful will be surprising," he added.

Finally! Speaking from the deeps of my heart, yes, the Zelda series needs some changes. Fresh surprises for the long time Zelda fans. And it was about time, that Nintendo realizes this. I've already said, that changes in the formula could help the difficulty issue, for example by adding some new, fresh puzzles instead of constantly giving us the same old huge boss with obvious weak point and done-that-already-puzzles again and again. Going even further and changing the entire formula of Zelda, meaning the whole "overworld, dungeon, dungeon item, boss"-concept, could give Zelda the fresh wind it desperately needs. I hope, that Spirit Tracks will already offer a few surprises, but Zelda Wii is the game, that really needs to change and revolutionize the series again. That wasn't done since Ocarina of Time, but with MotionPlus and some good changes in the Zelda formula it can be done again.

Update: It's like I said, what Aonuma meant was the typical game course:

We're making efforts regarding the total flow of the Zelda game. So far, the basic flow of the Zelda games is you're exploring a field, you go to a dungeon, you conquer it and return to the field. We're looking at altering that traditional flow. That's all I can share, and I can't say more until E3 next year.

What this probably means, is that the strict separation of overworld and underworld (the dungeons) will be gone and instead we get a more intervowen world design, where everything flows together more naturally. Take the world design of the Metroid games for example or more dungeons, that have more connections to the overworld or even other dungeons, like the Forsaken Fortress. I also wouldn't wonder if some influence came from Retro Studios, the development team responsible for Metroid Prime. I'm still convinced, that they are working together with Nintendo on the next Zelda game for Wii or at least have been involved in the development at some point.


Spirit Tracks: No Wi-Fi and DSi Enhancements

You probably already have seen the Q&A from the Official Nintendo Magazine about Spirit Tracks. Most information there is very vague and unspecific or just personal opinion. We probably have to wait for the full review this Friday, when the magazine will be released. However, five dungeons sounds a little disappointing, but don't forget that there will be a master dungeon with lots of floors. And some of the information isn't very accurate, for example TSA pointed out, that there won't be any pieces of heart, unlike the author of the Q&A said (probably mixed up terms and meant Heart Containers).

What's interesting for me is, that there won't be any DSi enhancements. Looks like Nintendo absolutely doesn't want me to buy a DSi. The whole DSiWare downloading service has still nothing to offer and there aren't any interesting games, that make use of the DSi features. But I'm definitely fine with that and very happy, that my DSLite still does the job. But it also means, that I probably can say good bye to my Stage Builder idea. Talking about that, by now it looks like Spirit Tracks won't have a multiplayer at all. Miyamoto mentioned a "Four Swords style multiplayer without swords", but there was no more word about the multiplayer and the official box art doesn't have the Wi-Fi logo on it:

It still could be not the final boxart, but the official Nintendo sites also say, the game will only be for one player. So, it might be, that the multiplayer idea was scrapped. No swords didn't sound like fun anyway and I wasn't a fan of the Phantom Hourglass multiplayer mode. It went into the right direction with being a small and simple duel mode, but the overall stealthing around Phantoms and Force Gem collecting concept isn't fun enough to be addictive, in my personal opinion. Could have been, that the Spirit Tracks multiplayer turns into something fun, but I can live without one.

PS: Did you see the US Spirit Tracks commercial? "Next stop: Hyrule", bwahahaaa, oh man...

Tingle: The Wario of the Zelda Franchise?

While Tingle surely is not as "badass" as Wario is, I noticed, that both characters took very similar ways in the history of their games. Wario basically was a disgusting, creepy and greedy version of Mario, while Tingle is a disgusting, creepy and greedy version of Link. Notice the similar clothing to their counterparts. And both of them got their own spin off series by now.

With Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land Wario got his own game. It's very similar to the previous Mario games, he got different hats, he shrinks when he gets hit by an enemy and dies if he gets hit afterwards. The main difference is, that Wario was more heavy and that the game focused more on finding hidden treasures. But overall it was a solid entry in the Mario series, it's even one of my favorite Jump'n'Runs. The graphics, music and sounds are very well made for a GameBoy game, it had a great atmosphere to it. However, with Wario Land II he followed his own course. He couldn't die anymore, but enemies could change his body state like flatten him or put him on fire, which was an unique but sometimes also annoying feature. Also, the game focused even more on hidden treasures and had different courses and endings. I personally didn't like it too much and luckily later the series would return to the format of the classic Wario Land. In addition Wario was the host of several minigame compilations, the Microgame$ or WarioWare.

Now with Tingle, his first own game called Freshly Picked: Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland was as close as possible for Tingle to a Zelda game. You have the exploring of an overworld, dungeons, typical sidequests, but Tingle used his bare hands and a series of bodyguards to fight instead of a sword and bargaining played an important role in the game. But overall it followed the Action Adventure formula of the Zelda series, which made it very accessible for Zelda fans. Now the sequel to that game, Color Changing: Tingle's Balloon Trip of Love then went more into an own direction. It didn't follow the Action Adventure formula and became more of a Point and Click Adventure game. Tingle also can't die in this game. Additionally Tingle was the star of a series of minigames, including the current installment of the Balloon Fight series and a collection of DSiWare applications, the Tingle Pack.

See the similarities?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Phantom Hourglass Revisited

I was on a little trip this weekend and I used the travelling time to play some Phantom Hourglass as a preparation for the upcoming Zelda game Spirit Tracks. I probably won't have the time again with New Super Mario Bros. Wii coming this Friday, so this was my best chance. And of course I didn't replay the entire game, I more or less just finished a file, which I have started about a year ago. Back then I was doing a little experiment, I tried to get to 3rd and 4th sea charts in one run and then I played the last three dungeons in the opposite order, meaning Mutoh's Temple first, then the Ice Temple and the Goron Temple at the end. Getting the 4th sea chart without the Grappling Hook, the Bombchus and about five less minutes on the clock is a little challenge, but you can do it. And playing the last three dungeons in any order worked fine, too. However, I had stopped there and didn't finish the game, so now I went back a final last time to the infamous Temple of the Ocean King and I finished some open sidequests.

As for the Temple of the Ocean King, I love and hate this thing. I know this dungeon better than the back of my hand, I played it up and down again and again... and again (since the game forces you to do so). I know it so well, that I've even written a FAQ how to beat the dungeon with a filled hourglass. It's the biggest and probably only challenge for long time Zelda fans in the game and probably the most interesting but sometimes also most annoying part of the game. It's a shame, that it takes invincible enemies and a time limit to make something challenging by now. And while I knew to appreciate the Ocean King Temple, I don't really need something like it again and I was somehow shocked by the news about the Spirit Tower. But by going through the Ocean King Temple again, I became kind of hot now for some new Phantom action. The good thing is, that you will have the ability to take over Phantoms from the start. The first floors probably only will have one Phantom and as soon as you collected the three Tears of Light it's party time. And there's no time limit in the Tower of the Spirits and you don't have to go through the floors again (except for some sidequest related backtracking). So, overall you will be able to focus on the Phantom scenarios, which means the Tower of the Spirits has the chance of being a much more fun version of the Ocean King Temple.

