The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks Hands-On Impressions

We catch a train, blow our own horn, and learn why sometimes it's good to be fireproof in our first hands-on time with the new Zelda DS.

We think we can say with some certainty that the failure to announce a new Zelda game for the Wii as rumoured at the Nintendo press conference probably disappointed the odd Nintendo devotee. That said, though no new Wii game was brought into the fold there, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, which was announced at this year's Game Developers Conference in March, is now finally playable.

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks represents the second iteration of the long-running Zelda franchise brought to the DS handheld, and if our time and review of Phantom Hourglass serves as any indicator of what to expect, fans should be in for another special outing with everyone's favourite little adventurer.

The demo was split to show off distinct elements of gameplay, with the first designed to show off Link and the way he will not only interact with phantoms, but control them directly to stay alive and clear puzzles. Our early experiences had us using phantoms to move to and then stand on touch plates to open doors. Like Link's boomerang in Phantom Hourglass, you'll simply need to switch to the phantom by clicking the portrait at the bottom left-hand side of screen to select and then paint on the intended path to follow. Phantoms will follow orders, so you'll need to click the call button to get them to return to you if you want them to come back rather than hold a position indefinitely. Given that Phantoms are immune to damage from fire, you'll need to control them remotely to get through obstacles and flick switches so Link can pick up keys or open chests. At one point we were required to switch constantly between the two, putting the phantom between us and a fire-spewing wall socket to inch along two narrow parallel bridges. We can see potential for this mechanic to be used frequently to avoid backtracking while still requiring some lateral thinking to solve puzzles. Opening a chest, we unlocked a tornado weapon, which we used to lower a wooden drawbridge by firing the weapon at a switch.

Considering that phantoms are fireproof, you'll also be able to use them as makeshift transport over dangerous terrain. Link isn't a fan of lava swimming, so you'll need to walk your phantom into the hazard and then double-tap its head to hop on, using your shield as a seat. From here you can simply command your phantom around, exploring the area or crossing to safety. You're not immune to damage while you ride, though, and on a couple of occasions we were knocked off by things living in the lava jumping and hitting us on the chin. Falling penalised us a heart and returned us to the place where we hopped aboard.

Not surprisingly, transport is a major theme in Spirit Tracks, and whereas Phantom Hourglass relied on a manually steered boat to get around the various islands, here we used the new train in its place. We didn't get a chance to see how you get on or off the train, but once onboard, you'll control its movement in two distinct ways. A lever on the right-hand side of the touch screen lets you determine your speed with several preset notches--the top one makes you go fastest, whereas the middle brings you to a stop, and the lowest puts you in reverse. This ability to alter your speed comes in handy when you first encounter the track switches that determine your path. The currently selected track appears in red, and the upcoming multidirection track is marked in white. A small left or right toggle on the lower screen will pop up, prompting you to either leave it where it is to follow the current path, or change it to go the other way. Tooling around on the stylus adjusts your camera view of the train.

Like in Phantom Hourglass, you'll encounter obstacles along the way, both in the form of passive and active targets to bomb. Powder kegs on the tracks need to be blown up before you hit them, and wild animals wander around and need either a blast with your horn (by pulling down on the dangling rope above your speed controls) or a paddling with a cannonball.

Spirit Tracks retains the art and charm of Phantom Hourglass, and though we've had only a short amount of time to dabble, the controls and travel mechanics will be familiar to returning Zelda fans and welcoming to newcomers alike when it ships on the DS.

Stay tuned for our continued coverage from E3 2009.

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153 comments
beaubrown6
beaubrown6

Ok well I've played all Zelda games ever made. This is gonna be cool and will probably out do phantom hour glass. I can see I have high hopes this is going to be a keeper and will knock other DS games out of the water when it comes out.

airdude35939
airdude35939

the game sounds like its gonna be AWSOME and i saw the trailer and it was really cool...except the worst part is he rides a train.. lol wow. xD

linkman3
linkman3

this game seems cool but like the train idea is stupid why dont they just give em a gun instead of a bow

nEHTa
nEHTa

im a zelda purits & really liked the origina nintendo ones & wish that they would keep the gameplay closer to those & get rid of the stylus movement & attack (DS has control pad & buttons for reason) p.s. a train??? really???....

