Friday, December 11, 2009

Spirit Tracks Rail Diary: Day 1

Well, this blog is of course not as popular that Nintendo would send my an early copy (maybe on the next game? :D) and I live in Europe, so I couldn't get my hands on this game earlier. But here I am, got my copy of Spirit Tracks today and I'm more then ready for some new Zelda action. The battery of my Nintendo DS system is currently reloading, so it's a perfect time to write about my experiences so far. If you live in the US, you probably already have finished the game. That's good for you, because those articles won't contain any SPOILERS then. If you haven't played the game yet and don't wish to read any potential spoilers, please stop reading now. You've been warned.

First a photo of the very nice European boxart. Link is playing the Spirit Pipes on the cartridge sticker.

Well, where am I? I finished the first dungeon and two sections of the Spirit Tower and the last thing I did, before the battery ran out, was solving the puzzle in the Anouki village. It wasn't as hard as the similar puzzle on the Isle of Frost in Phantom Hourglass, but I liked it more. Mentioning Phantom Hourglass is a good point, overall this game is and tries to be a better Phantom Hourglass. So comparisons with that game are unavoidable.

But let's start from the beginning. The game really takes its time until you finally get into the "real" action, actually I haven't had any feeling of freedom so far, which is really bad for a Zelda game. Your way through the game really feels forced and I hope this is getting better. First you have to pass the test for becoming an engineer, then you go to the castle and try to sneak Zelda out, then you finally get your sword, but you have to do the first Spirit Tower section. But doing that to restore the tracks is not enough, you even have to find another of the Lokomo folks to restore the tracks leading to the next normal dungeon. The disappeared rails, that have to be resurrected, were a perfect tool for the Zelda team to make the game as linear as possible. And that sucks hard, a good Zelda game like Ocarina of Time gave you access to a majority of the overworld very early and let you explore the world by your own. That feeling of freedom and exploration is what made the first Zelda game Zelda to begin with. However, I'm still early in the game and I have still hopes, that Spirit Tracks will offer non-linear parts as well.

But the story really is good. It's kind of dark and twisted, a little bit like Majora's Mask, which is nice. The overall backstory is just pretty much The Wind Waker with trails instead of water, but I said that before. Chancellor Cole seems to be an interesting villain, I certainly like his craziness. And I'm still conviced that Mallard is Ganon, but I will see (plz don't spoil me). What I like the most, however, are the references to the previous generation. Niko, Tetra, Linebeck, ... - it certainly gives you the feeling, that the whole Wind Waker timeline is much more solid and better told than what we got with the other games. The game gives credits to the fact, that incarnations of the same characters reappear in every generation, starting with Link and Zelda. And yeah, I know that Linebeck will be in the game selling train parts, the manual told me so.

Riding on the train is more fun than I thought it would be. The world offers much more than the ocean in Phantom Hourglass, I especially enjoyed the forest and the Lost Woods section. It's an old, classic puzzle, but felt fresh thanks to the train. I love the new cannon, that feels much more sharp and accurate than the old one, and I love using the horn. And I died. Yes, you've heard me, I saw the "Game Over" screen in a modern Zelda game. Did not expect that. But it's an instant kill, when you get hit by those nasty enemy trains and there's one point, before you get the cannon, where a route appears to be safe, but isn't. Unless you studied the path of the enemy trains before, you most likely will crash into one, leading to a game over. But overall riding on the train is a lot of fun, I can't wait for the underwater part.

There's an interesting sidequest while riding on the train, that involves hunting rabbits. You will see rabbits sitting on stones while driving through the lands of Hyrule, it sometimes really looks like one of those Raving Rabbids, creepy stuff. You can shoot the rocks and then try to catch them with a net, which is a minigame. It gets kind of annoying, if you miss them, because you have to go back to a station and then back to the spot where the rabbit was to try again. But it's not as long and time consuming as the salvaging and the fishing in Phantom Hourglass. The rabbits are stored in a Rabbit Sanctuary, a small place that looks like it resembles the entire overworld. It is divided into a forest, an ice, a mountain and an ocean area. I know that there will be a desert world too, I wonder where it will appear on the overworld. If it's up to the Rabbit Sanctuary, the desert is probably the northern part of the ocean world. Or it's an entirely new map, but that would be too good to be true.

There's another sidequest, which I certainly enjoy more, the stamp collecting. Every place in the game, even the dungeons, does have a stamp post station, where you can put a stamp in Niko's stamp book. The stamps look cool and they do have a date on them, which is nice. You will walk across a series of those stations at the beginning of the game, but you won't be able to use them until you get the stamp book. This leads to some serious backtracking, you even have to go back to the first dungeon to get the stamp there. But this is cool, I enjoy backtracking and remembering all those little places, where you still can get something.

The treasures now also can be found in the environment (like under pots) and they do have a real purpose by now. You can buy train parts from them. At least that's what the manual says. It looks like there's going to be eight different sets again, which makes 32 train parts to collect alltogether. Which means, while the treasures still are random, the train parts aren't, which is good. I still haven't gotten the last ship part in my current Phantom Hourglass save game yet, so all the randomness can be quite annoying. And finding entire ship parts in a treasure chest didn't make too much sense anyway. The new treasures do look pretty and again offer some references to previous game, like the Bee Larva from Twilight Princess. I wonder, if you can collect lots of Stalfos Skulls by killing Stalfos.

But overall I'm not unhappy with the collectible items, but not too much hyped either. It's better than Poe Souls whatsoever.

I haven't talked about the most important part yet, the giant Masterdungeon. It certainly feels toned down compared to the Temple of the Ocean King. The stealth sections so far were very short and the cooperation puzzles lots of fun. And of course there's no repetition thanks to the giant staircase in the center of the tower. By the way, I like those teleporters that look like the Spinner item from Twilight Princess. The Forest Temple was nice too, it even got a miniboss, which was surprising. The dungeons in Phantom Hourglass all didn't have one. Like most Zelda dungeons nowadays it was entirely built around the new item, which you get there very early. It's a concept, that is all too well familiar. But the Tower of the Spirits compensates this pretty good and offers fresh ideas. Entering the dungeons with the train feels awkwardly familiar to the Great Bay Temple in Majora's Mask. The entrance hall of the Forest Temple even looked familiar in the structure.

About the Whirlwind item, blowing in the microphone all the time isn't as bad as I thought and actually quite fun. The microphone is quite sensitive and even small blows from normal distance can activate the Whirlwind. And playing the Spirit Pipes is fun as well. Brings you back to the old N64-times, you even can change the tone pitch using the d-pad. But the songs are very weird, there's one song to dig treasures up (as a replacement for the shovel) and one song, that summons a fairy to heal you. But you're told, that you can only use this one time, don't know if there's a way to recharge it.

Well, I admit, that this first post was very generic and more of an overview, but I haven't seen most of the game yet. I will try to write one of these posts every day until I'm finished with the game, so stay tuned.

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