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.