Let’s be honest, Nintendo is the Green Peace of the gaming world. I’ve tried taking my Mario, Zelda, and Metroid cartridges to the local recycling center, but they don’t seem to get the idea that these are franchises that continuously get rinsed out and reused. As all of these franchises are in their twenties now, you’d think there’d be confusion about where to go and what to do with their lives. But they keep moving forward, and the question becomes whether or not the games themselves remain quality.
The newest Zelda installment on the DS, Spirit Tracks, promises that as long as there is a platform for him, Link will be grappling and boomeranging his way to Zelda, whether by plane, train, or sail boat.
In the cell shaded tradition of Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass, this new Zelda brings clever dungeons, exploration, and puzzle solving to the DS. I would go into more about boomerangs and bombs, but I’m sure telling you what a Zelda game entails is like describing how a steering wheel works; so I’ll tell you what I got to play on the E3 floor.
The first level I was able to play was to experience controlling the train itself which I hope will lead to a review entitled “The Little Zelda that Could.” All movement and commands are performed by the stylus. A lever appears in the right part of the screen to control the speed and direction of the train and you even get to pull on the train whistle to warn animals to get out of your way. When you hit an animal (and fail to kill it), the animal will exact sweet vengeance upon your vehicle and take away a heart. You’ll have to take care to not unbalance the nature of your surroundings.
While on the train, you’re able to attack by tapping on animals or enemies in your path, and cannonballs will launch from what I can only assume are cannons installed on the front of your locomotive – perhaps it’s a pirate train, or they couldn’t fit them on the boat in Wind Waker. My only issue with the train is that, as your transit, it has to be compelling enough to enjoy. The boat and ocean in Wind Waker had a majestic, whimsical feel to it, especially using the wind to navigate to your destination. While people still complained about transit time, there was something surreal about being on the water. The train does not inspire the same seamless quality of travel. It feels stagnated and gimmicky.
On the other hand, the other two levels available held promise. The dungeon level featured a phantom that Link was able to control with the stylus. In a fire-ridden dungeon, a phantom immune to fire can act like a boat across lava, or as a shield for fire-shooting walls. A secondary partner in these dungeons also allows for versatility in timing and switch puzzles.
You can expect some interesting solutions to age-old Link dilemmas. During the course of the demo, a whirlwind power was given to Link and he was able to blow himself across chasms or engage draw bridges. The boss available to fight also required the use of the whirlwind to lift bombs in the air to hit it, and entailed the same clever simplicity of previous Zelda titles.
When all is said and done, it’s Zelda. While I’m not expecting much out of the transit system, I do think that, like most other Zelda titles, the same formula and inventiveness will prevail. Will it be groundbreaking? No. Will it be fun? Absolutely. Nothing short of the apocalypse can stop Zelda from re-returning to our fingertips, and for those who love the ever evolving Link adventure, things couldn’t look better for you. Pick up your recycling during Q4 of 2009.
If you’re interested in reading about more games that we played at E3, have a little snoop around Gamer Limit… we were lucky to check out rather a lot. Register here.