Sunday, January 31, 2016

Replaying Spirit Tracks on the Wii U

Done. This was the third time that I have completed this game. I went for the 100%, so I've caught all Rabbits, unlocked all tracks, got all Train Cars, earned a Diamond membership at Beedle's shop, scored 999 hits in the sword training (technically only 900 is necessary) and so on. I'm even a little sad that it's over. And that's some big statement considering that I usually claim this to be one of my least favorite Zelda games and the Zelda game with the lowest replay value.

Especially when I replayed this game in late 2010 (see here), I complained about, how slow this game really can be. But I guess, I went back to the game too early. Now, five years later, I didn't mind the train riding as much. The beautiful music really helps, as well as the entire scenery, though most of the time I simply imagined, how this pixelated mess would look like in a pretty 3D remake.


It still takes its time, I clocked 44 hours for this replay, ten more than with Phantom Hourglass. This is easily one of the longest Zelda games to complete, but not because it offers so much content, but because it plays quite slowly and a lot of grinding is required to complete your Train Cars collection.

One example of slowness, which really struck me this time around, are these birds around Papuchia, which you need to get from one small island to the next. In Phantom Hourglass you would simply draw a line with your Grappling Hook and you're over there in a split second. In this game you have to call the birds with a song, then attach to them with you whip and hold as they slowly fly towards your destination... Ugh.

But I've already compared both games in the past, where I pointed out, how Phantom Hourglass plays significantly faster in many ways.

Totem Time

I also wasn't very fond of the entire Phantom mechanics this time around, especially the path drawing feels inconvenient. And the Phantom is a lot slower than you, so you have to keep waiting for it, so the whole gameplay just drags on too much in these parts.

But it was interesting to see, how this game inspired the whole totem mechanic of Tri Force Heroes. I almost forget about these things and after playing Tri Force Heroes a lot, going through these parts again was quite the surprise. The Phantom takes you piggyback, where you use the Whirlwind to blow off enemies riding on Armos. There's even a part, where the Phantom blocks flame throwers in order for you to pass, where a very similar puzzle exists in the Fortress area of Tri Force Heroes.

I also have to say that the final part of the Tower of Spirits is ingenious, easily one of the most clever dungeon parts in the series. This had good replay value, since even though I played this for the third time, I still struggled with some of the solutions. And it's rare to find puzzles of that quality in Zelda. Though a part of it had to do with the fact that you have to cross that long lava pit multiple times, because it takes a while to unlock shortcuts, which was rather badly designed and again adds to the slow pace of this game.

Spirit Flute

While the slow pace wasn't as much of turn-off as the last time, on the Wii U Virtual Console I was faced with an entire new problem. Let me present to you the real final boss of the game:

That's right, the Spirit Flute! Or let's better say the Wii U microphone. It really doesn't work well with this game and now I can fully understand the frustration people had in the original with this feature. On my Nintendo DS Lite playing the Spirit Flute never was an issue - blowing into the mic gave a continuous tone, as it should. If I ever had problems, it was with staying in tact. But the Wii U microphone seems to have some sort of noise filter activated. So, whenever you start blowing into the microphone, it shuts off. Or at least that's my theory, how it works, because it simply doesn't register all your hot air the same way the Nintendo DS did. And this can be super frustrating. Imagine that you want to play the right note, but nothing happens. And it's not your fault.

I'm not even exactly sure, how I did it in the end, but mostly I used short bursts to play every note individually. This, however, might take too long. And sometimes even this doesn't help, where you can blow at the thing all you want and nothing happens. Finding a good angle helps, but mostly it's just luck and you have to keep trying many, many times in order to complete all the Lokomo duets.

This even put me off, when I started to replay the game on the Wii U. Originally I wanted to play this right after Phantom Hourglass, but I ended up playing all the GBC Zelda games instead. I even continued with Harvest Moon GB afterwards, just because I felt replaying that would be more joy than the messed up Spirit Flute. But this week I finally got myself around to finish this despite the technical difficulties.

Nintendo needs to fix this somehow, either get the microphone to work properly or offer a button for microphone input. They still haven't released this elsewhere and this might even have to do with these issues...


Another big problem in Spirit Tracks are also the fake rare treasures, which is every completionist's nightmare. Random stuff is bad enough, but random stuff with tampered probabilities is a lot worse. In Spirit Tracks some treasure might appear for you very rarely in order to have an incentive to actually use that Contact Mode with other people. In the original this was already an issue, but on the VC you can't even use this feature anymore and Nintendo didn't bother with fixing this problem, so you're stuck with near endless grinding.