KHdude97
KHdude97

im defanatly gonna get it but now this year is gonna be long why cant they wait till later to tell me now im too excited

Terrencec06
Terrencec06

i liked the first one so, i will get this one too

SuperMGirl
SuperMGirl

I played Phantom Hourglass and if this game is anything like the other one was it'll be REALLY good.

Slyfur
Slyfur

TTotally going to get it once it comes out. It looks like a lot of fun.

necronaux
necronaux

Looks like worth checking out. As long as it doesn't drop with a $40 price tag (a lot of places still have Phantom at $35, 2-years after it's release).

felixon344
felixon344

Seems nice... DS is a nice machine to have since games are still developing until now I don't think It'll get old soon. Gonna buy it

shadow13524
shadow13524

Zelda with a TRAIN! I mean come on! I'm a big Zelda fan, and this game looks pathetic. You guys are running out of ideas. Looks lame.

clash_48
clash_48

Hmmmmmmm looks good and i might consider getting it but gee a boat is normal but they might be kinda be running outa ideas with a train. But hey who knows it could turn out 2 be really awesome

ewolf9368
ewolf9368

I have mixed feelings for this game idk if im getting or not...

2mike23
2mike23

im going to get this game when it comes out

Trezpasser
Trezpasser

You didn't manually steer the boat in phantom hourglass. You drew the course and it steered automatically.

rougewarrior198
rougewarrior198

I am playing Phantom Hourglass for the first time, and I love it. I am not having any issues that others are having with it. I actually like all the things they do with the stylus.

Mewt2021
Mewt2021

So when I played Phantom Hourglass I found using the the stylus to move around and attack very annoying, and seeing that they didn't change that system I just can't be excited for this game, real bummer Nintendo

random_dude78
random_dude78

yay powder kegs are back from majoras mask but i hated phantom hourglass

hellpolice
hellpolice

I haven't the pleasure to play Hourglass, bummer!

korko3
korko3

Interested, I actually really enjoyed hourglass, hopefully they will keep up the interesting gameplay elements like the grapple.

dragonfly110
dragonfly110

this game seems pretty interesting, I like the idea with the phantom a lot.

Ycheez
Ycheez

Im thinking this: 1. pretty good game, but made even better if it comes out before 2010. 2. AWESOME GAME!!!

apaintedtarget
apaintedtarget

I own every single Zelda game to date. My dad bought Zelda I and II for NES when I was pretty small and I've gotten hooked on them ever since. There's just something about them that keeps me coming back time after time... but I'm not so sure about this game. I mean, a train? Yeah, it's original, but are we really that bored of Zelda that we need him to ride a damn train? I know I'm not.

linkzelda123
linkzelda123

Everyone needs to get the point that there IS a Wii Zelda coming out....in 2010. They're working very hard on it :) I feel all jumpy and excited thinking about it!!! It's going to look like Twilight Princess but better. They said it is not a sequel. It might have WiiMotionPlus...That would be cool except I wouldn't want it to be first person...seeing Link's amazingness is AMAZING!! if you look up Zelda Wii 2010 you can see a picture!! Rumors say that the thing behind Link is the MASTER SWORD you can just tell ya know? It has to be because Link isn't holding a sword and the creature has the same shape-like as the sword. It might be in Hyrule (c'mon what's a Zelda without Hyrule :]besides PH and such) If you look at the shield it's like the Hylian Shield and can there be a Hylian Shield without Hyrule :) There's my info :)

hydn631
hydn631

I say make a REAL sequel to the wind waker for the wii, dont get me wrong phantom hourgalss was good but it didnt do wind waker justice, so far out of all the legend of zelda games, wind waker was my favorite.

raphaelcoelho15
raphaelcoelho15

@Peaches1347 Yeah I know but I wanted a Zelda to the Wii first = ) This new Zelda for the DS is gonna be just like the phantom hourglass i think, the only BIG difference is gonna be the Train. The gameplay will be the same thing. Sometimes when I was playing PH I get bored with that ship, and when I finished PH I wanted one for the Wii because it's obvious that the games that they make to DS are limited, they can't do more than that. I'll buy it for sure because I'm a fan of the Zelda series but what do you prefer? a Zelda for the Wii or a Zelda for the DS ?

