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It’s the Puzzles that Make Spirit Tracks Special

Guest Article By MYK1217

I’ll be honest with you, I was highly disappointed with Phantom Hourglass, the first Zelda game on the Nintendo DS. In fact, it was my least favorite of the Zelda games. I thought it was a very empty game that had a lot of potential, being a game driven by pure touch controls, but it came nowhere close to meeting that potential. For a game on the DS, you would expect Nintendo to get really creative with the puzzle design. But I felt that the puzzles and dungeons in Phantom Hourglass lacked the creative design Nintendo is capable of.

As more and more info about the sequel, Spirit Tracks, was released, I was expecting the same type of thing. I was just expecting Spirit Tracks to be another game that showed off its gimmicks and that’s it. The importance of the puzzle design, the core gameplay, would once again take a back seat to the gimmicks.

Now that I have played Spirit Tracks, I can see just how much potential Phantom Hourglass had and failed to meet. The puzzle design in Spirit Tracks was spectacular. Amazing. Dazzling. You can tell Nintendo got really creative with these puzzles. I found myself doing something that I haven’t found myself doing a lot of in recent Zelda games: critical thinking. These days, Zelda veterans are used to Nintendo’s tricks. They know how to solve puzzles involving pushing a block on a surface of ice. They know how to light unlit torches. This time, Nintendo caught us off guard with some of the most creative puzzles I have seen in this series.

In Phantom Hourglass, the puzzles were way too generic and predictable. In fact, I hesitate to even call them “puzzles.” They’re all just basic block pushing and switch pressing objectives that require no thought. In Spirit Tracks, you get caught off guard constantly. I never thought I would be using my boomerang to create a path for me. Part of this is probably due to the fact that we are all used to the same old recycled puzzle designs over and over. I’ll be honest, I was almost certain that Spirit Tracks would be no different. Even after the first dungeon, which was pretty simplistic and generic, I thought that the game’s dungeons would stay this way. But they didn’t. Spirit Tracks’ dungeons got more difficult and complex as the game went on. It has a steady difficulty curve, which is something not a lot of Zelda games have. I’ve noticed that in some of the more recent games, the dungeons don’t get significantly more difficult as you go. In Twilight Princess, I felt that the last dungeon was barely any more difficult than the first dungeon. In Spirit Tracks, each dungeon is noticeably more difficult than the previous one.

You can say the same thing about the Tower of Spirits, which is the central dungeon in Spirit Tracks. The Tower of Spirits had the same concept as the infamous Temple of the Ocean King in Phantom Hourglass, where you had to keep returning to it in between the other dungeons. However, it was improved by allowing you to skip over parts that you had already completed, and its objectives were far more enjoyable than the tedious stealth in the Temple of the Ocean King. The Tower of Spirits was where you and Zelda had to work together to complete each part. The dual character control in the Tower had a bunch of potential for Nintendo to design creative and challenging puzzles, and they really nailed it. And like the other dungeons in the game, the Tower of Spirits has a steady difficulty curve; it just keeps getting more challenging.

I was glad to see that Nintendo put a lot of work into the core gameplay of Zelda in Spirit Tracks. I was getting worried that Nintendo was losing their creativity when it came to puzzle design, but Spirit Tracks put those concerns to rest.

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  • rodry

    yes! great article i think just the same phantom hourglass was ruined by the temple of the ocean king it but spirit tracks was excellent it makes you feel adventerous.. and i thought riding a train wolud be limited for exploring but with the force gems all make sense and side quests are very funny too!

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  • RecklessDreamer

    I feel exactly the opposite! I thought Phantom Hourglass was great, and that Spirit Tracks is highly disappointing. In fact, its the ONLY Zelda game I don't like.

    • Luna

      How so, RD?

    • kcclubkirby

      Agreed. Phantom Hourglass's dungeons felt tougher in my opinion. See, Spirit Tracks just reused most the items seen in previous games and added a new feature. Like the boomerang. I think the boomerang creating an ice path didn't seem like much of a puzzle to me. With Phantom Hourglass they introduced a few new items and they made some creative new puzzles with them.

      With Spirit Tracks the only new item was that sand wand. Which I admit had some AMAZING puzzles with it. And the final Spirit Tracks hours in the Tower were great. But overall I breezed through the normal dungeons since most of the puzzles were reused or just added a slight gimmick to them.

      Also, I only died on the final boss. That does not speak well for the difficulty. With older Zelda games, I am used to dying like 5 times a level at least. Spirit Tracks is a great game, don't get me wrong. But in terms of the other Zelda games, it is my least favorite.

    • Cupcake

      I can see where you're coming from. I like Phantom Hourglass a lot more than Spirit Tracks. It's not that Spirit Tracks was bad, it just didn't measure up to most other Zelda titles. However, I think Nintendo needs to drop the whole "vehicles" gimmick from both titles–it really restricts exploration.

  • Steeleresky

    I never even finished Sprit Tracks. It was bland, boring, easy and no personality. It was bad

    • Luna

      So you haven't finished it, and yet you passed judgment? Just how far did you get?

    • ebuch

      You should really get to the ending… There was pretty much no story for the main course of the whole game, but it does pick up again at the end.