This time I even had it a lot worse than on my cartridge savegames, where only two treasures seemed to be rare at a time. Now, the following five treasures played hard to get:

  • Demon Fossils
  • Star Fragments
  • Dark Pearl Loops
  • Ruto Crowns
  • Mystic Jade

What a mess! In my original playthrough on the Nintendo DS it used to be Wood Hearts and Black Pearl Loops. And when I replayed the game for the first time it was Bee Larva (I believe) and White Pearl Loops / Pearl Necklaces. And now I got this...

This was the first time that a 500 Rupee treasure turned out to be rare for me. And two of both the 50 Rupee and 150 Rupee category. With the 50 Rupee treasures this actually felt natural, since blowing leaves in Whittleton gives you acorns, bee larva and skulls most of the time... things that you actually might find under foliage, as opposed to fossils and crystals. And the Demon Fossils didn't appear to be rare at first, while the Star Fragments did. You only need nine Star Fragments, so this is one of the best treasures to be rare, but it later on appeared more often (though not as often as the others), while the Demon Fossils wouldn't show at all for me. And you need 25 of those...

With the higher prized categories I tried to abuse the Restore Points of the Virtual Console, but it didn't really help much. It felt like the probablities to get that Mystic Jade were around 1%, so I could reload dozens of times without any luck. But similar to Phantom Hourglass the game starts to have these bursts, where you suddenly you keep getting what you need, if you try long enough. Or at least it changes the probabilities temporarily, so a mixture of replaying the same minigame and Restore Points did the trick.

I also noticed, how either the Alchemy Stone / Gold Crystal or the Regal Ring will be rare for you. I went back to my old savegames on the Nintendo DS, where on my 2nd playthrough I didn't have many Alchemy Stones, but lots of Regal Rings. This time it was the other way around, I would find Alchemy Stones in random spots, but Regal Rings only in their set spots. Which actually is better, since you can always get more Regal Rings from the Lost at Sea Station (one of my favorite mini dungeons). The Alchemy Stone doesn't have a similar spot. Though this is only an issue, if you actually sell them.

It's quite weird, how this game is already six years old and in all this time no one has found out, how exactly the whole treasure system works with its probabilities. It would be nice to know...

Restore Points

While they didn't help too much with the treasures, Restore Points were at least very helpful with other things, especially the rabbits. Trying to catch all those can be frustrating, because if you miss, you have to go back to the nearest station. And some of these rabbits are very hard to catch. But luckily this was not an issue on the Virtual Console.

It also enabled me to do the 999 hits in the sword minigame in the "intended" way. Originally I abused a glitch to get there, but I couldn't get it to work this time. So, I decided to do those 999 hits the real way with the assistance of Restore Points, which really makes this bearable. I couldn't do it without it and I have huge respect for anyone, who did.

If A Link Between Worlds will ever be playable with Restore Points, then that's when I will finally complete the game with the 999.99 Cucco Run challenge. Even that would be bearable then.


Despite all the issues I enjoyed replaying Spirit Tracks more than I thought I would. I probably won't play this game again until there will be some updated remake, which I suspect might already happen in the next generation. Both Nintendo DS Zelda games haven't aged well with those graphics and there are many things to improve here, where I probably make another blog post about this. But it was nice to refresh my memories of this game a little.

Next Zelda games on my replay list are the NES Classics on the 3DS Virtual Console, where I probably just keep praising Restore Points. I will play these in February, which certainly will be a nice fit for the start of the anniversary. And in March I will be busy essentially replaying Twilight Princess with its HD re-release.

After the Nintendo DS Zeldas I also really want to replay Skyward Sword, since it followed these games, but I still don't have a TV yet, so this will have to wait until later this year...


Eduardo Jencarelli said...

No way Twilight Princess is longer than Spirit Tracks. I can beat that game 100% in just over 30 hours. And that's with fishing all possible fish, unlocking all of the Postman letters, doing every rollgoal level and clearing the Cave of Ordeals twice.

TourianTourist said...

Well, I don't remember exactly, how long it took me the last time, I will need to look it up. I just estimated it to be longer, same with Skyward Sword, which I never really have replayed to begin with (except Hero Mode).

I might be wrong though and Spirit Tracks really takes the longest to complete of all Zeldas. I guess, I will see, when I actually replay Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword later this year.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

Skyward Sword is definitely longer, maybe not as long as Spirit Tracks, but the bug collecting for upgrades is a definite timesink, especially if you're going to maintain different shields, as well as locating all medals and chests.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

Correction: Bug and Treasure collecting. And by longer, I meant longer than Twilight Princess.

When you think about it, it was really Ocarina that began this idea of Zelda games being dozens of hours long. The previous four games could be done in one sitting.

TourianTourist said...

Okay, the last time that I've completed Twilight Princess, it also took me exactly 30 hours. So, you were right about this one.