Sidequests are also a good point. What I didn't like too much about the sidequests in Phantom Hourglass, especially during my revisit this weekend, is that there are too many random factors. Especially the ship parts. Getting collectible items on random input is very rare in the Zelda series, it's only been done before in the Oracle games, where some of the rings where found randomly. And for the ship parts, there are only so few sources available at the end of the game. The Temple of the Ocean King, the minigames (including salvaging the pirate ships leftovers), the Beedle shop and trading. Trading was not an option, because I can't go online with my DS while sitting in a train. And I doubt, that there are many people left, who want to trade their ship parts. Plus I never used the trading while completing the game the first time, so why start now? The Ocean King Temple isn't a very attractive option either, you've already played it a couple of times, no need to replay it even more. But slaughtering Phantoms and getting new ship parts for doing so can still be a lot of fun, so it's something for in between. However, my choice went to the minigames, the archery game to be accurate. I'm pretty good at it and can score 2000 points on a regular basis. You always get a rare ship part for scoring more than 2000 points and you will get a normal ship part for 1700 points. Which means, I usually get a new ship part for playing (unlike in the other minigames, where you receive also lots of treasures and rupees) and I'm able to hord tons of ship parts in a short time. But still you'll get lots of duplicates and the entire process can take its time and is pretty repetitive as well. Sometimes I buy new ship parts at Beedle's from the money, that I got for the duplicates. But overall it's a boring process. What's also annoying is the Stowfish, I needed to catch more than 30 big fishs to get one. It becomes quite frustrating after a while, at some point the probability of getting at least one should raise. I mean, even the Neptoona came in fast, but I had to fish a dozen of more times just to catch the small little bastard. Well, I wonder, what collectible items Spirit Tracks will offer and how much of them are gotten randomly again. There was word about wooden hearts and dragon scales, both sound more like something similar to the Spirit Gems, but "train parts" are a possibility. The randomness, however, was used in Phantom Hourglass to put lots collectible items in the overall small game. Since Nintendo invested more time in the development of Spirit Tracks, I hope that we will get less random items.

Overall, playing some Phantom Hourglass again got me even more excited for Spirit Tracks. But I have to say again, that I never really was unhappy with Phantom Hourglass unlike some other Zelda fan fellows who labeled it as the worst game in the series. I think Phantom Hourglass is by far not perfect, but it's still a solid Zelda handheld experience and I really love the controls, it's a lot of fun for me to navigate Link through mazes and dungeons with the Stylus. Which is why I'm looking forward to Spirit Tracks in many ways.

Spirit Tracks Prolog

Ah, that's well made and very familiar. It feels so familiar, because Spirit Tracks and The Wind Waker pretty much have the same backstory. In the Wind Waker Ganon returned and filled the lands of Hyrule with terror, so that its inhabitants prayed to the gods. The gods then sealed away Ganondorf and flooded Hyrule. This little nice backstory was used as an explanation, how the new Zelda back then could take place entirely on an ocean. And now we have the same thing for Spirit Tracks, just with a railroad system instead of an ocean. Ganon (or whatever Demon King they talk about) broke the seal from the Wind Waker and now terrorized the new Hyrule and they sealed him away using a tower as a lock and large chains, that form the Spirit Tracks. That way they incorporated magically disappearing rails and the new Ocean King Temple dungeon into the story.

Okay, it's still not clear, who this Demon King really is, but the chances say Ganon and this time I really wouldn't mind it. I really liked his role in the Wind Waker, because you could understand his reasons, he was sick of the ocean and all he wanted, was the old Hyrule back. It was almost like he shared the opinion of most Zelda fans back then. And I wouldn't wonder, if he will be the guy in Spirit Tracks, who doesn't really like tracks and trains at all considering the fact, that he was kept down for hundred years by those things. And that way he speaks again for a majority of the fanbase, which is kind of funny.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Spirit Tracks: A Returning Face

The above video is a collection of all the current videos on the Japanese Spirit Tracks website. I really liked the impressions of the lake village and the fact, that the music seems to be a little more varied this time around, especially in the dungeons. But it's still to early to say, it still could be, that they use the two tracks from the video in all the other dungeons. :D Bad news is, that the different areas really do look like islands in the green fields, that's pretty lame actually. But what's interesting is the special guest character from The Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass:

For those, who can't remember or simply don't recognize him, it's Niko. The little pirate, with whom Link probably interacted the most, next to Tetra of course. For example the little minigames to get the Spoils Bag and the Bomb Bag. And in Phantom Hourglass he is the one, who retells the story of The Wind Waker with wooden images at the beginning of the game. Well, of course he's a lot older by now and probably the only one left from that time (with the exception of a certain bad guy). But it's awesome and very interesting. And wonder, what he's going to tell Link and Zelda, well about Link and Zelda. As I recall, he's the only character next to Ganondorf, who actually witnessed two generations of our favorite hero and princess.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Spirit Tracks: Gannon-Train Artwork

