All of a sudden Spirit Tracks is all over the place after not having a single update at all...GameInformer said:Throughout the Zelda series, a huge cast of characters has assisted Link on his quests. From the old man lending him a sword at the beginning of his first adventure to Navi, Midna, Tingle, Gorons, and Zoras in the later 3D titles, he’s had no shortage of companions. However, he’s never had a true partner by his side throughout an entire quest. Fans got a taste of Link and Zelda’s partnership while escaping the sewers in Link to the Past and the castle in Ocarina of Time, but Spirit Tracks marks the first time the princess tags along for the entire experience.
Those who played the game at E3 had a chance to check out a segment featuring Link ordering a “phantom” around, using him to distract guards and the like. What was never explained was why exactly the phantom is helping you out. During our recent visit to Nintendo in Seattle, the company unveiled the story elements leading to this gameplay mechanic.
Early in the game, Link is on the way to his graduation ceremony to become an engineer. He’s scheduled to receive his license from Princess Zelda herself, but it’s in danger of being rendered useless thanks to Hyrule’s mysteriously disappearing Spirit Tracks. Strange storms are forming around the Tower of Spirits, the hub of all of Hyrule’s tracks. As the tower itself falls apart and strangely reassembles out of balance, an ominous train appears from the clouds. Chancellor Cole, an odd little man with two green top hats, steps out and reveals that he’s actually a horned demon with sinister intentions. He uses his power to knock Zelda out, hitting her so hard that her spirit separates from her body.
Cole kidnaps Zelda’s physical body, but her spirit form remains with Link for the rest of the adventure. She acts as a guide in the same fashion that Link’s faeries have in the past, but she’ll have far more impact on the gameplay than his former partners. Early in the game, she inhabits the body of the phantom seen in the E3 demo. The player can switch back and forth between the characters easily, controlling Link in the same fashion as in Phantom Hourglass (although the roll has thankfully been re-mapped to a double-tap of the stylus). When you switch to Zelda, it’s a matter of drawing a path for her to follow. She’ll attack enemies, distract guards, and interact with objects.
These segments feel less like an extended escort mission and more like a cooperative one-player experience. Utilizing both Link and Zelda is crucial in the Tower of Spirits. You don’t control both characters throughout the entire experience; she only inhabits the phantom in certain areas. Dungeons are more of a traditional Zelda experience, with Link handling all the combat and puzzles. In these areas, the princess operates as a guide for the player rather than a controllable partner.
One of the primary complaints of Phantom Hourglass involved the repetitive Temple of the Ocean King segments that players were constantly forced to revisit. Spirit Tracks has similar areas in the Tower of Spirits, but their focus is more on progression than repetition. Fighting through each floor over and over isn’t required as you reassemble the tower; instead you go directly to the newly restored floor without trudging through those below it.
While Zelda’s involvement in Spirit Tracks brings a new element to the series’ standard gameplay, it’s still filled with old trademarks. Dungeons still involve collecting keys and items, grabbing the Big Key, and using your newly acquired weapon to take out the boss. We played through the Forest Temple, which is where Link receives the Whirlwind item. By aiming it and blowing into the microphone, you can clear clouds of poison gas and affect certain enemies.
Link’s quest to restore the Spirit Tracks is looking like a worthy and exciting addition to the Zelda series, introducing plenty of new elements while not straying too far from what made the franchise so beloved.