Monday, January 11, 2010

Zelda and Multiplayer: Spirit Tracks

The history of Zelda's multiplayer is a history of failure. By now six games in the series already tried to implement a multiplayer mode, but still the Zelda series isn't known for its multiplayer experience. Let's take a closer look, how multiplayer was incorporated into Zelda and what went wrong.

Final part:
Spirit Tracks

Phantom Hourglass finally managed to offer a multiplayer with the right approach, a small battle mode that can be played online as an addition to a main singleplayer adventure. My biggest complain about the multiplayer in Phantom Hourglass, however, was that it wasn't symmetrical, that it's too complicated for beginners and not much fun overall. Something like Shadow Battles from Four Swords Adventures, a "Deathmatch" Zelda mode, would have been better. And that's exactly, what the Nintendo DS Zelda team probably thought, too. So, the new battle mode has four Links battling against each other. A dream!

Well, it's the only multiplayer mode in a Zelda game, which I haven't tested so far, so I can't tell much about it. But from all the materials I have seen, it looks great. You can play with up to three more players and everyone plays with Link, so everyone is in the same sitatuon. The four Links have the colors from the Four Swords games, but they don't have swords or other weapons. Your goal is to collect Force Gems and the player with the most Force Gems at the end wins. But you aren't slowly carrying them into bases like in Phantom Hourglass, you're collecting them more like rupees. It's similar to the Coin Battle modes from various other Nintendo multiplayer games. There are no weapons allowed, but there are various traps and hazards all over the different themed arenas. Phantoms are chasing you, there are Phantom Eyes, you can use trap doors and throw bomb flowers and there are power ups to collect. It's chaos, but the kind of chaos, that can be tons of fun.

Sounds good, doesn't it? It probably could have been more fun, if the players had swords and could use other items from the main game, but I can't really judge and tell, because I wasn't able to play it yet. And here's the problem. For some unimagineable reason they decided to cut out the online mode this time. You can only play it locally with Multi Card or Download Play modes. It's Four Swords all over again! It's useless and a huge backstep from the last game. None of my friends has a Nintendo DS, not to talk about the pure interest in playing Zelda. So, how am I going to play this, Nintendo? And I'm not the only one with this problem, just check some Zelda fan boards out there. Also, Phantom Hourglass worked online, so why not this game? They were SO close of giving us the first flawless and playable Zelda multiplayer mode, but they had to screw it up again. This is not awesome and there's no excuse, why removed the online mode, except for them being lazy.

About the other criteria, I'm not sure if the game rewards you with rare treasures for winning. But there don't seem to be any "Big Plays" like in Phantom Hourglass. And there's always the trading via Contact Mode as a motivation. But I'd say, the multiplayer mode looks fun enough, so you probably don't need any motivation to lure you into playing it. And since I can't play it anyway, I at least can't complain, that I'm missing out any rewards.

Update: After I actually was able to try it myself, the mode wasn't much fun after all, where I can even understand that they didn't bother with adding online functionality. You have to worry more about the Phantoms than the other players, where something like the Shadow Battles certainly offers more fun.


This was the last part of my "Zelda and Multiplayer" article series. In conclusion you can say, that there were six different games and six different approaches for a multiplayer mode in Zelda. But none of them is perfect, the biggest overall problem is the connectivity and finding other players, only one game so far managed to offer an online mode. And the concepts ended up being too big or too complicated. They tried to make standalone multiplayer Zelda games, but they ended up being unaccessable. They tried to make small battle modes, but they were either not fun enough or didn't support online play. But one thing, which Nintendo always did right, was learning from their past approaches. They are learning very slowly and they even tack backsteps, but they are learning. And my hopes for the future are, that they will be finished with learning at some point and then magically be able to give us the right multiplayer experience in one of the upcoming Zelda games.

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