Seriously guys, if this is not some crazy incarnation of Ganon(dorf), I don't know what it is. And it's entirely possible, that he is the Demon King, who is mentioned in the backstory of Spirit Tracks. I mean he was burnt to ashes and still resurrected in the story of the older games. Remember Zelda II? Where it only takes one drip of Link's blood to make Ganon rise from his ashes? He resurrected so many times and escaped so many seals, I doubt the sword in the head that turns him into stone one from The Wind Waker will hold him forever. And it's better, if he is the bad guy in this game and then for Zelda Wii Nintendo comes up with something different.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Spirit Tracks: A New Instrument

Flute, ocarina, trumpet, bongos, guitar, harp, whistle... Link has sure played a lot of different instruments over the course of the Zelda series. But that doesn't stop Nintendo from adding a new instrument idea to Spirit Tracks. This time you will play some pan pipes, called the Spirit Pipes. You blow into the microphone and switch the pipe with your stylus. You will learn the songs from the Lokomo, the locomotive tribe, and those songs will restore the Spirit Tracks. Sounds pretty straight forward.

Source: Official Nintendo Magazine

As a bonus, the article here loosely describes what happens in the first 90 minutes of Spirit Tracks. They aren't very specific and they aren't really telling anything, what we haven't known already, but there's at least another nice screenshot of the Spirit Tower.

As you can see, you have to sneak around two Phantoms here. To get the Tear of Light in the lava section, you probably have to use the Whirlwind item (similar to the key in the trailer). The rest is standard Ocean King Temple action until you got all three tears. Then you can strike down one Phantom, so that Zelda can possess it, and use it to distract the other. That's how it works. They also confirmed again, that you don't have to play the floors again, once you've beaten them. I think alltogether the Tower of the Spirits could be quite fun even if there are still some stealth sections. Well, at least the stealth stuff always provides some challenge for me personally.

Ah yeah, and the Gannon-Train is called Mallard, named after the fastest train ever. But that doesn't mean, it's not related to Ganon at all, I mean the similarities are kind of obvious.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Spirit Tracks Hype

Okay, didn't see that coming. Before yesterday Spirit Tracks was pretty much doomed to be the single most hated Zelda game ever, a lot of Zelda fans easily dismissed it as a "casual, kiddy Phantom Hourglass rip off with trains" and weren't even planning on ever touching this game. No Zelda game suffered from so much prejustice since The Wind Waker. But one single new trailer and the whole community goes crazy over the game. They talk about redemption of the Zelda series or for example this loud mouth over here even publicly apologized to Nintendo (like they care, lol). If you followed my blog for a little while, you know, that I've been one of the very few people out there, who actually defended the game. And for me nothing much has changed, I know exactly, what I'm getting with Spirit Tracks. An improved Phantom Hourglass sequel, nothing more and nothing less. If you didn't like Phantom Hourglass because of the touch screen controls, the graphics and the Ocean King Temple, it should be pretty clear, that you won't like Spirit Tracks as well, since it still does have all that (although the new Ocean King Temple might be not as bad). And let's not talk about the train idea, everyone was like "WTF?!!! Link in a train, are you kidding?!" So, what changed, what made all the Spirit Tracks Haters looking forward to the game from one moment to the other?

She did. Our beautiful princess. I admit, the Ghost Zelda idea was a big twist to the whole game and is just absolutely awesome. Pure genious. She and the whole story of Spirit Tracks changed things. And I'm really impressed how much the story weights for lots of Zelda fans. It goes so far, that they forget about trains, about touch screen controls, about toon graphics and all the other complaints they previously had just to play the game for the story. And this is something I don't understand, because I personally never really was into the story of Zelda games or games in general. If I want a good story I read a book or watch a good movie or TV-show. But in games the gameplay always comes first and I dislike all those games recently, that try to be like movies.

