Games for Lunch: The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
Release Date: Dec. 8, 2009
System: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: E10+
Official Web site
0:00 I actually came away from my 15-minute demo of this game at E3 incredibly bored with the entire concept. Am I finally outgrowing the concept of Zelda games? Man, I hope not...
0:01 Across both screens, a blocky 3-D locomotive blasts out of a dark tunnel into the bright light of a green field. Leaning out the window is a cartoony, Wind Waker-ish Link in a black engineer's outfit, with a huge grin on his face . A ghostly version of Zelda (!) jumps off the roof and flies alongside the train. Gentle flute music in the background as the camera rotates around, showing a large tower in the distance. Birds fly along the train tracks, keeping pace with the locomotive. As the title appears we continue to chug towards the tower. A train whistle goes off as I tap the screen to start.
0:02 The familiar file-select music brings me back to the '80s almost immediately. The game asks me to twice confirm that I'm right-handed. In case I mis-clicked the first time I guess?
0:03 Adventure, Battle and Tag modes are available. The others sound interesting, but let's dive into Adventure, why not? "This is a tale from long ago. It's a tale of the first settlers of this land." It was peaceful, but not for long. "The evil Demon King rose to power." And who exactly voted for him? Anyway, the "spirits of good" faced him, leading to a long war, with lots of bloodshed. The good spirits subdued him but couldn't destroy him. With the last of their strength, they shackled him. "The shackles cover the land to this day." Hmmm ... train tracks look like shackles. Anyway, without demons and spirits, "the land was entrusted to us," which seems like a good deal to me.
0:05 Zoom out from the illustrative tapestry on the bottom screen to show a bald man speaking from behind it. "Well? Do I know how to tell a story or what? ... It's a blasted masterpiece... a blasterpiece." I'm going to have to weave that word into casual conversation.
0:06 Pan to Link, who fell asleep on the floor during the story. They're roommates, though the bald guy seems a lot older than Link. Amazingly, he takes the hint and apologizes for boring me.
0:08 My mentor Alfonzo walks in. He's a big beefy specimen of a man, at least twice Link's height! He picks me up by the lapels and shakes me to wake me up. Today's my audience with the princess! It's the graduation ceremony, where I'll receive my engineer certificate. Quite a humble beginning for someone I'm sure will once again become the hero of Hyrule. Alfonzo tells me to meet him at the train station up the road.
0:10 Movement is controlled just like it was in Phantom Hourglass ... just tap on the screen and Link runs there. I run outside to a pleasant sunny day. Gulls fly away as I approach... a nice touch.
0:11 Oh ... a guy who looks incredibly like Art Garfunkel tells me the birds are actually doves. OK then.
0:12 I purposely knock over a beehive hanging from a tree just to see what happens. A nearby bystander tells me to run away and jump in water to escape. I make a beeline (ha!) for the coast, but the game won't let me dive in. Instead, the bees sting me down to a mere half a heart of health, then fly away, too bored to kill me, apparently. My low health leads to an annoying beeping sound that makes me wish I was dead, though.
0:14 The bystander gives me a "Stalfos skull," which goes in my treasures collection. I don't feel I earned it, but I will take it.
0:15 Alfonzo rides a train out of a big blue door and upbraids me for being late. For like the fourth time he tells me how important getting my engineer's certificate is. OK, I GET IT!
0:16 Oh, apparently I'm gonna drive the train to the castle, as my "final exam." I have 300 seconds and I should try to avoid hitting other trains. Um ... yes ... that's good advice.
0:17 "You've probably got all this down, but humor me while I tell you again." Uh ... thanks! I can ratchet up the speed with a gearbox on the right side of the touch-screen and pull down a cord to blow the train whistle, which is surprisingly satisfying. The whistle spooks a cow/pig hybrid sitting on the tracks.
0:20 I have to slow up at one point to let a train go past, but otherwise the trip is pretty uneventful. "Good job, you passed the exam with flying colors." Kind of dull, but not nearly as boring bad as all that sailing in Wind Waker. I can see it getting old fast, though.
0:22 I talk to a random citizen who REALLY seems to love engineers. I find a Demon fossil in a pot. "It's like a normal fossil, but it's much more valuable," the game tells me. Also much more DEMONIC!
0:24 OK, that's like the third time the game has hinted that the train tracks aren't just normal train tracks, but ancient shackles for some sort of demon. Was this game written for dolts?
0:25 A guy who's been raising cuckoos asks if I could help transport them after I graduate. "Wouldn't that be fun?" If that's this game's idea of fun, then stop the train, I want to get off...
0:26 I go into a shop to look at a bunch of things I can't afford. Story of my life.
0:27 I walk into a house where a tall Arabian girl with an exposed midriff chases me off. "This isn't a place for kids, kid. Now beat it." Did I stumble upon the series' first brothel?
0:28 Tapping a hopping mailbox brings out an ornately dressed mail carrier. "Hey, hey, howdy mister." He says everyone just calls him Postman. He's got a letter for me. He's gonna read it aloud, but that's the OLD way. People thought it was rude. IMAGINE THAT! So he hands it to me unopened. I hold it up to the heaven like it's a solid gold trophy.
