previews\ Jun 4, 2009 at 8:00 pm

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks - NDS - Preview

E3 2009 PreviewE3 2008 GameZone Previews

We're not used to seeing frequent installments of the Zelda series. Up until the 2007 release of Phantom Hourglass (which followed the 2006 release Twilight Princess), new Zeldas were just barely more common than new Marios. Now, just two years later, we are about to embrace yet another sequel in the beloved franchise – The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks.

The curious title comes from the new form of transportation: a train. Trains are used to navigate the world of Spirit Tracks, replacing the boats and rafts of the other Zelda games. Though the train is a little on the slow side, there are two speeds, as well as a cannon that allows you to attack enemies (who may attack the train as you roar by). If an animal wanders onto the tracks by mistake, blow the whistle to scare him away.

Spirit Tracks may have gotten its name from the train, but it’s the ability to control a Phantom (a large creature that resembles a dark knight in silver armor) that is most interesting. In at least some of the dungeons within the game, players can tap on the Phantom and draw a line to guide him wherever they please. The Phantom follows whatever path you draw and will attack enemies automatically. He won’t solve puzzles on his own but will definitely be used in their solution. In one area, there were three streams of fire being shot across an area Link had to cross. The Phantom is fireproof, so you can use him to block the first path, have Link cross, then have the Phantom block the second path, and so on.

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks Nintendo DS screenshots

Nintendo has a tradition for breaking their Zelda demos into three parts and Spirit Tracks is no exception. The first part revolved around the train, the second focused on the Phantom, and the third and final one is – come on, you know what’s coming – a boss battle.

Large enough to fill the first screen and part of the second, the boss was essentially one very big bug. His thick exterior was impossible to penetrate from the front, but like so many Zelda boss battles, this guy had an obvious weak spot: his glowing backside. Strike him a few times and he’ll start to fly around the top and bottom screens, prompting a minor puzzle where you must figure out how to attack him using magic (gusts of wind) and a few enemies that turn into explosives after being hit.

Though the graphics haven't evolved much beyond the last game – the characters are still coated with a cartoon, perhaps cel-shaded layer – Spirit Tracks is just as visually appealing as Phantom Hourglass. Link's animations are terrific, demonstrating the true power of the DS. At least some of the boss battles will stretch across both screens, producing massive effects that have yet to be produced in any other franchise. The backgrounds are packed with depth and detail; they may appear to have come from anime, but that would make this one of the most attractive animes to grace a handheld machine.


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