Luckily Nintendo is (with the exception of Other M probably) on my side and cares about gameplay first. And the story is always wrapped around the core gameplay ideas, it's especially obvious in the Zelda series. Take Twilight Princess for example, you can pretty much sum up everything with "wolf" here, the wolf idea was the key. Midna just exists, because it looked more interesting, if something would ride on the wolf. The Twilight Realm just exists, because the game needed to force you into the wolf form, because otherwise most players wouldn't use the wolf much. How someone can talk about a genious story here is beyond my imagination, sorry. I'm not saying, that the stories in the Zelda series are all bad. I certainly enjoyed the story of Link's Awakening or Majora's Mask was pretty crazy and open to interpretation. Or for example the backstories of A Link to the Past and The Wind Waker were epic. But overall it has been the same lately, the story itself is mostly just created to justify the core gameplay ideas and not because Nintendo came up with some great legend. While some might think, that an evil being banned in Hyrule by large chains that form a railroad system is epic, for me it's just an excuse to explain how the tracks can dis- and reappear in the game. Because otherwise most of Hyrule would be accessible from the the start, but with this story they come around that and are able force the player on certain tracks. For someone, who enjoys free and non-linear exploration in Zelda games, this is rather bad news. Okay, like I said, the Ghost Zelda idea is really great and I'm really looking forward to this, but it doesn't change for me, that this is a Phantom Hourglass sequel.

I've always underestimated how much Zelda fans out there are into the story. Those "timeline theorists" are normally the most extreme example, I've seen Zelda fans in forums, who only played certain Zelda games like Oracles, because they wanted to know the story details and how they fit into the timeline. They weren't interested in actually playing the games, ZELDA games. For me Zelda is all about the exploration, the puzzles, collecting items and that combined with typical Zelda elements like certain sounds or music pieces. In 3D Zeldas the ambient atmosphere is also very important. But the story? I'm fine, if the Zelda game has a good story, but I'm also fully aware, that the story is often just a tool to justify the main ideas of the games like Link turning into a wolf, riding on a boat over the ocean or even going on a train. Only in rare occasions like Link's Awakening the story came in first. Which is why I would like to see the Zelda series turn away from the typical core idea concepts and let's have a Zelda game again, which is just a pure Zelda game. And not the Zelda game with the wolf, the train or the hat that makes you shrink. That way the story would probably flow in more natural, because it's open and not necessary to explain how Link ended up in a train or whatever.

But with Spirit Tracks we have a rather funny and extreme example, how a fan-hated idea turns into something wildly accepted. The story is the ONLY thing, that gives certain people excitement for the game, since they didn't like Phantom Hourglass, the touch screen controls and the train idea. And this is big. I mean, how can you play and like a game, where you pretty much don't like anything, just because of the story? This is close to hypocrisy. But I'm happy for the game and that Nintendo managed to somehow hype it a little before it will be released soon. I liked Phantom Hourglass, I liked the touch screen controls and the overall game design and while I think the game certainly had its room for improvement, I also think that Spirit Tracks might be able to fill up that space. I was looking forward to Spirit Tracks for a while now and Ghost Zelda makes the waiting time just harder. However, I won't decide, if this game is good or not just based on the story. There are too many other important factors left to see. How is the new Hyrule and will the exploration be fun? How non-linear is the game? How is the dungeon design? What sidequests are there? Does the game offer something for long-time Zelda fans? We don't know yet and it's still to early to dismiss or praise the game. Well, it should be at least good enough to be part of your Nintendo DS collection, that's for sure. It's a Zelda game after all. And I will certainly get it, play it and judge it here as soon as I'm finished.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Spirit Tracks: Screenshot Analysis

Quite the busy day. Next to a new trailer and infos about the story Nintendo released new artwork and a couple of new screenshots for Spirit Tracks. You can find the artwork and most of the screenshots over at ZeldaUniverse or on the official Nintendo sites. The artwork includes pictures of the new characters including the evil chancellor, who wears two hats to hide his horns. And the old lady on the "railchair" is from a new tribe, some locomotive people. But let's take a deeper look at some of the screenshots (don't read on, if you don't want to be spoiled about anything):