0:30 The letter is from the Postmaster. "If you're reading this letter, it means my new postman is doing his job right." But if I'm not reading this letter, then ... then how would I know if he's doing his job right? ARGH! BRAIN FREEZE!
0:31 Enough traipsing about town, on to the castle. A guard hassles me, but short, stumpy Chancellor Cole comes to my aid. He remarks on my age again and says these graduation ceremonies are a waste of time. I have to agree.
0:33 In a large room with what looks like a stained-glass portrait of Phantom Hourglass' Tetra (!), I bow down as Zelda turns to look at me. I gasp at her apparent beauty. She smiles in that super-Japanese way as a song from Ocarina of Time plays. After some interruption from the Chancellor, she hands me a certificate. "Work hard, for we all rely on you, Ace." Then she hands me a note and whispers to me. "Read this later. And beware of the Chancellor." Intrigue!
0:35 The Chancellor quickly shoos me away. "Why don't you go ... polish your train or something," he suggests. DIRTY! "Not that it matters much ... the thing will be useless before long." Yeah, I've heard that polishing your train too much can make it useless. Hey-oh!
0:37 Zelda's note has a map to a secret entrance up on the castle walls. She asks me to use it to sneak into her quarters. Bow chicka bow wow! I use the stylus to copy the path from the note to my map. Why I can't just use her map, which is already marked, I don't know.
0:39 I easily follow the map to Zelda's secret entrance and into her room, where she's practicing the pan flute. She tells me again about the disappearing tracks, and says she has to go to the spirit tower to investigate. The Chancellor doesn't want her to leave, so she asks me to sneak her onto my train. I choose "I can't" from the response menu. She says the guards are under the chancellor's control and she needs help. "I can't," I say again. Amazingly, she seems resigned to the fact that I won't help. Then my choices are. "OK, OK" or "I'll help." So much for that...
0:42 So she gives me a recruit uniform and turns so I can change. A fanfare plays as the camera pans to reveal me in my usual green tunic with long, pointy hat. I look more like Link now.
0:45 Stealth time. Zelda will follow me or I can tap an icon at her feet and draw a path for her. It's real easy to avoid the guards with the big map up on the top screen.
0:47 Changing things up ... I have to use Link to distract some immobile guards, then guide Zelda with the stylus so they don't see her. I mis-tap once and Zelda gets spotted, but the second time through it's smooth sailing.
0:49 Now I have to distract a "serious looking" guard by throwing rocks behind him. And we're out of the castle!
0:50 We run into Alfonzo, and the princess convinces him to help. Apparently he was once the "greatest swordsman in the kingdom." How conveeeeeenient.
0:51 Back on the train, it's a straight shot to the tower. But we get derailed along the way and Link gets thrown from the train in a cut scene. A large black shadow falls across the ground, but I can't see what's casting it. Oh... it's a giant vortex above the tower of spirits. Of course. It extends black smoky tentacles, thick with lightning, and breaks the tower into floating pieces. Nearby, more black smoke hides the emergence of a chrome locomotive with an angry skull on the front. It dips low and we duck out of the way.
0:53 The Chancellor has caught up with us somehow, along with a big guy with a gauntlet over his left arm. The Chancellor removes his two hats to reveal graduated yellow horns. "My goodness, pretending to be human is exhausting." Tell me about it. Er, um, I mean...
0:54 Mr. Chancellor Demon goes off on a vague monologue about needing to stop the princess and her meddling. Alfonso defends the princess with his body and offers to "teach them some manners." Demon Chancellor starts hovering. "Melodrama bores me," he says. Me too, which is why I'm pretty bored right now.
0:55 The guy with the gauntlet arm is named Byrne, apparently. He's wary of Alfonso's skill, but notes that "He's only human." They circle each other and have the kind of exciting battle I wish I was participating in. Alfonso is sent sprawling onto the roof of the train. "Oh, Byrne, you do know how to put on a show." Byrne advances on the princess, but tiny Link steps in the way and is batted aside like an old coat rack. Demon Cole leaps up and uses dark demon magic or something to knock her out. A small white circle flies away from her body. Wait ... is she ... is she really dead?
0:58 Cut back to Hyrule castle, where Alfonso and I awake on twin beds. An old man standing at our bedside. After some banter, I admit that the stories he's heard are true: The princess has been kidnapped! "This is terrible. We must tell the princess," he says, before catching himself. Heh. He's at a loss for what to do without her, and since Alfonzo is still laid up, I'm apparently responsible for her safety. No one seems to care that I'm responsible for her sneaking out and getting kidnapped, too.
Would I play this gamefor more than an hour? Yes.
Why? A whole hour into a Zelda game and not a single dungeon? Not a single battle? Only one lame stealth puzzle? That sucks. But it's Zelda, so it gets the benefit of the doubt for a little longer.
This column is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
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