Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks - A look at what we've seen

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks was announced yesterday, and forums all over are abuzz with speculation and worry regarding this new installment in the classic franchise. Some people have pointed out minor gameplay additions in the trailer, but nobody's really sat down and thought about the core changes that are taking place in the game's formula, both concept- and gameplay-wise. That's what I've set out to do with this article, and I hope you all take what I say into consideration next time the game comes up in discussion (Which is sure to be quite often over the next little while).

Without a doubt, the first change deserving mention is the train. Having already addressed the obvious question of why a train is in a Zelda game (See the bottom of this article for the answer), it's time to see just what sort of impact this technological marvel will be having on the gameplay. First, let's take a look at the following screenshot taken from the trailer:

As you can see by looking at the top screen, there's a maze of tracks covering a large amount of what I'll be calling "Hyrule Field" until another name is given. One of the first things to notice about this is the fact that most of the upper-left quarter of the map is devoid of rails. What does this mean? Quite simply, it means that not all exploration will be done via train. There will be on-foot travel in Spirit Tracks outside of dungeon exploration. Second, note the tattered edges of the map on the left and bottom borders of the screen, and the absence of them in the right and top borders. This suggests that what we see here is, at the very least, a quarter of the overall game world. The map is at least four times this size in total. Whether or not the rail system continues into these unknown regions is yet to be found out for sure, but that one stretch of tracks running along the eastern side of the castle suggests it will, and I expect significant amounts of on-foot exploration will go along with it.

One may notice a parallel between the way the train works and how seafaring worked in Phantom Hourglass (Spirit Tracks' supposed prequel). The ocean from the previous game has basically been replaced with a largely empty field crisscrossed by rails, and the boat replaced with a train. Instead of sailing across a sea, we'll now be chugging across a large field. In short, there's nothing truly new and restricting about Spirit Tracks (That we so far know of) when compared to the seafaring in Phantom Hourglass.

To that you may ask "Well, why not just stick to the ocean, then?" There's a simple answer to that, but you may not like it: To make the game more casual friendly. With a wide open ocean there's plenty of places to get lost, but if there's set, defined paths crossing it, it's next to impossible to lose your bearings. Now, if it's being made casual friendly, that means it has to be super-easy, right? Well, that's not quite true. Two paths could be taken here with game difficulty without hampering the experience for more dedicated gamers. The two paths are as follows:

-One option would be to implement the "Kind Code" patent that surfaced back in January, allowing more advanced gamers to play it as usual, while still allowing any less experienced gamers the opportunity to enjoy the story, and jump in for a bit of action whenever they want.

-The other possibility would be to leave the difficulty in tact and not lower it at all for the more casual gamer. Spirit Tracks could become more of a "bridge" game than a "gateway" title, helping new gamers to slowly advance from simpler titles like Wii Sports over to more complex and difficult games such as this. The rail system will be the simplified aspect of the game, letting the newcomer concentrate on learning how to fight. From this "bridge" game they could then move on to more serious and difficult titles like the console Zelda games, thus completing the path Nintendo set for them.

Of course, I'm not at all denying the distinct possibility that Nintendo will avoid both of the above paths and instead make the game incredibly simple. All I'm saying is there are other possibilities that would serve both dedicated and newcomer gamers alike.

For the next section, we'll be taking a look at the following two screenshots (Again, taken from the trailer):

These two screens right here confirm the most important parts of any Zelda game are intact: Dungeon exploration and epic boss battles. Unlike the above uncertainties involving difficulty, this much remains fact; Spirit Tracks will still very much be a Zelda game, perhaps even eclipsing Phantom Hourglass as the definitive handheld Zelda experience. With a new super-powered, fan-like weapon and the ability to control Dark Nuts to do our bidding, Spirit Tracks holds all the markings of a masterpiece. Will it hold up to this potential? Only time can say for sure, but my outlook is optimistic.

What do you think of what we've seen of Spirit Tracks so far? Are you excited for it beyond all reason, or are you more likely to burn a Miyamoto effigy on your front lawn? Feel free to speak your mind in either the comments section, or in this forum thread. Just no burning of effigies around here; The cops are already on my ass about the "cherry Kool-Aid" dripping down the walls.


SpinachPuffs said...

I'm really excited about Spirit Tracks - and I don't personally see the train as a dumbed-down version of the sea, just a handheld-friendly way of making it across Hyrule somewhat faster than the console version. I hadn't noticed that area void of track - fingers crossed this does hint at on-foot exploration!

Tré Felidae said...

I think that the train aspect might be a fun change. Will the houses have more modern items in them? I wonder...

Also, I'm going to enjoy the ability to play games from my SD card. I was down to 50 blocks! :O :O Also, why blocks instead of MB? It would be so much easier.. Stupid 'casual' stuff.