These screenshots show the train section in the beginning of the game (from the new trailer). There's a time limit and it probably has something to do with the vanishing of the Spirit Tracks. I guess, you only will have so much time to reach the tower until the tracks disappear. A cutscene in the trailer even shows how the tracks vanish under Link's train. See how the other tracks are greyed out? Those are probably already gone. Restoring the Spirit Tower then will cause the tracks to reappear and that way you can explore other regions of Hyrule. It works basically like getting new sea charts from the Ocean King Temple, just with rails coming out of nowhere. And I think, it's a pretty cheap way to force the overall game course. I was hoping, that the railsystem would lead to a more open and non-linear exploreable Hyrule, but again Nintendo has found a way to make their new Zelda game linear. Still, Phantom Hourglass gave you the possibility of exploring the last two parts of the sea at once and even play the last three normal dungeons in any order, if you managed to beat the third and fourth part of the Ocean King Temple in one attempt. Maybe there's something similar with the Spirit Tower and you can make play multiple parts at once if you're good. About that, there are two interesting screenshots of the Phantom gameplay as well.

What's so interesting isn't the lower screen, but what can be seen on the map. There are safe zones, multiple Phantoms, a small display of the current floor number and the Tears of Light. You have to collect three Tears of Light in order to strike down a Phantom. That part probably works like classic Ocean King Temple stealth action. I've always wondered, why there where safe zones shown in the older materials, but this pretty much explains it. The first screenshot even shows a second Phantom, while Zelda already possesses one. I wonder, how the two will react to each other. Will Zelda be able to destroy the other Phantom? Or can she at least somehow protect Link from it? Or does she like Link has to run from it, because the other Phantom can destroy hers (which wouldn't be awesome)? Or is it a spare Phantom in case your current one gets destroyed or lost? Well, the Phantom doesn't have a health meter, but that doesn't mean it can't get trapped or destroyed. (Update: You can actually use one Phantom to distract the other.)

Last bunch shows a scene from the castle and what I believe is the new Hyrule Castle town. The castle section at the beginning of the game involves stealthing AGAIN. You have to control Zelda and sneak her around the guards, while Link distracts them. He does that wearing their clothes, which happen to be the classic green hero tunic, so they mistake him for one of theirs. However, I don't do jumping jacks of joy because of this. I mean, how many sneak through the castle garden sequences did we have since Ocarina of Time? Oracle of Ages and The Minish Cap both did have one for example. Not talking about all the other stealth sequences like the Gerudo Fortress, Deku Castle or Subrosian stalking. But thankfully the new main dungeon won't be all just stealthing but taking control over the invincible enemies.

Spirit Tracks: Story Revealed

And even more about Spirit Tracks. IGN today revealed the story of the game. Again Spoilers, so continue reading at your own risk.

There is also additional information about how the Spirit Tower dungeon works. Zelda can take over the Phantoms in the Spirit Tower, but to do that, you have to collect Tears of Light, which power up your sword, so you can take down a Phantom. So, that means, that there will be still the typical stealth sections. But the good news is, that you don't have to replay the segments of the tower, there will be a staircase, that leads directly to the upper sections. And there won't be any time limit.

The rolling was also fixed, you just have to double-tab at the screen border to roll, no annoying circle drawing. No word about the Gannon-Train, but I wouldn't wonder, if the sealed "Demon King" will turn out to be Ganon(dorf).

Spirit Tracks: Ghost Zelda Trailer

Nintendo released some awesome new Spirit Tracks trailer today. If you don't want to be spoiled about the story of the game, don't watch it. The trailer shows a huge twist to everything we knew about the game so far.

-- video removed --

Woah, didn't see THAT coming. Zelda dies and turns into a ghost/spirit following Link. And then she takes over the Phantom to save Link from it. So, that's the deal. Link doesn't actually get a Phantom as a sidekick, but Zelda herself, who can take control over the Phantoms and maybe other enemies. I wouldn't wonder, if we would get to use stronger Phantoms in the later game like the Swift Phantoms or the ones that could teleport. And maybe even completely different enemies. Funny detail, she is scared of rats and so is the Phantom, lol. But Ghost-Zelda as a sidekick is definitely awesome, it also complains why she looked so pale on the European Cover. I love the scene, where she floats next to the train.