  • Linksoer

    I couldn't agree more! I think the exact same thing you said in this article! like if you took the words right out of my mind! lol
    I think I also agreed with you on another article you wrote, so I guess we have the same line of thinking ^_^ cool!

  • Realm

    I agree. Also, you have to finish Spirit Tracks if you want any say in how good or bad it is, otherwise it doesn't mean anything to anyone. Not to mention the only thing worse in Spirit Tracks compared to Phantom Hourglass is the travel. Everything else is either the same, or superior in Spirit Tracks. The Flute problem sets some people off as well. Sucks to be them, but it doesn't make the game suck just because their DS mic sucks, or that they can't figure out how to blow properly.

    Anyone who says Spirit Tracks is bad should list the reasons as to why, first. If they thought Phantom Hourglass was better, I can't wait to list the reasons why Phantom Hourglass is either just as bad, or worse in most cases.

  • Luna

    While there were a couple of things that really irked me in ST(such as not being able to use wifi on the battle mode), Spirit Tracks was a beautifully executed game. More then one of the puzzles had me scratching my head for hours, and I'm used to most type of Zelda puzzles! Like MYK1217 commented, they really hit the nail on the head as far as puzzles are concerned!

  • ZFAN

    I like Spirit Tracks and Phantom Hourglass, they both have good points to each other. I acually like the dungeons in PH better then SP expecially the one in PH where the goron helps you out, now that's awesome and you also get to control him.

  • ebuch

    I really don't think it's fair to say Phantom Hourglass was a complete bust… It may not be the greatest Zelda game, but there were parts of it that made it a solid game for the DS. I haven't seen my copy of PH since I finished my first run through it (friend is /still/ borrowing it), but I can recall some good puzzles like sailing through the fog to get to the ghost ship, and closing the DS to transfer some sort of mark, (yes, gimmicky, but made players think outside the usual). Phantom Hourglass paved the way with the DS's motion controls.. Give it some credit. After all, Spirit Tracks wouldn't have been the game it is without first there being Phantom Hourglass.

  • TheKhaion

    Very good article, I feel just the same way about it :3

  • VideoGameGeek

    The FIRST Zelda game on the DS? What about Phantom Hourglass?

    And TBH I loved Spirit Tracks. The story was nice, and I liked how it still tied in to the Wind Waker saga. The puzzles were great, and the combat was nicely executed.

    Overall good game.

    • MYK1217

      "I was highly disappointed with Phantom Hourglass, the first Zelda game on the Nintendo DS."

      Very clearly acknowledged that. 😛

  • GenoKID

    Puzzles probably define Spirit Tracks. I mean, take the first wall you bomb behind Hyrule Castle… sure, a dud, but think how this must be for a newcomer. And the Tower? While the regular dungeons were relatively easy, puzzle wise (but awesome looking!), the tower's last three run-throughs had me stuck for several hours, and the last part not on one puzzle, but the entirety! Hardest since OoA, and probably more, too! Just jumpstart combat difficulty, now, developers.

  • Lules

    Spirit Tracks's puzzles really were creative and quite some times difficult. I enjoyed the game.

  • Hassus

    The puzzles are actual puzzles and wonderful, but to me this isn't all that makes this game great.

    Besides the first boss perhaps, I never felt like I could beat the bosses by puzzle solving alone. Being aware and good at combat is also important in this game, which means that the bosses are still fun to play after they're beaten the first time. To me that is something I have been strongly missing in most other Zelda games – the last time I saw comparable success in this area was in the Oracle-games.
    Another thing is how the game has been designed to make map scribbling a wonderful tool, instead of mostly a gimmick(as the author of the article, I tend to use this word on PH from time to time) . It's great.
    To me, the story was the only really weak point. I was aware of it, but it didn't really engage me.

    The sidequests to me are unbelievably engaging on the other hand. The train parts are actually pretty hard to afford and there's alot of great ways to earn treasures and rupees. It is like a living breathing world full of fun opportunities.

    I see a lost opportunity in using the world after the map has been uncovered and the game has been generally beaten. There could be included some extremely(5-30,000 rupees perhaps) expensive items for the people loving the game to earn, reappearing extra rabbits to freshen up the train travelling with rupee or treasure rewards, reappearing (random)people transportation, etc. To me that would complete the game and make it perhaps the best Zelda game I have ever played – and it really wasn't far off. It could be like a "Zelda Animal Crossing" once you've beaten it, and as it is said in the end, Link is supposed to take care of Hyrule and its people after the boss has been killed.

    I love the game, and thank god I still have some things to uncover in it.

  • zeldacrazygirl

    When I 1st played zelda it was phantom hourglass and I was expecting the temple of the ocean king to be alot easier. Sometimes it got to the point it wasn't even fun anymore. But when I played spirit tracks the tower of spirits was REALLY easy and I went through the game very quickly. I think it lacked in challenge and was to easy. When I did the boss that didn't take very long and the only hard bit was zelda channelling her power. I hope skyward sword is a bit harder but not as hard as the temple of the ocean king.

  • zeldacrazygirl

    but st had a way better story line and I always wanted to know what would happen next

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