Peaches1347
Peaches1347

@raphaelcoelho15 you do know that a new zelda for the wii is already confirmed, don't you?

sagitar2
sagitar2

they already have made one.......twilight princess :P

raphaelcoelho15
raphaelcoelho15

I loved the Phantom Hourglass, but when I finished it and finished Twilight Princess, I was waiting for a new Zelda for the Wii. Of course that a new Zelda for the DS is very good but I think that so many Nintendo gamers are suposed get more excited if they launch a new Zelda for the Wii. I think that Shigeru Myiamoto still not finished the Zelda for the Wii, then he launched first a Zelda for the DS. Spirit Tracks is just a sample of what's coming for the Wii.

dr-snowman
dr-snowman

this may be a good investment i am glad more good games aare coming to ds

JoE_Morais
JoE_Morais

oops tha Star Fox and Super Mario Galaxy 2...

JoE_Morais
JoE_Morais

weeelllll u never know..! everybody thgought wind waker was gonna be a drag.. and I don't think u can make a DS game with an adult link it's just too hard... i'd rather nintendo anounce a stupefieing Stor FOx game for wii or something rather than a new zelda.. Super MArio Galaxy 2 and Super Mario Bros. wii looks great..!

martianrobot
martianrobot

Hmmmm... thinking about it, people probably said the same thing about the boat in Wind Waker before it was released... Amazing to think that when it came out I was a hardcore 35 year old PC gamer eagerly awaiting Half-Life 2 and had hardly heard of Zelda, let alone owned a 'games console'. I only got a Gamecube to play MarioKart Double Dash and Supermonkeyball to keep my girlfriend happy... Now I'm seriously addicted to Zelda, love my DS and Wind Waker is my fave game of all time.

martianrobot
martianrobot

"Not surprisingly, transport is a major theme in Spirit Tracks, and whereas Phantom Hourglass relied on a manually steered boat to get around the various islands, here we used the new train in its place." Hmmmm... did this writer ever play Phantom Hourglass? I'm playing it right now and you can't manually steer the boat to get from island to island - it can only follow a route you have drawn in advance. You can swing the camera round manually, but that's it. I'm still not convinced by this new-fangled train malarkey... it just doesn't seem very Zelda to me. But it does look quite cool and cute and the music on the trailer is brilliant - the best since the Wind Waker theme.

chang_1910
chang_1910

@Lazule: ..... I`m assuming you ment DS... Phantom Hourglass was on DS no Gameboy... :) anyway... I want this one.... :) enjoy

Lazule
Lazule

The Phantom Hourglass was a sequel to Wind Waker, but was for the GameBoy. This one looks alright but I'm a little skeptical, I have been skeptical of Zelda games for the gameboy since the Oracles games.

xiaochief318
xiaochief318

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

abel_del_real
abel_del_real

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

killroy7777777
killroy7777777

I'm a huge fan of the whole Zelda series, so naturally I'm going to get this when it comes out, but I don't think it's going to be really great. It'll be great, all Zelda games are, but it won't be REALLY great.

KonatsajinKohan
KonatsajinKohan

Um, I don't think TP is a sequel to the Oot Timeline. The time of the game did take place after Oot/MM, but its not the sequel. I want the story to continue with the Hero of Time, the original Link.

Connodor
Connodor

@KonatsajinKohan They already did make a sequel to the timeline of OoT where link left. It was called Twilight Princess(why everything was taken over). I would like another too, though.

jurewicz88
jurewicz88

I feel like this is a lame way of telling everyone the bad news. . . I mean really? Spirit Tracks?