Some bad guys are shown, too. One looks like a floating Dr. Wily and shoots at Zelda, which seperates her spirit from her body. And obviously she isn't the only spirit in the game, that can take over things. There's a train, that looks like the reincarnation of Ganondorf, which I will call the "Gannon-Train" from now on. Well, I'm not sure right now if this is pure genious or absolutely ridiculous or even true, we will see. One boss is shown as well and it looks like, you're collecting Force Gems from the dungeons. It probably has something to do with the Life Force and it might be the only way to get Zelda's spirit back into her body. There are some other infos as well, posted in GoNintendo:
  • Spirit Tracks is a Phantom Hourglass sequel (oh really?)
  • The game begins with Link going to his graduation ceremony for completion of train engineering school. He will no longer be an apprentice engineer after this ceremony.
  • Link and the Phantom work together in the Tower of the Spirits
  • Tablets are collected in this tower
  • The Spirit Tracks trailer shows Link walking around with Zelda in spirit form after she has been attacked by a mystery enemy, which seems to come down from a ghost train. It seems like Zelda's spirit is with you for a large portion of the game, and she actually flies inside the Phantom to control it. Zelda rides/flies along with you while you're on the train.

Well, according to the info it really seems like the Tower of Spirits will be a new master dungeon similar to the Temple of the Ocean King in Phantom Hourglass. Before you freak out, it doesn't come with a time limit and instead of running away from Phantoms you will be able to control them with the help of Zelda. Collecting tablets instantly reminds me on Ancient Stone Tablets, which I have played recently. But it might be something similar to the Ancient Tomb dungeon in Oracle of Ages, where you had to collect several tablets in order to proceed to the next floor. Overall I really like the concept of a master dungeon, but the Ocean King Temple just wasn't very enjoyable. The repetition, the time limit, the stealth action, duh. At the moment we don't know, if it will have the same repetition level or if you will be able to skip already beaten floors, but at least the other factors seem to be gone.

Some Zelda fans also seem to complain about the time limit while riding the train in the trailer. I wouldn't worry about that, this might be exclusive to the situation (see how the tracks disappear?) or some sort of minigame (like Link's graduating test). I doubt, that you will always will have a time limit while going on train, in fact this was the first time we ever saw a train sequence with a time limit in it.

Nice detail, the whip is actually a snake or at least looks like a snake. I wonder, if there are any extra functions to it.

Overall Spirit Tracks has the chance to become what Phantom Hourglass should have been in the first place. And right now I'm really looking forward to go on adventures together with Ghost Zelda.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Good News for Spirit Tracks and Zelda Wii

In a recent interview Miyamoto says the following about Spirit Tracks and Zelda Wii:

[Zelda ST] will be really fun. It's turning out to be rather challenging. Many of our Japanese customers were introduced to the Zelda series with Phantom Hourglass, and ST could prove to be kind of hard for them, but I thought we'd show them what Zelda is really made of this time around. So it's turning into quite a unique title.

We've managed to gather quite a few creative team members for Zelda ST, so I'd like Zelda Wii to also enjoy creative development as much as possible.

About MotionPlus. We're implementing it so that players can feel like they themselves are holding the sword. In the previous Zelda (TP Wii) the targeting was based on the IR pointer. This time however, we'll be using MotionPlus for a variety of more convenient targeting systems that will allow for more pleasant gameplay.

Sounds awesome. It's only natural, that Spirit Tracks will be harder than Phantom Hourglass, since it's a sequel to the said game. The main audience for Spirit Tracks are people, who played and enjoyed Phantom Hourglass, so you can built on the expierences made in that game. The question, however, is, if the title will deliver some challenge for long-time Zelda fans as well. But it's good to see, that an easy experience for newcomers wasn't the priority.

And yeah, we also have a confirmation, that Zelda Wii is going to use MotionPlus. This was pretty clear, but still not really confirmed, at E3 Miyamoto seemed pretty unsure, if MotionPlus will be used or not depending on the success. But WiiSports Resort is doing really well and Zelda is definitely the perfect game to show what the Wii is capable of. Can't wait to swing the sword.

Source: Neogaf Forums