Sam Hansen
E3: The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks Impressions
Insert overused train pun here.
06.05.09 - 6:38 PM

It took us three days, but we finally found a hole in the line snaking around The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks! After many failed attempts to score a playthough of the demo, at the top of Thursday's hour, we finally did it! Nintendo's setup was sporting three different modes (Dungeon, Boss, and Train), all of which I got to play given the surprising lack of people around the booth at the time. Hooray for people being elsewhere! Fans of Phantom Hourglass should surely be pleased, because this next DS iteration is looking to be more of the same. You know, plus trains.

First up for me was the Dungeon demo, which showcased what I assume to be one of the earlier areas in the game. Link is first seen within the presence of a hulking Guardian that players will recognize from PH, though this time around, our Hylian friend will be able to control them using the DS's touch screen. Players can press and hold the base of the Guardian with the stylus and drag a path along the ground that the creature will follow upon their release. One can also Call for the Guardian and have it return to Link's side, or shift their perspective entirely so that the camera follows the Guardian and its movements.

Many of the puzzles I saw here focused on cooperation between these two characters. Sometimes there were two switches I needed to step on simultaneously, other times there were lava pits I needed to trudge through, prompting me to leap onto the beast's shoulders and be hoisted across the flaming pools unscathed. Another puzzle required me to use the Guardian to block off billows of fire that spewed out of the walls so Link could walk across on a separate pathway.

I was also given an additional toy to play around with in the form of a pinwheel type item, whose name I couldn't be bothered to remember. With it equipped, I was able to blow into the microphone and shoot out mini-tornadoes that could activate far off switches and knock enemies off their feet. It was really gimmicky, and I personally had a hard time aiming the thing properly, but it was still a welcome addition to Link's repertoire.

After the game oh-so-rudely cut me out of the demo midway through a puzzle, I returned to the title screen and selected Boss. The foe itself was this large, moth-like character which made its home inside what looked to be the canopy of a tree (the setting was especially awesome given the two screen's elongated way of presenting cinematics). The boss screamed at me and politely flaunted its flaming rear (yes, flaming rear) in my face, which, in Zelda-fashion, ended up being its one weakness. To defeat it, I needed to extinguish the fire with my trusty pinwheel and hack away at the exposed buttocks with my sword. After two rounds of this, the creature took to the skies and began hurling bugs at me. This was where the battle took a turn for the worse, as my aforementioned aiming difficulties prevented me from performing the next part of the battle with any sort of grace.

What was required didn't really make much sense. After attacking the bugs with Link's sword and shape-shifting them into bombs (sure, whatever), I had to use my pinwheel to blow the explosives into boss as it swooped back to the ground. Maybe it was just me, but I just couldn't get the hang of this at all. The entire process just felt cumbersome, and it took me try after try until I was able to fell the flight-bound behemoth. So I collected my Heart Container and went on to the next bit of the demo.

The train is certainly the biggest talking point of Spirit Tracks, without question. But is that chitter chatter in any way positive? I don't really know, as I didn't interview any of my fellow players. Personally, however, I found Train to be one of the more enjoyable demos on display. At the right of the touch screen is a segmented dial that players can use to tweak the train's overall speed, as well as a whistle that will scare away pigs or whatever else may be scurrying about on the tracks when tooted. A cannon has also been rigged to the head of the train that can blow up rocks and ward off enemies out to derail you by tapping away with your stylus.

Basically, the gist of the gameplay is that you'll be altering your pace, maneuvering your way through track splits, and bombarding the landscape with your weaponry. There was even a chase-scene boss at the end of the demo that turned out to be a good deal of fun, so I'm expecting many more throughout the course of the game. It's nothing innovative, but it's looking like a promising aspect of the game, especially if we'll be getting upgrades along the way. As a means of transportation, though, I could see this getting extremely tedious. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Based on what I saw in the demo, Link's next adventure seems to be right on track (that's the only train pun in this entire impression! Quit your whining!). With Spirit Tracks scheduled for late 2009, the title still a ways away, so keep checking back with RPGFan for additional coverage.